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.

Why?

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.

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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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57 Comments

  1. Love your tutorial.

    How do you do the triangle effect on an extra long mantel. It runs the whole length of a long wall.

    Do you do the triangle effect in the middle and spread it out horizontally more than you are showing on these mantels.

    And then, what do you do with the corners on each end?

  2. Pamela Ludgate says:

    Your tips were helpful to me but I still need a little assistance. I have a mantel clock that is the central (or anchor) point on the mantel. We don’t have anywhere else to put it so it will need to remain on the mantel- and I love it- but don’t know what to put on the sides especially since the mantel clock is not very tall (and you mentioned having everything else shorter than the anchor). I believe it’s about 8 inches tall and about 12 inches wide at the bottom.
    I have looked and looked online for how to decorate with a mantel clock and nothing has actually come up- just for large clocks that you attach to the wall.
    So just wondering if you have any tips or ideas? Thank you so much!

    1. Tidbits&Twine says:

      Hi Pamela,

      Are you able to hang a mirror or a piece of art above your mantel and then place the mantel clock on the center of your mantel with other items flanking on the side? In my post, I would use your mantel clock as the “filler” layer. Does that make sense?

      :) Kim

  3. Great how to article. I think a lot of people struggle with decorating mantles. You did a great job of breaking it down for those less creative!

    1. Tidbits&Twine says:

      Hi Lindsay! I’m so glad you like the article and found it helpful! :) Kim

  4. Candy Loadman says:

    Hi there,
    I came across your tutorial concerning mantels. I generally follow your rules when decorating them. However, I am at a quandary with my own mantel but isn’t how it is with your own stuff. I have a massive arched window over my mantel and then 2 long windows on each side of the fire place. While all the windows create great light and beautiful views of my back yard. How would you handle this? Would you ignore the elephant in the room and work around it or leave it as your focal point?

    Thanks
    Candy

  5. Beautiful!! I was wondering where I can find the candle holders you used

  6. I loved this! I struggle so much on how to place all my items. This was deffinately a help!

    1. Tidbits&Twine says:

      Hi Debbie,

      I so glad you found it helpful! :)Kim

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