How to decorate your mantel

August 08, 2009

I find it hard to describe how to decorate one of the biggest focal points in any room -- the fireplace. Those of you lucky enough to have them need to make them a highlight of your room. 

Our mantels are a bit odd in this house -- I thought having a corner fireplace in the family room would be totally fab, and it turned out to be a royal pain in the you-know-what. It is nearly impossible to decorate to my liking because of the large space up there. It can't be decorated traditionally like I would like:

Years ago I added the molding and iron work and love that, and do like how it looks currently. It's just not what I would love to do with it. 

 Our bedroom fireplace you've seen one meeeellion times: It is very, very long and not very thick, so it doesn't allow for a whole lot of options. I've thought about making the mantel a bit thicker so it would hold more. I wanted the look to be simple in this room anyway, so I'm happy with how it turned out. When decorating yours -- keep in mind your eye should travel up and down as much as possible. 

This allows your eye to comfortably look at the fireplace and is most pleasing. There is a decorating trick called, "Three Plus One," that is a great one to keep in mind when finishing off a mantel with accessories.

I copied this explanation from a now closed blog:

For the "Three" part of the "Three Plus One" scheme, select three related, similar objects and place them on one side of your fireplace mantel. The three objects should not be of identical height, but, then again, they shouldn't vary too much in size.

Perhaps three candles, three framed pictures or three decorative plates would be just the thing. When you group your three selected objects on one side of the fireplace mantel, don't line them up like soldiers. Think in terms of layering. Experiment with bringing one forward, one visually overlapping another, or tucking one a bit behind another. Instead of having the three objects face straight into the room, experiment with having them face a bit toward the center of the fireplace mantle.

Don't cram the three objects all the way to the left or right end of the fireplace mantel. Leave a bit of space after the last object so the end of the fireplace mantel serves as an edging for your grouping.

For the "One" part of the "Three Plus One" trick, select a large object and place it on the other end of your fireplace mantel. As a rule of thumb, this singular object should be either about twice as tall as the threesome of objects or have the "visual mass" of the three objects. If you go with a tall object, it should not be as tall as the top of your mirror or painting.

The one large object may have something in common with the three objects on the other end of the fireplace mantel. Maybe it echoes a color or a texture or a shape or a theme found in one or more of the objects at the other end of the mantel.

Of course, this is not the end all to decorating a mantel. I found a few pics online I thought worked well:

I'm not a huge fan of the reflection mirrors create above fireplaces, but I love the effect of the framed art layered on this one. It is decorated for Christmas, but I actually like the greenery on here -- love the texture!

If you are a symmetry-freak like me (I try to break free of this! It's soooo hard!) this example is right up your alley:

I think it is just about perfection -- the art fits exactly right and the accessories are tiered at just the right levels.

I also love this one -- a bit of symmetry and a bit of height variation:

And that screen -- ohhhh I. love. that. screen. If you look close, you'll notice the frames aren't exactly the same size or orientation. I love that at first glance, they look like they are. 

Well, of course, after spending an hour searching online, I remembered some of the mantels of my bloggy idols friends that are exactly what I try to explain in the consults:
I would not change a single thing about this one. The sailboat is divine.

Karla's mantel also includes a sailboat:

And I like that the candlesticks are symmetrical but nothing else is. Loverly. 

Chris's mantel is another one of my favorites:
The layering of the art and the varying heights of the items is fantastic.

I hope that helps those of you who struggle with decorating your mantel. 
Email subscription form header
Your email:*
Please enter all required fields Click to hide
Correct invalid entries Click to hide


  1. Thanks for this post. I always wonder if I'm doing it the "right" way. It seems as I am.

  2. All your mantel decor' tips are great. Love the inspiration and yours as well. I wish I could do more with ours but it's stone. NOT my choice when we built. It was the one thing my hubby picked out and I'm still not sure about it three years later. Good thing he won't see this. I've never told him. Sigh....:)

  3. Great tips! The mantel is my most difficult place to decorate and just never feels right.

  4. I love this post, however now I want to re-do my mantel! I was fine with it before I came here!

  5. I LOVE your corner mantel! I LOVE the ironwork, molding and candles...they look great! In place of the basket, I wonder about a large (16x20) framed family portrait in Sepia standing on a little table top easel. If that makes sense. =)

  6. I have two fireplaces in my house, but because we are selling I have had to keep them neat and simple. Christmas is my favorite time of year for decorating them. It's been a treat to see the ones you've featured here.

  7. I'm with you...I love Kimba's mantle. However, I particularly love how I used numbers to decorate mine. :) (Thanks for the mention.) I have always loved what you did above your fireplace (the wallpaper treatment). These are some great inspiration photos!

  8. I was struggle with my mantel! I like things to be symmetrical - it's hard to break away from that and most of the time I don't. I do have the dreaded mirror above my fireplace in my living room but it reflects my pretty china cabinet on the opposite side. So you just need to be aware of what your mirror reflects. Honestly mirrors these day come in so many wonderful frames and finishes they are like works of art themselves!


  9. I like all the examples in this post, great as a reference tool! I tend to prefer things very simple and clean on the mantel, but can appreciate some of the more "done up" ones as well.


  10. Thanks for the great mantle tips! I be making a few slight adjustments to my mantle based on them.


  11. Thank you so much for this post! Iam forever changing our mantel, it is a corner one as well. I knew the "grouping in 3's" tip but I never knew the 3 plus 1...ok im off to makeover the mantel....agggaaain! Thanks again!

  12. You are really giving me some inspiration!

  13. You think a corner fireplace is hard? Someday I will have to post a picture of my fireplace. It is this huge monstrosity that juts at least three feet into the room. It has a cool hearth that goes ALL of the way around and even an indoor girl tucked into the back side, but no mantel what so eva'.

    You compiled some great tips and inspiring pictures:)

  14. This is great! I always struggle with mine and now I have some great ideas!

  15. Thanks for all the mantel tips. I'm currently decorating our mantel and I'm running into a huge decorating cunundrum. We recently added a large TV armoir to our living room, but still have an ugly built-pin tv cabinet above the mantel (It's just white cabinet doors but I feel it looks silly with no TV inside). I've experimented using the cabinet as storage, but would prefer to have a lovely framed piece of artwork instead. Still trying to come up with a solution to this one.

  16. I struggle with mine because technically it is supposed to hold a tv, but we have a gigantic tv/display case that we already had when we bought our house. I think it looks weird because it is deep, but oh well...working with what I've got right now.

  17. Thanks so much for this post with all the tips! I rearrange ours constantly, and I can never decide what to keep there! This definitely helps. =)

  18. I now know that my mantel is a hot mess. I get confused by the fact that the wall above it slopes upward from left to right. So, I just slopped a bunch of crap up there. I guess there are probably worse parts of my house!

  19. Ooo---love the pictures! If I had a mantel, I'd want mine to look like one of those for sure...I have a problem with symmetry too. ;) Good post!!

  20. Thank you! I'm struggling with this right now. We just moved into a new house (new state, new everything) and I finally have the mantel I've always wanted... with so many ideas turning in my brain that I can't decide what to do! Thanks for the inspiration.

  21. Love the horse one as well plus others...

    I don't know what is up with google but I can't see all of your pictures. I've been getting this note on my blog late;y as well - I hope it gets fixed soon.

    Sorry-I've been out of commission -- terribly sick for over a week-- but do you want to know how I cut my grocery bill in half? go to Cut your grocery bills now plus I have a give a way and a new MckLinky party starting Monday

    Its So Very Cheri

  22. Great info! Unfortunately it doesn't help me with my three sided fireplace that has a window above it :( But I can still admire the beauty!

  23. I don't have a mantel. my fireplace doesn't have one. I love my fireplace I just click a switch and voila, but no mantel and it's on an angel. I so wish I had a mantel to decorate. I'm jealous. I like the pics you posted except me personally I'm not fond of the layered mantels, I think they are too clutered and busy. I like the picture, the black and white mantel one with the horse. The one you said had nice height variation. I also think these mantels look too staged and not "homey" I guess if this was in a formal living room it would be fine, but in a household with kids and toys, not sure if it's realistic or not. I don't know, as I have no creative or decorating bone in my body. I guess I have no room to talk, plus I don't even have a mantel. I always thought mantels just held candles at each end with some family pictures on it and then a large mirror on the wall over the fire place. LOL

  24. Thank you so much for this! I don't have a mantle, yet (helloooo?? Home builders??? That is LAME!). I'm going to though...and when I do...look out, world!! :)))

  25. I love this concept. Except I have a dilemma. I'm able to do a group of frames for the 3 part but thanks to my lovely husband, there is a 50 inch flat screen hanging about 6-8 inches above my mantel, leaving me no height for my 1 tall item. Help!!

  26. Cherish-I feel your pain. With the TV hanging I can't decide if I should try to decorate around it or just stick with the streamlined look of a blank mantel (and huge TV).

  27. Know what I love about Karla's ROOM! The N, S, E, W in her Trey ceiling. I"M DOING THAT, I love it!

  28. I would just like to say: THANK YOU for using the correct "mantel!" As a professional proofreader I try to give people a little leeway on blogs and e-mails, but it still irks me to no end when people blog/e-mail about their "mantles." Grrrrr!!! *LOL* Okay, I don't mean to sound fussy about it, even though I still notice. But, thank you, thank you, thank you! Today I am appeased. ^_^

    PS -- I like symmetry too, but have tried break free. Unfortunately, my mantel (in an apartment) isn't very big, so very little fits. Ah, one day, when I own a house ....)

  29. Eeeeexcellent advice, girl! I am getting ready to move into a house with a HUGEMONGOUS mantle...I've never even lived in a home with a fireplace, so I have been bamboozled trying to decide what to're advice is a great start, thanks!!

  30. Thanks for linking up, Sarah! :) These are ALL great solutions. Karla's room is still my fave in this post. :) Hoping Blogger fixes its dashboard issues (among others) so more people will come by to party. :)

  31. Exaclty what my dilemma was as posted on Jen and Juice. Thanks for the inspiration. I'm looking for the perfect items now! One, two, three plus one!

  32. I just found this post and had to comment on how you decorated your corner fireplace. It is certainly a tricky space to decorate but girl, you solved that mystery and hit the nail on the head. It looks fabu! Wouldn't change a thing.
    Great job!

  33. I'm so glad there is such a creature as archives. I'm a current follower...but after having my walls and trim repainted, I'm in the process of REdecorating everything and I dont want it going back to the way it was and I still have NO idea how to decorate my TWO mantles! I HATE IT! UGH. I seriously think I'm going to call a decorator to come in and just do those two areas for me. Isn't that ridiculous? I have lots of great pieces in my home but I have no idea how to arrange them handsomely... and I hate that I wasn't given that "gene" at birth! LOL

  34. Old post, new comment. We, too, have a corner, recessed mantle. I wondered if you have changed the design since this post. I am most certain you likely have! If you have, would you be able to email me a picture of it?

  35. Love your blog, Have a Happy Thanksgiving!


If you have a specific question I will do my best to answer you back here!

You can find our paint colors and links to items at the "Our Home" tab at the top of my site.

THANKS so much for reading!