Fireplace Mantle Decorating Ideas

If you have a fireplace in your living room, you have an amazing opportunity to showcase something special. You can do this by placing a collection of artwork and interesting objects together in an interesting composition. Sounds easy, right? Well, speaking from years of experience, it’s not that simple! Creating a balanced arrangement is really tricky and for most home owners, a daunting task. When we are working with clients on their decorating projects, they often tell me they are completely stumped when it comes to the fireplace mantle. I have collected a number of photographs and am going to share with you a few secrets on how to achieve a balanced, interesting fireplace mantle display.


Interior design by Eddie Ross. Photograph via the blog Matters of Style

The first thing to determine is whether you are trying to create a symmetrical or asymmetrical arrangement. Symmetrical arrangements tend to be more traditional and formal while asymmetrical ones can be more dynamic and unexpected. In the above symmetrical arrangement each item is perfectly balanced and the two sides of the mantle are a mirror image of each other. This type of composition is usually easier to pull off for a do-it-yourselfer then an asymmetrical arrangement. Contrast between the objects is a key factor to create interest. The black mirror, sconce shades and candlesticks in this photo are a dramatic contrast to the white vases and silver trophies. This contrast is what keeps a symmetrical arrangement from getting stale.

Tip #1 – Symmetrical arrangements are often easier to create for first timers.

Tip #2 – Make sure there is some contrast between the items you are displaying.

Photo courtesy of Canadian House and Home. Designer unknown

There are several great ideas to note from this image. First, check out how the designer has layered the different drawings on top of each other to create depth and interest. Also, note the repetition of similar objects utilized. All the art is of the human form. The black and white color scheme has also been repeated as has  the circular shape of the mirror, vase and sphere. Did you notice these similarities between the objects when you first looked a the photo? The arrangement at first glance seems like a collection of items that are not similar and almost haphazard. But once you break it down and really look at the dynamics of the composition, a pattern is revealed.

Tip #3 – Layer your objects to create depth.

Tip #4 – Repeat shapes or a color scheme.

Tip #5 – Group objects that have a similar theme for harmony.

Interior design by Ned Marshall. Photo courtesy of House Beautiful

If a symmetrical arrangement seems too formal for you try adding a few pieces to mix it up. In this photo the basis of the arrangement is symmetrical. There is a central piece of art, and a plate on a bracket, two green majolica bowls and two candelabras. To mix it up, the mirror on the stack of books, the leaves and a small etching have been added to either side to break up the symmetry. Another important tip to note from this photo is the varying heights of items. This creates movement in the arrangement. The mirror on the right would have been too low if it weren’t for the books it is propped up on. This is a great trick if you need to add some height to an object in the composition.

Tip #6- Shake things up by adding some unexpected items in your symmetrical arrangement.

Tip #7- Stack objects on books or boxes to get a variety of heights.

[tobi+fairley.bmp]Interior design by Tobi Fairley. Photo via the blog Matters of Style

I found this picture from the blog Matters of Style which featured a great article on fireplace mantles. This mantle caught my eye because of its simplicity. On either side of the fireplace there are bookcases decorated with paintings and pottery. If this fireplace had been decorated with something heavy or with multiple items the entire room would feel too cluttered. Keeping the fireplace display clean makes the room feel fresh.

Tip #8 – Consider the entire room and other items that may be competing for attention when dressing the fireplace.

Designer Unknown. Photo via Lonny Magazine

The items on this fireplace are really intriquing – who lives here? There looks to be some old medicine bottles, a collection of tiny antique books, and some interesting sculptural forms displayed on the mantle. It’s these kind of quirky objects which showcase your personality. I would have never considered antique medicine bottles as display, but I bet they get a lot of attention from guests and perhaps remind the home owner of a special antiquing trip. Even everyday objects can become works of art when displayed properly!

Tip #9 – Add items that have special meaning or uniqueness for personality.

Interior design by Hal Williamson. Photo via House Beautiful Magazine

A mirror over the fireplace is a wonderful idea, but needs a word of caution. Don’t forget that what is reflected in your mirror becomes a part of the composition! If you have a less then wonderful view reflected you are not doing your fireplace any service. In this stunning room the gorgeous chandelier twinkles in the reflection. This is the perfect use for a mirror over a fireplace. Absolutely heavenly!

Tip – #10 Mirrors over a fireplace are only great if what is reflected is beautiful.

Interior design by David DeMattei and Patrick Wade. Photo via House Beautiful

Creating balance between unlike objects is not easy to do. On this fireplace, the heaviness of the bronze sculpture on the left is balanced by the collection of smaller items on the right. Without the collection of smaller objects the arrangement would feel like it was tipping to the left because of the visual weight of the sculpture.

Tip #11 – Several small items can balance out one large visually complex item.

Interior design by Barry Dixon Inc.

Designer Barry Dixon is a master at accessorizing. His website is jam-packed with fabulous rooms and vignettes which have me drooling. I highly encourage you to check it out for decor inspiration. This particular photograph caught my eye because of the modern treatment of the fireplace and the rule of three. The rule of three is that an uneven number of items is visually more appealing than an even number of objects in an asymmetrical arrangement. I can’t tell you why. It just is. And this little secret is a designer’s best friend! By the way, this photo also shows repetition, and contrast – did you notice?

Tip#12 – Use three objects together to create a simple composition.

Interior design by Bear Hill photo via the blog Verdigris Vie

Texture is crucial when creating a successful fireplace mantle composition, especially in monochromatic color schemes. Here, the painted brick of the fireplace is paired with waxy candles, glossy glass vases and photographs, the rough metal of a gear and a leafy soft floral arrangement. Each of these objects has a distinct texture, and mixing these textures together is what adds warmth and uniqueness to this display. Without these textures, the display would be dull.

Tip #13 – Incorporate several different textures in your arrangement.

I hope that some of these tips have given you the confidence to tackle decorating your own fireplace mantles and demystified the process of creating a balanced arrangement. But if not, we’d be happy to help! We’re always here at Corea Sotropa Interior Design in Calgary to help you with your interior design and decorating needs.




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