How to Style your Fireplace Mantel Like the Pros
Whether you’ve just moved into a home with a fireplace or are looking to spruce things up this winter, we’re here to help, because we know just how challenging it can be to style a mantel. We spoke with six designers and bloggers to gather their top tips, which you can implement in your own space starting now.
Add in lots of layers
It turns out that styling a mantel is a lot like styling any other surface in your home, so don’t become too overwhelmed about this undertaking! “My go-to formula for styling the top of a mantel could also be applied to the top of a dresser, console or nightstand,” says home and interior blogger Alisa Bovino. “I think the key to a well-styled mantel comes down to symmetry and layering various objects of different heights, widths, and shapes.”
Mix different heights
Kira Obermeier of Kira David Design shared her three mantel decorating essentials. First, she suggests incorporating a vertical piece, like a glass vase filled with long feathers or greenery. Then, go ahead and add something horizontal. “A simple brass tray, or a set of boxes work well to balance the height of your vertical piece,” she says. The third step, she notes, is to add an organic piece. “A grouping of glass beads or a sculptural object ties the two together.”
Un-match your mantel decor
Alyssa Kapito of Alyssa Kapito Interiors echoes many similar suggestions. “I love to add anything from lamps to vases to candlesticks to the top of my mantel,” says Kapito, who styled the mantel pictured above. “And while I love a room with symmetry, I’ll often leave my mantel a little lopsided because it feels just a touch more bohemian.” Bovino follows a similar formula, noting, “I always add an object of height on one or both sides and to keep things interesting, I won’t use matching objects on either side. For example, I’ll use a lamp on one end and a tall vase with cherry blossoms on the other. Then I work my way inward and usually add a tray, stack of books and a candle along with decorative matches (in a chic little jar) on top of the books. Since I’m all about layering, I’ll prop a smaller piece of art against the mirror or large art.”
Kapito also advocates mixing and matching styles to create a unique look. “If you have a contemporary fireplace mantel, I love to top it with some sort of antique objet, and if you happen to have an antique mantel, it is often fun to go with a modern art piece to give the room balance. A great fire screen and some interesting fireplace tools are another way to take your styling up a notch. I particularly love vintage screens with a deco influence.”
Display sentimental favorites
Decorative objects don’t have to be expensive, though, and there are many ways to incorporate cheap or free items into your mantel display. “Displaying some favorite books is a nice idea which won’t cost you anything, because you’ll most likely already have them,” stylist and photographer Carole Poirot says. “Create a few piles of varying heights for interest starting with the highest one on the outer edge. Add some fresh flowers or a potted plant to give it some life and some candles for warmth and a ‘homey and bookish’ feel.” Alternatively, Poirot suggests, you can borrow items from other parts of the room and give them new life. “‘Shopping your home’ also has the advantage that it’s zero impact on the environment and you can discover new and creative ways of displaying old pieces,” she notes.
Shop secondhand stores for cheap finds
If you do feel like looking elsewhere, secondhand stores and websites are a great place to start. “My favorite places to find chic decor is the thrift store, on Facebook Marketplace, and on eBay,” Bovino says. “Some of the items I search for are small brass vases, used books, and smaller items of interest like a horn magnifying glass or a bone inlay box.” These resources are also excellent for sourcing artwork, says design blogger Erin Francois. “Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are my go-to for large, but cheap art. For smaller art pieces, I often use printable art. Etsy has some amazing options you can print on your home printer for $10!”
Look to nature for decor
Maddy Evennett of Hutchinson House shared the above photo of her fireplace as well as some of the key pieces she incorporates into her styling, which also happen to be budget-friendly! “Flowers, foliage, leaves or branches picked from your garden or bought from the supermarket breathe so much life into a vignette, it encourages visual movement on the eye with its organic shape and adds an element of texture,” Evennett says.
She’s also a proponent of “sentimental objects that inject personality and unique value, whether it’s a special family trinket or $2 thrifted lacquered box that you fell in love with in a vintage shop.” Pairing investment pieces with more affordable finds is also A-OK. “Invest in the big ticket items that are classic to you and you love, like an oversized mirror or artwork, and incorporate inexpensive smaller items that you can swap out to keep it looking fresh,” Evennett says, citing Target, H&M, Amazon, and Etsy as some of her favorite sources. And of course, DIYs are always encouraged! “Giving new life to a decorative piece is fun, rewarding and inexpensive,” Evennett explains. The candlesticks pictured above were originally silver, but Evennett spray painted them with a $12 black matte hue for a major makeover.
While creating the perfect mantel display should be tons of fun, it’s certainly key to keep safety top of mind when dealing with a working fireplace, as Poirot notes. “Especially if you have an open fire, you will have to be aware that anything hanging off the mantle could pose a serious fire risk,” Poirot says. “If you’re thinking of having a beautiful fir or eucalyptus garland for your festive decorations, make sure it hangs far enough to the sides so that there is no chance of it catching fire. I’d even go as far as occasionally spraying it with some water to make sure it’s not completely dried out.”