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July 23, 2022 5 min read

You've probably mastered the basics of furnishing your home. But decorating less common areas like the fireplace mantel might not be your forte. 

Well, the good news is that mantel décor ideas are truly infinite. Below, we've zeroed in on the best décor ideas to help you turn your insipid hearth into something special.


The Basics of How to Style a Mantel

Before uncovering the styling formulas, let's first look at two important requirements for any mantel:

  • Focal Point

The mantel is typically the focal point of your living room. There is one classic mantel décor idea you can't go wrong with- mounting a large wall décor above your fireplace mantel.

This décor idea is adored because it works every time. But getting the right-sized art piece is important. Consider the width first and pick a piece that is one-half to two-thirds the width of the mantel shelf.

The height of the focal point piece will depend on your ceiling height. For low ceilings and a wide mantel, the ideal artwork should be oval-shaped or a long horizontal rectangle. For vaulted or higher ceilings, opt for a taller art piece as long as the width is right.

  • Large, Interesting Décor

You don't want to use small decorative items to dress up a mantel. That's because they are likely to create a cluttered look. Instead, use large decorative pieces. The good news is you only need a few large decorative pieces. Typically, three to five large pieces are enough to fill your mantel.


Mantel Style Formulas

If your mantel looks plain or too cluttered, you can use the following time-tested styling formulas to give it a refreshed look:


Classic Symmetry

Symmetrical arrangements display a classic order. Basically, whatever you mount on one side of the mantel, you replicate on the other side.

Pairing items within a similar color palette, for example, will draw the eye to the focal point. While symmetry applies to any mantel, it works particularly well for formal or symmetrical spaces.


Some of the features of classic symmetry include:

  • Less is more: The key is simplicity. Use a few larger decorative pieces instead of several smaller items. Mount a large centerpiece like an art piece or a mirror. Then on each side of the centerpiece, mount items with a matching color, such as wall sconces, lanterns, or vases.
  • Add a living element: A living element helps give off a sense of life to your symmetrical styled mantel. Potted plants, flowers, or candles can do the trick.
  • Layer small objects: Use a decorative box or a wooden sign to lift up small decorative pieces to give them more presence.
  • Break the symmetry: Instead of matching wall sconces on each side of the large piece of art, pair a wall sconce with a vase. But make sure they are of the same size to create a visual balance.


Balanced Asymmetry

The opposite of the symmetrical look is balanced asymmetry. The style still features a large focal point mounted above the mantel. However, the decorative elements on either side of the focal piece don't match.


To pull out an appealing asymmetrical look, consider these important aspects:

  • Visual balance: Despite using different décor on either side of the mantel, make sure no side appears heavier, taller, or lighter than the other side.
  • Group in odd numbers: Group the decorative elements in odd numbers. The ideal number group is threes.
  • Balance with the hearth: You don't want all your grouped items or single items on one side of the hearth. To maintain balance, alternate the grouped items and single items on the right and left sides of the mantel. For example, for a group of décor items on one side of the hearth, put a single large item below it and vice versa.


Clustered Collection

Another way to dress up your mantel is by using a collection of similar decorative items. Mount an eye-catching focal point. Then arrange similar décor items across the mantel shelf.

The clustered decorating style suits any holiday season: mini pumpkins are perfect for fall, bottle brush trees for Christmas, or bud plants in the spring.


Here's what to do when decorating with a clustered look:

  • Create clusters: Instead of lining up the décor elements on the shelf, cluster them with some items in the back and others in front.
  • Create height variation: Vary the heights of the collection of décor pieces across the shelf.


Layered Casual

You can experiment with decorating your mantel without symmetry. With a layered casual style, the focal point is not in the center. To pull it off, the colors, sizes, and heights of respective décor pieces must balance each other out.

  • Layering: Use mirrors and pictures to create layers. For example, you can layer a small mirror in front of a large piece of art.
  • Stacking: Stack flat objects to create horizontal layers. For example, a small lantern on top of a tall stack of books creates a visual balance if an equally tall object is on the other side of the mantel.


Common Mantel Mistakes

The above styling formulas should help you decorate your mantel. But there are a few mistakes you will want to steer clear of.


For instance, don't arrange décor objects in a straight line. Instead, cluster them and put some in the back and others in front. This means the depth or diameter of your pieces should be less than half the depth of the hearth shelf. This will allow you some room to move objects forward or backward.


You might be inclined to use many small objects because the mantel shelf has a shallow depth. But because the mantel is wide, it will need several small objects to fill the whole space. And this results in visual clutter. Instead, use a few larger décor items, ranging between three to five pieces.


The vertical space above the mantel is the most crucial space to fill, not just the mantel itself. The first step is mounting a large-sized focal piece. Next, the décor objects sitting directly on the mantel should help connect the space between the wide horizontal shelf and the large art piece mounted above it.


The Bottom Line

You don't have to rely on trial and error when it comes to decorating your mantel. Whether you want a minimal look, eclectic, formal, or casual, the above-mentioned styling formulas can help bring life to your boring or plain fireplace.

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