Before we get into our Ultimate Guide Fireplace Decorating Decor– through the magic of technology, I am 34,000 feet up in the air winging it to Las Vegas for the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show. (KBIS) If you are interested in seeing some previous posts about this cool show, click here, here, here, and here.
Like my White Paint Post from last week, I am updating this old post, as well. But, actually, I have consolidated two old posts about fireplace mantel decorating.
And get this. There’s a THIRD POST on the subject. But, that one I’ll leave for you to check out, because combining three posts would kill me.
Speaking of killing me.
Guys. I realize that there’s a lot of information on the blog and sometimes it might be hard to find. OR, you are stuck and paralyzed with fear. While I fully understand that you need help, it is very unlikely that I will be able to help you. Believe me, it’s not because I don’t want to; it’s not humanly possible.
Last week, alone, there were dozens of emails asking for help or for me to do your research for something.
And one more thing. This is mostly for bloggers. So, if this isn’t of interest to you, please skip ahead.
The old posts no longer exist, however, please note that you cannot just delete your posts if you no longer want them published. You will make google vewwwy angwy if you do that. And you’ll also annoy your readers when they get a 404 page not found.
You do something called a 301 redirect. If you are using wordpress which IMO, you should be, and you are using the Yoast SEO plugin which I highly recommend, it is easy as can be.
If you’d like to know more about how to make a blog work for you and how to get your website picked up by google– ORGANICALLY, please consider purchasing my 150 page guide – entitled Six Figure Income Blogger
Before we move on, I need to be a snobbish snotface.
The word is MANTEL
thank you. :] I feel better now.
Fireplace mantel decorating has been happening, it appears, ever since the 18th century and probably earlier. I mean, it’s just too tempting to decorate that shelf.
Let’s looks at two paintings to see how people lived and decorated their fireplace mantels.
Marriage A La Mode by William Hogarth c.1744
Hogarth’s masterpiece depicts a marriage clearly in shambles brought on no doubt by a life of debauchery. Ahhh… the idle rich…
Let’s take a closer look at what’s going on with their fireplace mantel decor
Whoa, dude! Well, it’s certainly symmetrical. But, I think that husband needs to maybe get a leash for his wife? Or, maybe he’s just given up.
Quiringh van Brekelenkam – A Couple Having a Meal before a Fireplace c. 1660
No mantel at all… no decor, or money; barely any fire, a simple meal, yet they seem so content.
food for thought…
Fireplace Mantel Decorating always looks easy— until you try to do it.
Remember the mean professor that I had at the New York School of Interior Design?
Mrs. E? You can read the story here, but if you don’t feel like it, you may recall that she accused me of “improvising” my fireplace mantel decor. My response some 25 years later is…
So what??? Oh, and I had actually put a LAMP on my mantel. She crucified me for that one. I am here to tell you, that I think that lamps on a mantel are way cool (as long as the mantel shelf is deep enough); as are sconces. They are an enduring classic and actually anything that you want to put up there.
Ideally, it should make sense within the decor of the room. Minimal room. minimal mantel. Crazy, quirky room. Crazy, quirky mantel.
Some may recall that I claimed that this blog by Ruth Guilding should be required reading for all Americans beginning right around the time we begin to eat solid food.
You see, it’s a lot like marmite.
What on earth am I talking about? Marmite. Ya know that stuff that is spread on toast that looks and tastes like congealed motor oil infused with salt and yeast? Well, apparently, you have to be breastfed marmite in order to “enjoy” it. Otherwise, no American should ever go anywhere near it. That is, unless your bike chain needs greasing.
Yes, I’m being completely facetious and I do hope that my Anglo-Saxon readers are having a jolly-good chuckle. I am really poking fun of us unadventurous Yankees.
But, getting back to this fireplace mantel vignette. It is an acquired taste and it’s fine if you don’t, but please let’s be respectful of those who do love this. (dust and all)
In the same vein, but a little more toned down is the beautiful fireplace mantel and living room of Ben Pentreath.
That’s how it looked in the fall of 2017 when I quickly snapped this image before the rest of the gang arrived. For more of this charming home, click here.
I adore that mirror and haven’t found another like it.
Time to dive in for real. So, let’s begin with the fireplace mantel decorating ideas that I don’t think are working in these images and we’ll discuss what are good rules of thumb, too.
- Display what you love!
- but do not over-crowd!
some layering is good, but this is over-kill! No?
too much going on here and too much stuff. (although, a lot of it, I love!) The clock doesn’t work either, IMO
- do not make overly symmetrical
- do not over-mix materials, such as glass, with pewter, with gold, with driftwood, with porcelain
- one fabulous mirror or painting might be all you need
- or one fabulous TV :]
- OR maybe the mouldings will be so incredible, that you won’t need anything else! (except lighting, of course!)
- The mantel should be an integral part of the over-all style of the room
- Is the mantel the primary focal point? Or, is there competition from an adjacent bookcase, window or something like that? Rooms are about balance. Therefore it’s always important to think of each element as it fits into the entire scheme.
90% of the time, a good motto for fireplace mantel decor is less is more
- the fireplace mantel decor should complement the other furnishings and colors and vice versa
- consideration should be given to the entire fireplace mantel wall. What’s going on either side and how does that fit in?
- Thinking in threes. This is a little difficult to explain because there are a multitude of ways that something can be a part of a trio. Like three gold frames but one is a mirror and then something silvery like the mirror. Or three basic colors used. Or different pieces but in only one or two colors. What’s not good is having elements like gold, wood, glass, art, mirrors, ceramics, a piece of drift wood and your son’s hockey trophy all on one mantel. There’s no connection.
- a little layering is usually good, but over-crowding is a no-no. And it is EASY to overcrowd. Mantels aren’t usually that big!
- breathing room at the end of the mantel. Just like with a piece of art, I would not place anything right on the edge. If it’s right at the edge, it’s too big or it needs to move over. How much over? I think it should not go past the overhang of the shelf, for the most part
- avoid lots of ditzy small things.
- balanced symmetry is always the most pleasing. This does not mean identical twins necessarily left and right of center, but visually balanced.
- Careful editing. When in doubt. Leave it out!
I did not credit those images (above) because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings and I would prefer you not pin the ones that I used as things to avoid. These are only my opinions and if you like the way they look, that is fine. (If other photos below are uncredited it is because I could not find the original source.)
Alright… here are my do’s and some wonderful fireplace mantel designs!
I thought this was by Sarah Richardson, but it’s not. However, I forgot who did this lovely space, so if someone knows, please let me know and I’ll add it in. I just realized that those are the same sconces we did in this lovely home near me. (it’s the one with the greenish bench)
Gorgeous room by McGill Design Group
Detail and room above by one of the best there is, the McGill Design Group
Very simple and elegant mantel vignette by Loi Thai of Tone on Tone
source unknown. But I love this for a country cottage-style home.
***Lamps on the Mantel***
Are we all in agreement that this exquisitely styled fireplace mantel by Jessika Goranson is perfect times three!
And here is why. She used the rule of THIRDS. Please notice the number of threes. This is subliminally pleasing to the eye. And this rule goes for ALL styling and design in general. It’s a wonderful rule of thumb to adhere to!
In addition, the rest of the room echos the design elements of the fireplace mantel. Or maybe it’s the other way around! Spectacular room!
Gorgeous murals and I adore the simplicity of the mantel design by Phoebe Howard
I love the mirror built into the mouldings and the entire feel of this sophisticated space.
This is from the JK Place Capri– where I would like to live.;]
A bit of whimsy is always a nice touch.
For more English Staffordshire Dogs – either antique or vintage, click here.
Simple, clean and fresh. It reminds me of San Francisco, for some reason.
Alright, I confess… the antlers might be growing on me. I dunno. I never use them, however, I don’t mind them here.
Another gorgeous Victoria Hagan design. Love the fireplace and the stone! oh, while I’m thinking of it. You know those awful, cheap, shiny brass thingy inserts you see so often? Ya know with the tacky doors that turn brown? Well, you can yank all that out!
via – @gpschafer and @deborah_nevins – instagram – not bland design fireplace mantel – gorgeous sconce – oil painting
Below is a mantel that I painstakingly “erased” that which lay upon it.
There are times when just one thing is appropriate.
This is a perfect example. We have an exquisite antique carved fireplace mantel. Imagine junking up the top of it. We could add some elegant sconces or candle sticks and that would be all I would do here!
Peter Benson Miller via One King’s Lane
Love the vintage creamware . I think a large collection is fine if that is ALL it is. That is a rich look!
Art by Artfully Walls- they are having a sale right now!
A few special art pieces make for a satisfying display on this lovely mantel.
And, a close-up
Charming, homey and slightly Boho.
Beautiful Living Room by McGrath II found on Katie Considers
Above is an English country house that I was lucky to get to see on my trip to England in 2017. For more of this amazing home, please click here.
Incredibly charming, the way they styled their fireplace mantel
Above and below by the wonderful Sheila Bridges
Sheila can do no wrong in my book. Everything she does is exemplary. She innately understands the rule of thirds.
Superb display and just right in every way! I love her little quirk of having one thing off-balance. It appears in the image above, as well.
This is an older image. But, if we examine it closely, there are two pairs, three pieces of art, and three objets. Beautifully balanced, too.
This is a more recent image from Mark’s living room. But, I imagine that the vignette changes frequently.
Mark D Sikes – southern living showhouse – gorgeous tone on tone living room – fireplace mantel decorating. You can see more of this amazing room here.
This is from India Hicks home in the Bahamas. Very stylish. Very rich. Gorgeous home. It’s the old-money-I-don’t-care-if-the-sofa-hasn’t-been-reupholstered-in-25-years-look-just-because…
India is fabulous! If you ever get a chance to hear her speak, you must. She’s screamingly funny in a very dry, British way.
But please just tell me why there is a palm tree growing out of her fireplace mantel that’s sitting precariously close to the edge in a very large GLASS vase? Alright, I realize that I’m going out on a long palm frond here. After-all, who am I to question something that was published in a book by decorating royalty?!?
I’m concerned for your safety is why.
You have to understand; I raised two HELLIONS. Sure, go ahead and laugh. You have no idea. (or maybe you do?) Alas, I’m alive to tell the tale.
Barely. (to be clear, I love my two monsters insanely. They are handsome, very talented young men now! And safe to take out in public!)
If this was in my home while they were growing up, the room would be covered with palm fronds, water and thousands of shards of broken glass.
Besides, isn’t it just too overbearingly huge?
Maybe India thinks so too? Me thinks a stylist stuck it up there so we would be sure to understand that this is her ISLAND home.
Well, we have the rule of thirds, unity of color and form. Besides it’s a Paris apartment.
It’s romance personified.
I could move there right now and I wouldn’t change a thing!
If you’d like to see more fireplace mantel decorating inspiration, please don’t forget to check out this post
And also these posts about white fireplace mantels, stone fireplace mantels, and smouldering fireplace mantels
And also for fireplace mantels with TVs and/or just decorating around the TV, click here.
and here, too, for some cool ideas.
AND – for a long wall with a fireplace, there are some ideas here.
Below is a widget I created with many items that would be good for fireplace mantel decorating; either on the mantel, above it or to the side. Of course, they aren’t all meant to go together. I tried to pick out a selection of classic items. Many of them are on sale. If you see DD, that means that it’s reduced and then reduced again.
Please check out the hot sales!
Laurel, you just confirmed what I always say–the foundation of class and style is restraint!
Hmm…I clicked the reply button under Phyllis E’s comment, but it showed up as a new comment. Not sure why!
This is so interesting! I love stuff like this. Thank you for sharing, Phyllis E 🙂
@Mary: You just confirmed a thought that I had about what Ben (5th photo down) may have used over his fireplace. In his case it could be from a small antique buffet/sideboard and was refinished in the gold.
@Laurel: Wonderful post and appreciate the tips! Have fun in Vegas, (the Disneyland for adults …. ☺ ?)
Laurel, Thank-you! You are not only helping to educate us ordinary folk in the art of “fine decorating,” but also helping acquaint us with classical music and fine art, LOL! I was very intrigued by the Hogarth painting you posted above, and so I did a quick google and found a very interesting, quick video commentary done by the Kahn Academy about this whole series of paintings, “Marriage A La Mode”. If it is ok to post links on here, I will include it below, in case you or anyone else is interested. In the video, they actually talk about the meaning of the mantel decor, mentioning how there were many items on it, and that most were cheap and gaudy looking, and appeared to be recently purchased, in comparison to the classical architecture and classical paintings of the saints in gilded frames in the next room. Also, it was supposed to be a juxtaposition of sorts against the idea that the aristocracy had inherited their classical values over generations, but it didn’t represent the reality of their lives. It was meant to be a derogatory reflection of the state of the couple’s arranged marriage (the wealthy aristocrat’s son marrying the rich merchant’s daughter for money.) They also mention the classical statue on the mantel as having a broken nose (as if it was knocked over at a party) and the painting of cupid among the ruins (love here was in ruins.) Who knew so much could be revealed just in mantel decorating!
errr, I mean aisles…
I have my grandfather’s tigerwood Empire style sideboard that came with a separate piece that sits on top. It has a mirrored backsplash. I’m sure there’s a name for this piece, I just don’t know what it is.
But I’ve used this piece as the mirror above my mantel. I try to keep my mantel decor minimal as to not detract from this piece.
I hope you have a good time at the Kitchen & Bath show. Let’s us know what’s new & exciting.
Thank you for this, Laurel. Eventually we will need to tackle our mantel, so this post will come in handy. Love that set of 4 French engravings in your widget.
Yesterday my husband and I went thrift shopping—the fist time in several months and also the first time since I stumbled on your blog. I found myself looking at all the homewares with new eyes! “WWLD?” (What would Laurel do?) was something I found myself pondering as I walked the isles. 🙂
Every time I’ve seen the word “mantle” in terms of decorating, all I hear is my late dad’s voice asking, “Isn’t that what the crust is for?” Dad humor. There’s nothing like it.
I wanted to give you my thanks, first of all, for the prominent and easy-to-find search feature on your blog. I have used it many times, for everything from paint color to oriental rugs to mantel decor. I’m really grateful for your willingness to share information on design and for exposing me to new interior designers I never would have found otherwise.
(Also, I have two of those Staffordshire cats on my own mantel! They are lots of fun).
Do you have any metal sculptural art like curtis jere to hang over your mid century mirror or prop up on the mantel? It would need go be huge
I have something similar to this :1970s Mid-Century Modern Curtis Jere Signed Brass Pom Wall Sculpture on Chairish.com
I don’t have a shop. Sorry.
Love this post as I am getting ready to decorate for Spring. I like to change up my mantel to reflect the different seasons. Would love some “new” ideas for decorating sofa tables & coffee tables.
There are some posts about decorating and styling coffee tables and another one for console tables. Sorry. I’m away on workation.
Thank you for your thoughtful reply Laurel. VERY excited to hear about this interior design and decoration course! I have both your Paint Color Collection and Home Furnishings Collection and cannot tell you how incredibly helpful both have been! So definitely looking forward to this in September! Regarding the other note, I just wish people would realize how much time you put into this blog and respect your requests as far as emails and asking for specific advice. I still cannot believe how many questions you get in the comments section asking for specific paint color advice. Geez. I’m sure the emails are numerous, as well. Anyways, thank you for all you do and thank you for putting up with us who are a “bit thick in the head” shall I say! Much love!!!
Hi Laurel, Just wondering how you feel about 1 large sconce above your art or mirror rather than on either side? BTW – I live for your emails with new posts!!
That can work.
The Brits generally don’t seem to “style” their mantelpieces as Americans do, they decorate by adding things they find pretty and/or meaningful, including greeting cards, family photos, and invitations. The (Dowager) Duchess of Devonshire was a great example of this, with some of her treasured Elvis memorabilia given pride of place on the mantel where it could be easily and often seen.
So many mantels in North America seem to look as if the homeowner tried to combat an empty space in one fell swoop with a shopping trip to Home Sense, rather than a gathered and collected effort over time of favorite things.
Which makes me think that a good idea for a post might be the difference between styling and decorating (not to mention stylists and decorators).
By the way, I don’t see any evidence of dust whatsoever in the lovely room from Bible of British Taste, and would live there in a heartbeat (and I don’t like Marmite at all)!
The dust comment is a lame attempt at heading off the inevitable, “I’d hate to be the one to have to dust all of that.”
How would YOU style a wall length mantel? There were none in your fabulous photos, probably because it looks all wrong but I noted at least one other person who commented has one.
Oh dear, I should’ve added this post too about long walls. Some of the examples have fireplace mantels.
Laurel, fabulous post but what about decorating a mantel that has a Tv above it??
I added a couple of links near the bottom, just above the last graphic.
Hi Laurel. I appreciate your blog so very much. All the time and effort you put into this… well, I’m sure most of us have no idea. I’m sure it’s probably overwhelming at times. I do want to say though, that you probably continue to get a ridiculous amount of emails asking for help is because you do put out blog posts that cover actual readers’ decorating/design problems. IMHO that just encourages all your followers to send in emails asking for help. I realize it isn’t very often you put together a post from a real reader but nonetheless, you still do. I think people see that and then send in their request and hold out hope that theirs is the one you’ll choose to feature or at least answer because it’s obvious you read them. Just a suggestion, but if you want the emails to stop, then stop putting out posts that help actual readers and just limit it to your fictional character’s problems. I know I’ve wanted to send you several emails asking questions but to me, you’ve made it pretty clear that you really can’t help everyone and I don’t want to contribute to the feeling of being overwhelmed with all of it. But if there’s any smidgen of hope out there you’ll answer and advise, well, there ya go. I understand that because I, too, would love to have you answer questions that I’ve had because I think you’re brilliant! Best blog out there BY FAR! Who WOULDN’T want your help! Obviously, by the emails you receive asking for help AND the numbers who follow you, you’re opinion is very respected. I just think you have to cut it off completely or you’re going to continue to receive these emails. People are people. And if you don’t have hope that Laurel just might pick YOUR problem/issue…. well, what else is there? You just need to cut off the hope. haha
A HUGE fan
Thank you so much for your kind words. I understand what you’re saying. And, it is absolutely fine to send me an email with the idea that it might become a blog post. But, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about very specific situations peppered with the attitude that I’m just sitting here waiting to help them for free. Even if I could help them for free, I would need a lot of visuals and sometimes, ugh, there are so many mistakes, I wouldn’t know where to begin. In my interior design practice, there were often folks inquiring about my services and unfortunately, I couldn’t take those jobs.
Humpty Dumpty situations, I call them.
Some days I’m so inundated with these requests, that it’s ALL I can do to READ them. It’s frustrating too, because I’d like to help. That’s why I went into this profession in the first place.
Now, don’t think that I’m not grateful for what has happened to me. Six years ago, nobody had heard of me. Not only that, my phone wasn’t ringing. And, by June of 2013, was when I realized that I was in trouble. I had this blog/website for 14 months, but nobody was reading it and nobody could find me.
That’s when I got the necessary help and found out to my horror, that I was doing dozens of things completely wrong and that many of them were hurting my chances of getting picked up in a google search. That’s when I met my mentor, Eileen Lonergan. Please read my tribute to her. She tragically passed away from metastatic breast cancer last October 31.
One thing I’m working on and am planning to release, I believe this September is a comprehensive interior design and decoration course. Some of it will be based on topics in the blog, but it will go into far more depth. And, of course, it will be organized so that one can easily find the info. I am also planning on having a twice a month call in session for one hour, each time for people who purchase it to ask questions. But more, on all of that at a later date.
I swear you’re in my head sometimes! I want to decorate the mantel at the seniors’ housing complex I run. I was at a decor store yesterday trying to build little vignettes on one of their tables. I left empty-handed and discouraged. You’ve given me the courage to try again. You’re the best. Enjoy KBIS!!!!!!.
How high should the mantle be? I know it depends on the room, but is there some helpful guideline or best practice ratio linking the height of the ceiling and the top of the firebox opening?
This post is beautifully written and the variety of styles included is very helpful.
Laurel, what does one do with a 3″ deep by 6′ long mantle that is backed by a wall of mirror (true mid-century)? Wish I could send a picture to show.
Basically the wall is divided into thirds. Left side has small built-in book case on upper half, center is fireplace and mirror, right side is all mirror. Right now I have matching decorative vases teetering on each end of the mantel.
Its really a lovely wall, but screaming for something on the mantel IMO.
Another timely post 🙂 as I am working on my mantel. I chuckled at the palm fronds/glass vase comment as I have two boys (5&10) and although I want a tall chunky vase on my mantel it just can’t be for a few more years!
One tip that helped me (cautious design noob) is that a mirror or painting will look good if it mimics the rectangle size/shape of either the firebox or the mantle opening itself. Another simple thing that helped me was to line up the sconces (or vases, or lamps) with the pilasters (I think they are called?) or vertical lines of the sides. A lot of your images show this but until I saw it in writing I didn’t really know *why* things looked right 🙂
Thank you as always and enjoy Vegas! (if you get saturated with Vegas I recommend a 30 min drive to the lovely lodge at Mt. Charleston. An alternate universe!
I get in MOnday around lunch- can’t wait to see you!
where are the DH staying?
I’m at Paris with a few others-
See you soon!
Can’t wait to see you. We’re at the SLS.
Great ideas Laurel- I struggled with the mantles in my new (old) home. Next could you do a blog on living room floor to ceiling bookcases? I have a multitude and ever growing stash of books- so the “library” needs to be usable- put I also want it to be pretty. It covers one entire wall of the living room.
Since I could not post a photo I will add that I propped all the paintings on the mantel. Looks better than trying to hang them and makes the ceiling look higher!
Laurel, You are the best! Our 1980s era home has the worst fireplace ever but because there was SO much to fix in this house I used styling rather than redoing to make it as appealing as possible. It is brick and goes on for the ENTIRE LENGTH of the wall, with a gas fireplace and useless wood niche somewhat off center below. In the niche I place a Russian samovar, purchased when we lived there at our embassy. Because the extensions of brick are not the same length I put a matched set of four Russian paintings (book illustrations of the four seasons, two framed in a rust which matches the brick and two in a grayed blue) on one side and a set of two paintings on the other with a similar blue matting for balance. I centered a mantel clock over the firewood opening and placed a large mirror with matched candlesticks, a glass vase with the same blue filled with dried hydrangeas, and something seasonal over the fireplace part. AT the moment it is a wooden box with intricate snowflakes cut out. This is the best arrangement I have found. Putting up the large mirror made such a difference, to help draw the eye to the fireplace. Since I collect both sleighs and pitchers, sometimes I have arranged those all along the loooong mantel, but that seems so busy. So now I have nowhere to display those guys!
Enjoy the show in Vegas. My husband and I have recently moved into a condo. I really love it – all white walls, 9 and 10’ ceilings, beautiful kitchen BUT no fireplace. What does one use as a focal point in a living room with no fireplace (and no mantel to decorate😕).
Any suggestions or older blogs to consider?
Love your blog!! Sue Ellen
Beautiful examples Laurel. I love the fearless quirky styling of the British ones. I have a fake fireplace; you know, one of those mantles but no possibility of creating a fire. So we put a back in and turned it into a bookshelf. It looks great – I keep all my favourite novels there. Have fun at the show.