One of the hardest places to decorate in a home is the mantel. Notice the spelling: most people get that wrong. It was originally called a mantelpiece or chimneypiece and was a hood that projected over a fire to catch the smoke. Today we use “mantel” to describe any sort of decorative framework around a fireplace. The word “mantle” is actually a term for a cloak in its most common use, but you seldom hear the word used anymore. Now that you’ve had your vocabulary and spelling lesson, let’s talk design!
Even for everyday use, decorating a mantel can be stressful. It’s an important part of most homes even in places like Houston where we seldom use the fireplace. Fireplaces are often centrally located, in important rooms and are a focal point. You want them to look nice.
There are a few rules of thumb that can make decorating your mantel easier.
1.) Keep your personal style in mind. If you are a modernist, you may prefer a very simple fireplace design perhaps with no area at all for displaying items. In that case, a stunning tile or stone surround can provide the design all on its own as shown in the above photo.
2). Modern or traditional fireplaces can look great when just a large piece of art is hung above them. If the art is appropriately sized, you don’t need accessories. If your television is placed there, rather than art, it may also be fine on its own. For the client’s home shown below, the fireplace is quite modern with tile to the ceiling. We infused the space with color and warmth by balancing the peacock blue hues on the bookcases and the sectional, and uniting the area with a rug. Colorful accessories on the shelves and vibrant pillows add interest to the space and the coffee table is a work of art!
3). If you feel the need to fill in around your art, sconces, vases and objets d’art are good options. In the following photo, see how the sconces are hung so there is no need to place anything on the mantel.
In the next example, a decorative tile surround and a simple frame are all this fireplace needs. A television is hung above but there is no mantel. However, the adjacent, built-in shelves provide plenty of display area.
4). Mantel décor is sometimes actually part of an entire wall. For this client, we created stone niches to display treasures and mementoes from travel. The floating rustic mantel looks great without a thing on it. This can provide a very clean look even while displaying a lot of items.
Seasonally, the mantel can be an ideal place to add a little bit of décor. I like to change out some of my items a few times a year. For example, I might have empty candlesticks and a moss ball during the summer months. I add black candles and stand-up raven cut-outs for Halloween. I exchange the ravens for a pair of urns stuffed with pheasant feathers and scatter a few mini pumpkins along the mantel for Thanksgiving.
Now, when Christmas rolls around, you can really have fun. You can spend a few dollars (or less if you use leftover ribbons) and create your own bunting with holiday cards. This can be a charming look and leaves plenty of room for the stockings!
Holiday cards tucked along the mantel is also quite cute and certainly economical. It’s a great way to decorate on a budget and be able to enjoy your pretty cards. Since most of us probably don’t receive as many cards these days, this is ideal for just a small collection of greetings. Here’s a charming shot from Shutterfly that shows both options.
The Tradition of Stockings Hung from Mantels
Stockings are one of my favorite holiday traditions by the way. My mother keeps all our stockings and if she visits one of our homes for Christmas, she brings them with her. At our ages, it’s pretty hilarious what they look like today. She embroidered them for my brothers and me when we were very young. Over the years she’s had to mend them, sew an eye back on a Teddy Bear cut-out, add a stitch to Santa’s hat and do general repairs. Since I am the oldest, my stocking was the first one made. When my mother made them for my brothers a few years later, the stocking kits were a bit cuter and I always thought my brothers had better stockings. Apparently, I brought this up to my mother so she decided to trade out some appliques. I got the cat on the ball from my brother Peter’s stocking. The cat is out of scale compared to the other toys on the stocking, but I liked it so she sewed it on my stocking and swapped out something else for Peter’s stocking. Even at that age apparently I had an eye for design and was pretty particular. I think both of my brothers (and my mother) would still agree with both of those statements! The stockings have survived and their vintage designs are a wonderful reminder of Christmas’ past.
Since I don’t have possession of the family stockings, many years ago, in my early days of design, I had a seamstress/artist of mine make a collection of stockings for me out of fabric remnants from my favorite projects. We curated the selections, so they were all variations of animal prints and each one was creatively unique. We went a step further and had her make stockings for our clients. We filled them with gifts and had a ball presenting stockings that matched their drapes or sofa pillows. Everyone loved them!
When I travel to see my family for Christmas, I create my own version of stockings by selecting fun containers for everyone and stuffing them with appropriate small gifts, candy and of course the obligatory orange and a candy cane. We always had an orange in the toe and a candy cane hanging over the top of our stockings.
Now, of course, we also like big, ornate and elegant mantel décor at Christmas too. We most often turn to our friends at The Creative Branch since they create holiday décor for many of my clients and me. They do a beautiful job of designing garlands for mantels as well as mantel tiles, which are designed to sit at each end of the mantel so that you still have room for your own decorations, or of course, those stockings!
When we moved into our new home in 2016, I had them remake all my garlands. I had mine since moving into my former home in 2002 so I had gotten great use out of them. Alas, the greenery was getting worn, the ribbons were fraying and I had broken a few ornaments. They removed the remaining, nice ornaments and ribbons and attached them to fluffy new greenery. They added some fresh colors to better match my new home and the result was a beautiful mix of new and old. They made a wreath for the front gate, swags for the coach lights, updated my mantel tiles and created enhancers (little bouquets of greenery and ornaments) to help coordinate with our tree. The best thing about it was that everything coordinated really well and the pieces can be moved around the house or from the front to the back yard, depending on our plans and the way we will entertain. Every year I do things just a bit differently, and, of course, I add in my personal ornaments and favorite decorations from over the years. I love how it always comes together and looks fresh yet familiar because many of the pieces are the same.
Here are a few shots from our first Christmas on Memorial Drive. I am already thinking about how to mix it up this year!
I hope these ideas get you started on your own mantelpiece and other holiday décor. Now, more than ever, we should make our homes Merry and Bright!
Until next time, find your holiday inspiration or contact us and we’ll help you discover it.