How to Decorate a Mantel

How to Decorate a Mantel How to Decorate a MantelOften, fireplace mantel is a focal point of a room and yet we struggle to figure out how to decorate this beautiful feature.  Should it hold family photos?  Or maybe a flat screen TV?  We try candlesticks, mirrors, pictures and plants but nothing feels right.  As it turns out, the trick is understanding the shapes and proportions that help pull it all together.  So here are some tips to get you started on the right path to a beautifully styled mantel.

1. Create Layers

Create 3 layers of décor for your mantel.  Always includes layers 1 and 2.  Layer 3 is optional depending on your decorating style.

How to Decorate a Mantel2 How to Decorate a Mantel

{Mantel image via Sweet Something Designs}


Layer 1 – The Anchor:  Choose a large object that will be the focal point of the mantel for the center area, such as a mirror, artwork or even a flat screen TV.  Whatever the object, it will serve as the anchor for the remainder of your design and should be the tallest object in your overall design.  Also, ensure that its scale is appropriate for the space.  The visual weight of this object should adequately balance out the visual weight of the firebox below the mantel and should fill a large portion of the wall above the mantel.

Layer 2 – The Weight:  Choose objects for the right and left sides of Layer 1 that will add width  and visual weight to the overall design.  These items do not necessarily need to be identical, so long as their visual weight is similar. (For more information on how to manage visual weight with dissimilar objects, see this post.)  When choosing these items, make sure that their height is smaller than that of your Layer 1 object but still proportionate.

 Layer 3 – The Filler:  Add objects of varying heights to the center of the mantel underneath Layer 1 .  Varying the heights of these objects is important so that you do not to create any horizontal lines with your decor which would then detract from the horizontal line of the mantel itself.  You do not want anything to compete with the mantel!  Again, as you choose these items, keep their scale in mind to make sure they are smaller than the items chosen for Layer 2 but still proportionate.  If you want a very clean, minimal design, you might opt to skip Layer 3.

contemporary living room How to Decorate a Mantel

Layers 1 and 2 included, but not Layer 3 for a cleaner style. 

Image by Tucker & Marks










2.  Maintain a Triangle of Movement

Following the layering steps above, Layer 1 should be the tallest, followed by Layer 2 and then Layer 3.  In this way, you create a triangle above the mantel with the tallest point at the center working down as you move out left and right.  This helps our eye focus and allows a smooth transition from the mantel as we scan the rest of the room.

Mantel Triangle How to Decorate a Mantel

by bhg


3.  Keep Scale in Mind

It important to keep scale in mind not only as the objects relate to the fireplace, but also as they relate to one another.  All of the items should overlap each other so that they feel connected to each other and act as a cohesive unit.  Think of it as a step-down effect from the tallest point in the center of the mantel to the shortest point on the outside edges.  You want to take small, gradual steps without any jarring height decreases.

mantel How to Decorate a Mantel

Once you’re comfortable with the process, think about what you might want to showcase on your mantel and where these items might fit within the layers mentioned above.  Consider using a mantel to showcase art, collectibles, seasonal decor, fresh flowers or even family heirlooms.  Then sit back and admire your work!

traditional bedroom How to Decorate a Mantel

by The Old Painted Cottage

traditional family room How to Decorate a Mantel

by Bruce Kading Interior Design

traditional living room How to Decorate a Mantel

by Tess Fine

Signature How to Decorate a Mantel


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6 comments on How to Decorate a Mantel

  1. Babs
    September 22, 2013 at 5:22 PM (1 year ago)

    Great tutorial! I’m always struggling with decorating my mantel. Thanks for the tips.
    Visiting from Dwellings.

    • Tidbits&Twine
      September 22, 2013 at 5:28 PM (1 year ago)

      Babs – I’m so glad that you stopped by for a visit and took the time to leave me a comment!!

  2. Tammy
    September 18, 2014 at 7:59 AM (3 months ago)

    I loved your tutorial on how to decorate a mantel. I think that will help me, usually I try to put so many things on the mantel that it ends up looking cluttered. Thanks again.

    • Tidbits&Twine
      September 19, 2014 at 7:54 AM (3 months ago)

      I’m so glad you found it helpful! Good luck with your project!

  3. Faith J.
    November 6, 2014 at 11:54 AM (1 month ago)

    Just what I needed! Pinned! Do the same principles apply to an entryway/console table?

    • Tidbits&Twine
      November 6, 2014 at 5:07 PM (1 month ago)

      Hi Faith – I’m so glad you found this post helpful! Yes, the same principles can apply to console tables. You might also find {this} post helpful, which talks about informal balance (in case you don’t have two of something to balance out the two sides), and {this} post which talks about how to create vignettes. Have fun decorating! :) Kim


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