If you have a fireplace, mantel — or even a simple shelf — the holidays are a perfect time to make it a focal point of your home. Don't be stymied by the process. Follow these simple decorating guidelines and you can create a beautiful and stylishly decorated space. The key thing to remember is that there is no one single right answer!
Before you start, gather a bunch of items that you love, and that work for your style and color scheme. The more the merrier here; it's really nice to have options that you can try on for size, and then swap out easily for another item if they don't work.
Large Item: One substantial item for visual weight. Examples: a mirror, wreath, or piece of substantial artwork.
Sculptural: At least one sculptural item with movement and a lot of negative space. Examples: flowering branches, a leggy candlestick.
Organic: Ideally, something natural to offset all the inorganic stuff. Examples: green garland, berry wreath, fruit or vegetables.
Variety: A medley of accessories in various heights, sizes, shapes & textures. Examples: stack of books, decorative boxes, framed photos/artwork, spindly candleholder.
Note: A single item can be several of these types at once. For instance, the crabapple branch is both organic and sculptural at the same time.
Once you have your selection, go to town and fiddle with the setup. The trick here is moving things around until something mentally clicks and slides into place. Here are four different configurations and the reasons why they work:
Symmetrical: This is a good place to start if you are new to decorating. Symmetry is easily achieved and very pleasing to the eye. Place your large piece in the center of the mantel, and surround it with a pair of matching items at a different height. Here, the round fullness of the berry wreath is a contrast to the slim and sleek candlesticks. (Sources: Berry wreath from Stephanie Grace; pewter candleholders from Terrain; and tole box from eBay)
Cascading: Choose one large element to anchor the middle of the mantel. Then choose another item 1/3 shorter and place it on one side. (In this case we're considering the height of the top of the vase, not the branches.) Your third item should be another 1/3 shorter than the last, and placed on the other side. Here the blockiness of the books is offset by the airiness of the branches. (Sources: Mirror from Anthropologie; crabapple branches from Country Living; and small pumpkin from Terrain)
Layered: Stagger overlapping items across the mantel, taking care to vary the elements. You are going for balance. Here, the different sizes and orientation of the frames keep this particular setup from being boring. (Sources: Felt wreath from West Elm; feather print by Jennifer Ament; Artwork from Serena & Lily; and urn print from Wayne Pate)
Asymmetrical: Place your large anchor item to one side and balance with a few smaller items on the other. Here, the garland cuts all the sleek gold above. (Sources: Ram head from CB2; Candleholder from Crate & Barrel; and garland from Geers Farms)
Hope these tips were helpful you all, and good luck with all your mantel decorating!
(Images: as linked above)