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4 designer Christmas mantel ideas you can easily recreate

The pros tell us how

Modern living room with brick fireplace and mantle styled for the holiday season. Credit: Kristi Hughes

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Over the holidays, the fireplace tends to be where people congregate, whether gathering around the warmth of the fire or (obviously) to stake out the joint while waiting for Santa. Which means that the mantel, the place where we typically hang our stockings or display Christmas cards, is the perfect place to add a few more decorative elements to create a luxe holiday vibe.

There are limitless possibilities for Christmas mantel ideas: how to add some color and light, whether you want to create a lush, natural vibe with found objects from the outdoors, like evergreen garlands, pine cones, or driftwood, go all out with the candles, or choose a minimalist, clean aesthetic with just a few key pieces of décor.

We spoke to four interior designers for their expert advice on how to achieve a gorgeous, affordable mantel design that’s easily recreated and won’t break the bank.

Natural wood with white lights

String LED lights draped on white mantel next to wooden reindeer
Credit: Getty Images / Ольга Симонова

Soft lighting and warm candles on your mantel will make your living room more inviting for all holiday guests.

New York-based interior designer Andi Federman explains that the biggest change she’s seen recently in home design is the quest for comfort over formality.

“There’s been such a lifestyle shift over the last two years, and I think now more than ever people are looking to turn their homes into their havens,” she says. “Everyone wants to feel comfortable and more relaxed and intimate in their homes.”

As a result, Federman says many of her clients are opting for more natural, neutral aesthetics, and her mantel design is no different. “Instead of a garland, I would love to see a large piece of driftwood or white birchwood branches as the main focal point, and you can still wrap some white lights around it.”

Federman suggests using a variety of candles of different heights, from tall tapers to small votives to flank the wood. Antique brass or copper-colored candlesticks will add to the holiday vibe.

For a more playful look, Federman suggests weaving strands of felt pom-poms through the wooden branches. “It doesn’t have to be Christmas or Hanukkah colors,” she says, “it can be bleached cotton or rainbow, just something fun and happy and festive.”

Here’s how to get the look

On left, string lights in oval shaped jar. On right, an array of colorful candle sticks of different sizes.
Credit: Minetom / Hawkins New York

Dazzle your guests with a subtle light show.

Symmetry and scents

Mantel adorned with knitted stockings, candles and stuffed animals.
Credit: Getty Images / Tom Merton

Nothing is better than warm, familiar aromas of the holiday season wafting through your home.

From Washington D.C., Michaela Criniti, an interior designer with Urban Country Designs, also offers a natural approach.

She says, “Make sure you are thinking about all the senses when you are creating your mantel. Adding candles or a fragrance source like essential oils, orange slices, or cinnamon sticks is a great way to immediately captivate your guests into your space.”

When it comes to the actual design, Criniti says the most important component of your mantel—no matter what materials you’re using—is the use of layers and various heights. “This allows your eye to travel across the mantel and take you on a true journey.”

Similarly, she suggests using symmetry to make things pleasing to the eye. “You could go for a symmetrical, flanking approach in which you have two tall items at either end.” And, then fill in with shorter items such as votives or natural greenery as you work your way toward the center.

Try grouping tall tapered candles, or low candles displayed on staggered-height candle holders on the outer edge of your mantel. If you want a more colorful approach, swap out candles for decorative trees or even tall bottle brush trees. Fill in the center with an arrangement of greenery or scented votives placed in holders of differing heights.

Here’s how to get the look

Blue candle sticks in gold candle holders on top of table. On right,
Credit: The Floral Society / Cody Foster

Create a tiny winter wonderland on your mantel with these quaint items.

Leather, books, and candles

Cozy living with fireplace and Christmas tree.
Credit: Getty Images / brizmaker

An unexpected way to create a comfy vibe can be with books and candles that give off that "lived in" feel.

When we spoke to LA-based designer Julie Lomeli she suggested using books as a way to make your mantel more festive.

“Books are cozy and warm and feel homey,” she says. In her own home, Lomeli keeps a stack of leather-bound family photo albums on one side of her mantel and has a hurricane vase with a candle in it on the other side, a look that she says can be tied together for the holidays by adding string lights or additional candles toward the center.

“What really sets the mood is candles or twinkle lights, adding that sparkle [to] whatever material you’re using.”

Lomeli explains that tall stacks of books or other items grouped together make a dramatic impact and allow you to tweak the height and asymmetry of your design as well.

“You can stack them horizontally and use that as your height,” she says, and in this case, she suggests stacking them asymmetrically to achieve balance. “Things need to be high sometimes or low sometimes, and you can build things up by stacking books.”

Though she says she loves found objects and encourages the use of items you may already have in your home, if you want to achieve a very particular look, BooksByTheFoot.com is an amazing design resource where you can pick out the style, color, or genre of book you’d like to decorate with and have fun with it.

Here’s how to get the look

On left, assorted glass candle holders on table. On right, tan leather bound book.
Credit: West Elm

The Leather Pocket Album from West Elm is perfect your precious memories and your décor.

Soft greenery with blush glass baubles

Modern mantel with candle sticks and greenery.
Credit: Kristie Hughes

This method of decoration combines modernity and tradition.

Rachel Alcorn, owner of Two Hands Interiors in Chicago, suggests mixing traditional materials, like wreaths and glass ball ornaments, but adjusting the colors to achieve a slightly softer look.

“Holiday decorating doesn’t need to be limited to traditional reds and greens,” she says. “Finding a palette that plays well with your existing décor can be just as festive with the right mix of metallics and unexpected touches.”

For a recent photo shoot, Alcorn blended copper, taupe, soft greens, and blush to create a chic, shimmering effect.

“We elevated a neutral scheme into something special for the holidays,” she explains. “Ornaments in a variety of glass and metallic bowls is a simple way to spread décor throughout the bookshelves, and scattering them amongst greens on the mantel completes the look.”

You can also try combining faux greenery with the real stuff. Not only is it cost effective, it adds freshness. “Combine faux magnolia wreaths and then feather in real greens from the backyard to create a more full look. Using ribbon and trim to hang the wreaths at various levels adds a bit of softness and holiday color to tie the overall scheme together.”

Here’s how to get the look

On left, wreath with green leaves. On right, red and gold ornaments in Christmas tree.
Credit: The Holiday Aisle / West Elm

Introducing faux greenery will brighten the room and offer a more fresh feel.

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