Decorating Your Mantel — During the Holidays and Beyond

The mantel takes center stage during the holiday season. It may become home to candles, cards, stockings, ornaments, and other holiday decoration and memorabilia. Or, a space to bring nature in when it is gilded with flora and fauna — sprigs of pine, holly berries, pinecones, flowers and fruit. Mantels may even be a place for displaying a special collection – of objects, heirlooms, art, or other fabulous finds. In a way, how a mantel is dressed is as unique as the person who adorns it. That’s why you want to make sure your mantel is unique.

Here is how you can do just that.

Step 1: Buy a Custom-Made Mantel

Large yoke shape mantlepiece by Charles Ogg.

Large yoke shape mantlepiece by Charles Ogg.

First and foremost is the mantel itself. This would not be a furniture maker’s blog if we didn’t mention that! Work with a furniture maker to design a mantel that suits your home and style. Charles Ogg, a Guild member, made an Arts & Crafts-style mantel for a new home built with the same design principles in mind. He built it using big wood in order to balance the large stone fireplace. He then colored the copper with heat and oil to enhance colors. A vertical copper line was included to symbolize lashings in the yoke-like shape. Paul Zenaty also creates beautiful mantlepieces (see photo below)Contact a Guild member about creating a custom design for your home.

Federal Mantlepiece and Side Cabinets: Poplar, Maple, Brass, Glass and Halogen Lights by Paul Zenaty.

Federal Mantlepiece and Side Cabinets: Poplar, Maple, Brass, Glass and Halogen Lights by Paul Zenaty.

Step 2: Create a Layout

Commonly, a mantel’s layout will include a centerpiece surrounded by symmetrically–placed accessories that range in size from short to tall, with the taller items typically framing the centerpiece. That’s traditional. You can play with the basics and mix up your design. For instance, try asymmetry. You may cluster a collection of items (say some handcrafted pottery) at one side of the mantel and a mount an object (perhaps a pendant) on the wall on the other side of the mantel. Remember: Asymmetry does require a balancing of the elements.

Step 3: Choose a Centerpiece

The centerpiece is typically the largest item on or above your mantel and your focal point. It is the main attraction. There are many different types, including:

  • Art – Show your point-of-view and style, whether you love abstract or representational, sculptural or paintings. Art may either be hung on the wall, or rest on the mantel. When selecting art, think about how other mantel items may complement it, or go minimalist.
  • Clock – Function before style, right? A clock is the perfect fusion as you can see in the beautiful clocks made by our Guild members
  • Heirlooms – An heirloom represents family memories and family history. One challenge is size. Consider framing smaller heirlooms with larger items that take a back seat to highlight your special item.

    Large Walnut Taffy Mirror by David Hurwitz.

    Large Walnut Taffy Mirror by David Hurwitz.

  • Mirror – By far one of the most common centerpieces, a mirror serves both form and function. A large mirror “opens up” your room, making it appear larger. While a mirror itself may be a common option, the key to a good mirror centerpiece is choosing one with beauty and style, like those crafted by Vermont furniture makers.
  • Seasonal wreath – During the holidays, a wreath is a perfect centerpiece. But, don’t let this only be an option for the holidays. Experiment with seasonal wreaths using local botanicals. Your garden or local farmers’ market is the perfect place to find materials. A wreath may be hung on the wall or placed on the mantel. In either case, make sure it is securely fastened to prevent it from falling near the flames.
  • Television – The newest type of centerpiece is great for a home with a modern feel, or for families with strong sports traditions.
  • Window frame – An alternative to a mirror, a decorative window frame can make for a stylish centerpiece, and is often placed right on the mantel itself.

Step 4: Select Accessories, Wisely

Accessories can make or break your mantel. Select accessories that complement your centerpiece. As you select accessories try to repeat or contrast shapes, colors, styles, and sizes.

Some ideas include:

  • Candles and lamps – They help light the room when the fireplace isn’t lit. As they tend to be taller than other items on the mantel, candles and lamps are frequently used as corner pieces to frame the centerpiece. View some of the lamps available from our Guild members.

    Cephalopod Lamp by Mario Messina.

    Cephalopod Lamp by Mario Messina.

  • Plants – For green thumbs, plants make lovely additions to a mantel – as long as they don’t hang too close to the fire! Greenery may also match beautifully with a wood mantel and brick fireplaces. Botanical prints are another elegant option.
  • A favorite collection – Don’t let your favorite collection sit in a closet or cupboard, such as a collection of dishes. Display it!
  • Religious or spiritual items – Items with a religious or spiritual significance can be both beautiful and reflective of your beliefs. They make excellent mantel-top items or may be hung above the mantel.
  • Trophies – For the family of athletes, trophies are the classic choice. They may be spread across the mantel, hung from the mantel (in the case of medals), and frequently make for good corner pieces.
  • Photographs – Along with heirlooms, photographs represent your memories and are perfect for year-round accessories.

As you plan and decorate your mantel, always remember to tell a story. What will your story be?


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