7 Steps to a Stylish Fireplace Mantel

Time Several Hours

Budget $ $$$

Skill Level

WORDS BY Staci Sturrock

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Published on October 6, 2020

If your home has a fireplace, it almost certainly has a mantel. Lucky you! 

A fireplace mantel is a cause for celebration — a blank canvas that begs to be styled. Dressing it for fall and winter, when it serves as a focal point in your living room for the next several months, is one of the delights of revitalizing your home for this season.  

Creating a sophisticated seasonal mantel is easy and satisfying. Let these tips for decorating your fireplace mantel light your creative fire:

The traditional manner of mantel-styling hinges on symmetry: a large clock, mirror or piece of art centered over the fireplace, with a balanced array of matching frames and pairs of candles on each side. 

To style a mantel with a little more visual interest and a casual vibe, start with an anchor piece or pieces in the middle or just off-center. Then layer in items of different shapes, textures and patterns. 

Partner manmade figurines, vases and contemporary candle holders with items from nature like plants, pine cones or gourds. 

Just remember to juxtapose smaller items with taller objects. Mixing heights is how designers style level, horizontal planes.

When displaying so many different items in a small space, how do you keep your mantel from looking like a table at a rummage sale? You achieve cohesion through color.

Working within an established color palette is what will lend your mantel that professionally decorated air

Reach beyond the expected holiday pairings. October doesn’t have to equal orange and black. November doesn’t have to be browns and golds. And December isn’t limited to red and green or blue and silver. 

You could go monochromatic — imagine a dramatic all-white display with accents of silver or gold — or pull colors from a work of art hung over the fireplace. 

Speaking of silver and gold, metallics hint at the festivity of the season without being literal. Gold, bronze and copper are beautiful in fall motifs, and silver is striking for wintry themes. 

And, of course, warm and cool metallics look super-cool together.

You can hang and layer works of art (no nails necessary — just tilt against the wall) in assorted sizes or make your room look larger by displaying several mirrors

To achieve this look on a budget, purchase several mirrors at a thrift store for their patina of character or repaint their frames for a unified look.

Just make sure that the average height of your vertical pieces is tall enough so, when you’re standing across the room, they don’t appear insubstantial compared to the mantel and fireplace. 

Nature is a virtual shopping mall of objects that beautify any mantel. The organic shapes, textures and colors of plants create a striking contrast with the straight lines of a hard-surfaced mantel and the sharp corners of frames.

Start by pulling from your own garden or purchasing at your local nursery. Or check out the huge variety of offerings in Havenly’s Fiddle + Bloom collection: silk flower arrangements, succulents in ceramic planters and much more. 

Wreaths and garlands incorporate nature in festive shapes that are synonymous with the season. And what’s not to love about an upscale pumpkin decorative accent?

Real or flameless, candles add a warm glow to your mantel (or, if your fireplace is for show only, inside your fireplace).

Keep your candles in the same color (any neutral is a safe choice) and add visual nuance by mixing candles of different heights, widths and holders for that eclectic look you’re after.  

Lanterns and glass hurricanes are a great way to showcase candles and add a sculptural element to your display. They come in forms and finishes that complement any interior design type, from this mid-century modern lantern to this rustic set made of wood and weathered metal.

The time-honored Rule of Three is the key to a well-balanced display.

It’s simple: Objects that appear in threes are more engaging to the eye than items displayed in other numbers. 

The Rule of Thirds is another helpful design principle. Imagine your mantel display divided into three equal columns and rows. 

For maximum visual impact, the intersections of those invisible vertical and horizontal lines are where the focal points of your display should be.

Like a great tablescape, a mantelscape should include one wild card — an object that’s completely unexpected but fits right in.

It could be something personal inherited from your grandparents or collected on a vacation.

Or something that simply catches your eye, like these modern crystal spheres on stainless steel bases or this rhino head bust.

A natural object found on a hike or even a resin cast of an animal skull.

It’s your mantel. Let it tell your story.

Let’s take this fireside chat to the next level. Start with our style quiz for insight on your interior design personality.

Words by Staci Sturrock