"How To" Series: Styling a Mantel

Sometimes I think styling a mantel can be way more difficult than bookshelves.  I liken it to styling a coffee table which I discussed here.  I think, for me, a mantel is challenging because:

1. It is THE focal point of a room
2. It's linear, so you have to get creative to make it special without using the element of depth.

When you have a room with a fireplace, it's the first thing you notice.  So, the accessories and artwork must stand on their own.

  It has to be well thought out and compliment the space.  In some cases, like below, the texture of the brick adds such a wonderful element along with the lantern that a mantel really needs little to no accessories for a wow. 
Here are my top things to consider when styling a mantel.

The Balancing Act
Decide on whether you like symmetrical or asymmetrical designs - this is truly a matter of taste.  Symmetrical designs give you a balanced look and tend to be more formal and/or traditional in style while an asymmetrical designs really have a more modern and/or casual vibe.  Now recognize that the ultimate style of the mantel heavily depends on the accessories you select, but the overall look will be influenced by whether you maintain symmetry in the design.

This is a perfect example of symmetry both on the mantel and in this beautiful room.
  A little trick to help you decide which you prefer? look around your home and if you have pairs of everything, chairs, lamps, tables, etc. you will probably like a symmetrical design.  

Remember Scale
Determine the proper scale of the items you should include on the mantel.  Rule of thumb: The main focal piece on a mantel should be at least 3/4 the height from the mantel to the ceiling.  It can be taller, but this is a minimum.  Otherwise, the pieces you place on your mantel will get lost.

In this example the artwork appears to be almost the same size as the fireplace surround, but what makes it work is the rest of the wall is large enough to read as one vignette.  

Depth of the Mantel
If you have a very deep mantel you will want to include accessories that fill up this space and make the depth feel purposeful.  This happens if the fireplace is located in a recessed corner or has a large alcove above it (for a TV).

If your mantel is very narrow, you will be challenged to find accessories that give you height  without depth.  Options to consider with a narrow mantel include: lamps with shield shades which I talked about here, wall sconces, plates or even propping a pair of weathered shutters for lots of height.

Layer the look vs. Keep It Simple

This is also a matter of taste, but it is important to maintain the style of the overall room.
This mantel makes my mouth water.

This is one of my all time favorite layered mantels.  Sherry at Design Indulgence is a master at layering without creating clutter.

Artwork can be hung or propped depending on the look you want to achieve.  Also, don't underestimate the impact that color will have on the overlook of a space.   In this example they have pulled colors out of the painting for the accent pillows.  


Lastly, I adore this image.  You don't even notice that there isn't a mantel!  This is a wonderful example of how one large, simple piece does the trick without a mantel!  

Think these things in mind and you will be stylin' in no time!  M.


  1. Oh, such a great post! I love symmetry and usually simplicity...and it does make it so much easier when you realize if you like symmetry or not! Take care, Caroline

  2. Great suggestions, M! I'm a layering girl myself, but it is tricky business. I have to keep tweaking until it feels right. Then I'm ready to switch it up again!

  3. Terrific post, one which I am bookmarking for future refernce. I like all your ideas and do agree it can be tricky, as with much of design its often about trail and error!

  4. Imagine my surprise when I saw my mantel...LOL! I pinned most of them as they are all gorgeous especially the first picture...WOW!

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Thank you for thoughts on my post! M.