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Learn How to Decorate a Mantel in 3 Simple Steps

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Wondering what to put on your mantel? Or how to decorate it in a way that looks “right”? Here are three simple steps that will teach you how to decorate a mantel like a pro!

Often, a fireplace mantel is a focal point of a room and yet we struggle to figure out how to decorate this beautiful feature.  Should it hold family photos?  Or maybe a flat-screen TV?  We try candlesticks, mirrors, pictures, and plants but nothing feels right.


The key is understanding the shapes and proportions that help pull it all together

How to Decorate a Mantel

A fireplace mantel tends to be a prominent feature in a home, so it’s important that it reflects your personal style and that it acts as a focal point. So you can’t just put anything up there. No, there’s a process and some “rules”. Read below to learn how you can decorate a mantel like a pro in just 3 easy steps!

1. Create Layers

Create 3 layers of décor for your mantel.  Always includes layers 1 and 2.  Layer 3 is optional depending on your decorating style.  Below is an illustration using my bedroom mantel

White fireplace mantel with mirror clock above candlesticks and books

Layer 1 – The Anchor:

Choose a large object that will be the focal point of the mantel for the center area, such as a mirror, artwork or even a flat screen TV.  Whatever the object, it will serve as the anchor for the remainder of your design and should be the tallest object in your overall design. 

Also, ensure that its scale is appropriate for the space.  The visual weight of this object should adequately balance out the visual weight of the firebox below the mantel and should fill a large portion of the wall above the mantel.

Layer 2 – The Weight:

Choose objects for the right and left sides of Layer 1 that will add width and visual weight to the overall design.  These items do not necessarily need to be identical, so long as their visual weight is similar. When choosing these items, make sure that their height is smaller than that of your Layer 1 object but still proportionate.

If you don’t love a symmetrical look, here are some tips for creating an Asymmetrical Style!

 Layer 3 – The Filler:

Add objects of varying heights to the center of the mantel underneath Layer 1 .  Varying the heights of these objects is important so that you do not create any horizontal lines with your decor which would then detract from the horizontal line of the mantel itself. 

You do not want anything to compete with the mantel!  Again, as you choose these items, keep their scale in mind to make sure they are smaller than the items chosen for Layer 2 but still proportionate.  If you want a very clean, minimal design, you might opt to skip Layer 3.

2.  Maintain a Triangle of Movement

Following the layering steps above, Layer 1 should be the tallest, followed by Layer 2 and then Layer 3.  In this way, you create a triangle above the mantel with the tallest point at the center working down as you move out left and right.  This helps our eye focus and allows a smooth transition from the mantel as we scan the rest of the room.

Create a triangle of decor above white french fireplace mantel next to antique dress form

3.  Keep Scale in Mind

It is important to keep scale in mind not only as the objects relate to the fireplace, but also as they relate to one another.  All of the items should overlap each other so that they feel connected to each other and act as a cohesive unit.  Think of it as a step-down effect from the tallest point in the center of the mantel to the shortest point on the outside edges.  You want to take small, gradual steps without any jarring height decreases.

Mantel Decor

Here are some of my favorite decor items to use when decorating a fireplace mantel.

Fireplace Decor Ideas

Once you’re comfortable with the process, think about what you might want to showcase on your mantel and where these items might fit within the layers mentioned above.  Consider using a mantel to showcase art, collectibles, seasonal decor, fresh flowers, or even family heirlooms.

Here are some designs I’ve created over the years. Notice that when you’re comfortable, it’s okay to break the rules!

Oversized clock above a white brick fireplace with candlesticks and antique demijohn
clock above a fireplace mantel decorated with a collection of breadboards and greenery
Christmas fireplace mantel with pink gold and white and antique blue shutters

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