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Check out these designer tips for decorating your fireplace mantel

Sizzling sensations

Three photos of stylishly designed living room fireplaces. Credit: Crate & Barrel / Getty Images / phototropic / West Elm

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It doesn’t have to be the holiday season for friends and family to gather around the fireplace in your home. Sure, pine cones and evergreen garlands as mantel decorating ideas offer festive cheer to Santa’s entrance, but for the remaining 11 months of the year how you decorate your fireplace mantel can warm you just as much as glowing logs and crackling flames.

Perhaps there is an heirloom oil painting or a sculpture you purchased on a milestone celebration trip—by placing these around the fireplace mantel you’re literally putting your favorite pieces on a pedestal for all to enjoy.

To help you navigate your options, we asked two experts for mantel decorating ideas. These are their ways to bring some heart to your hearth.

Get personal when decorating your mantel

Family photos stacked in a row on a mantel.
Credit: Getty Images / Sinenkiy

Don't just arrange similarly sized family photos in a row.

When it comes to decorating your mantel, have fun and use what makes you happy when creating that “ah ha” moment on what pairs well together.

Allison Kersun, an in-house interior designer at Miami-based design business Modloft, says, “Decorate with items you really love to look at every day. For me, that’s photos of my friends and family. I like to use different frame sizes and styles, but in the same color to make the pictures more eye-catching. I also have a favorite vase I like to include on my mantel, along with my favorite books.”

Begin with a main focal point

A dark living room with a fireplace and art.
Credit: Getty Images / nicolamargaret

Whether it's a mirror or piece of art, a dominant feature helps bring the eyes to the mantel.

When creating your perfect fireplace mantel design, begin with a main focal point. One item placed in the center of the mantel should be whatever you want to draw attention to—a family portrait, a favorite painting, a big funky clock.

Eunice Weckesser of Wave & Woven, a full-service interior and personal styling service in Winchester, Mass., says, “I always encourage placing a fun mirror or piece of art to center the fireplace,” adding that choosing a mirror is a great visual trick for making a room look larger.

Kersun also suggests leaning items on the wall to create a better visual rather than hanging them.

Add smaller items for balance

Small items surround a large frame on a mantel.
Credit: Getty Images / brizmaker

Pick what small items will complement your dominant piece.

Once your main object is in place, balance your mantel design with smaller objects like vases or figurines.

Kersun suggests, “Decorate with items of different shapes and sizes. Odd numbers are always better than even.”

Another of Kersun’s mantel decorating ideas falls to layering smaller objects across the horizontal space. She says, “Always layer items with taller pieces in the back and smaller pieces on the sides or in front.”

For Weckesse, it’s all about shapes and textures. “I love mixing different textures and incorporating art and sculptural pieces,” she says. “Geometric shapes and lines make a mantel more modern.”

Unless you already have a giant photo as your main focal point, consider using at least one photo in the mix of smaller objects, even if it’s just a print of your favorite park or building.

“Adding photos adds energy,” Weckesse says.

Just don’t shove everything onto the mantel, and avoid cluttering it up. Kersun warns, “Make sure there’s space between each item and avoid adding too many items.”

Allow form to mingle with function

A ceramic pot with matches and a gold firewood holder.
Credit: TinyHandsPottery / West Elm

Small touches can go a long way.

There are certain things you need around your fireplace, like matchsticks and wood bins, but it can be how you display these items that makes all the difference when it comes to enhancing your mantel.

Pull double duty with your must-haves by searching for décor elements that are both useful and stylish. Elegant glass cloches or bohemian mini pots with striker pads sitting atop the mantel combine form and function.

Fill them with matchsticks that coordinate with the rest of the room for a nice tie-in to your space’s vibe. Look for elegant wood log holders (yes, they exist), so that housing fuel for your fireplace is as stylish as can be.

Keep warm things coming

Two images of candles fit for a fireplace.
Credit: GreenTree Home / Crate & Barrel

The hearth doesn't have to be the only place with a flame.

Lanterns and candles placed on the mantel can help achieve an even cozier vibe.

Whether you choose thick pillars or skinny candlesticks, unlit candles can fill unused space surrounding your centerpiece.

With lanterns, choose a larger one as the main focal point or group smaller ones off to the side. Match its material to your room’s style—bronze for contemporary, distressed wood for cottagecore.

Don’t discount actually lighting things up. Weckesser says, “Fun light sconces on either side of the mantel can bring a lot of visual interest and pull together the look.”

Don’t limit your fireplace mantel ideas to the mantel

Two fireplaces with gold and black screens.
Credit: West Elm / Crate & Barrel

Add a simplistic or detailed screen to your fireplace.

Incorporating vintage or vintage-like pieces around the fireplace surround can also help warm things up, says Weckesser.

Fireplace fenders in a gold or bronze can create an inviting design (not to mention who doesn’t love a roaring ‘20s Art Déco nod for a roaring fire), while also reflecting the flames’ glow.

Add a surprise inside the fireplace

A minimalistic white marble ball.
Credit: CB2

Too hot to light a fire? Stack a few marble spheres inside the hearth.

Unless you live in a very cold climate, you’re not burning wood in your fireplace year-round. Which is OK—you can and should still decorate your mantel.

To take the place of burning embers, you can add to the allure of your fireplace by surprising your houseguests during the off-season with unexpected items, like pillar candles or stones, inside your hearth.

Weckesser says, “I love placing stone spheres in a fireplace. It always looks upgraded with a fire off.”

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