Interior Design Tips for Decorating a Fireplace Mantle

fireplace mantle design

Fireplaces tend to sit center stage in a room. How you decorate them can set the tone for the rest of the space. Fireplaces are already visually complicated; their many parts include doors, screens, mantle, fire tools, end irons and even the dark opening for the fire. Furthermore, the scale of the fireplace can be at odds with the size of the room and the height of the ceiling. Adding decorative pieces to the mix to create an uncluttered and cohesive look can be quite challenging! Below we share some tips on how to approach dressing your fireplace mantle.

The biggest mistake we see in fireplace mantle design is filling the space with a lot of small, unrelated items. The homeowner ends up with a cluttered, confusing look. Filling a mantle with lots of family photos is a common example of this error. Smaller photographs look awkward next to the large scale of the fireplace opening and the empty space surrounding it. Larger pieces that fit with the overall length of the mantle are more appropriate. For example, on a 6ft or 8ft long space, a 12” vase would appear too small, unless it is the smallest of a landscape of five vases of varying sizes.

We approach mantle design from one of two ways: warm and friendly or make a statement. Warm and friendly means creating a feeling of homey comfort fireplaces so often symbolize. We like to create the feel of a high-end library by adding items like beautiful old books, a decanter of good brandy, snifters, and a pipe rack. Make a statement focuses on creating a clean and balanced look. For this design we bring in large pieces chosen for their scale, color and personality. The final product is a symmetrical and well-organized mantle.

fireplace mantle design
For these clients, we decorated the mantle of a large stone fireplace with old rare books and a collection of antique crowns we found at Beauchamp Antiques. The crowns were sculptural and interesting, and fit into the old-world style of the room. We feel it is a fine example of the warm and friendly mantle.

The large area behind the mantle greatly affects your accessory choices. If the wall is covered with decorative stone or wood, your job is a bit easier as you already have architectural interest. However, most fireplaces these days are surrounded by drywall. To liven up this space, hang large-scale artwork or sculpture. A large mirror can be used as well to reflect a beautiful landscape outside a window or a well-designed room. Or, they can be beautiful themselves, offering visual interest through a carved frame. When you use a large piece on the wall, make sure to decorate the mantle with a few, larger scale accessories for an uncluttered look.

Fireplace design
With the advent of flat-screen TVs, many people are using the space above the fireplace for their entertainment systems. For example, the TV was the main fireplace feature for these clients. We placed a large platter and two large vases on the mantle, and an antique finial on the floor to create a big finish without looking cluttered.

Like a kitchen island, the fireplace mantle can easily become a landing surface for everyday household items. Especially as the challenge of decorating a long, narrow and flat surface can leave the area empty, ripe for clutter! Don’t be intimidated. Create a deliberate design for the space to deter people from using it as a catchall. However, watch out for creating a cluttered look. Editing your choices will be the key to a beautiful and balanced fireplace mantle. Do you have some favorite pieces on your mantle? Tell us about them!

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