Decorating A Mantel

To adorn or not to adorn, or more importantly, how to adorn? The question really is this: Do you want your fireplace to be a dramatic focal point in the room or simply an understated architectural detail? Whether located in a starkly modern or classically traditional space, a fireplace typically draws the eye. And how we decorate the mantel helps to either downplay the structure or attract more attention to it.

In this article:
Mantel Tips


One way to treat a modern mantel is to use it as a display area for one striking piece of sculpture. This type of minimalist style allows you to enjoy the fire and view a favourite piece of art at the same time.

Most modern mantel displays are asymmetrical. However, if symmetry is important to you, a minimalist yet balanced look can be created by decorating the mantel with one large piece of art flanked by two similar or identical pieces, like vases or small lamps.

Some modern-style fireplaces do not sport mantels at all, leaving just the wall above to decorate. One large mirror or piece of artwork the same width as the fireplace will balance out the space, placing just enough emphasis on the area while taking advantage of valuable wall space for display.


A contemporary mantel might see a couple of simple groupings such as a trio of vases or objects d’art. These can be swapped with other collectibles for a quick update or to create a new seasonal display.

Leaning layers of framed photos on a mantel is a current, sophisticated way of arranging a display. Try to maintain a uniform look by using similar coloured frames or images (such as all black and white photos). Adding a plant or vase on one end of the mantel creates a diversion for the eye while adding interest.


Old, elaborate mantels often call for a little more substance. To keep your mantel current, stray from the old two-candlestick standard and take the opportunity to create interesting vignettes. From stacking piles of books to hanging collectibles or antique prints, almost anything goes in traditional mantel decorating.

Mantel Tips

  • Use accent colours on your mantel for added interest and contrast; coordinating colours offer a more uniform, peaceful look.
  • Choose what is important to you, what you want to see every day and what might coordinate with the style and palette of the room. A mantel in a wood-paneled library might feature leather-bound books for example, or an exquisite, ornate mirror.
  • Balance is important when creating a display and a stylish way of achieving it is to use items of different heights but of similar weight.
  • Arranging a grouping of the same type of item can also make for a strong display. Five or even more glass candle holders of different heights and sizes (all bearing the same colour of candle, of course) can add sparkle and weight to the mantel, especially if they sit in front of a mirror which will reflect the glowing candlelight.
  • Hanging a flat-panel TV over the mantel is becoming almost the norm with the popularity of high definition televisions. However, when the TV is turned off, you are left with a blank screen. One solution is to install a special two-way mirror in an attractive wood or metal frame (Séura is one such company that makes these.) Hang the mirror over the front of the television and when the TV is on, the screen is visible through the mirror. Turned off, the television looks like a regular mirror over your mantel. Some electronics companies are now selling these mirrors as accessories for their TVs.



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