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7 Tips on How to Style a Mantel (And What to Do About that TV)

Your mantel is often the centerpiece of your living space. It’s the hearth and heart of your home (or at least your living room)—so knowing how to style a mantel is crucial to your décor.

You may also have a mantel in your bedroom, dining area, or in other rooms of the home. Mantel styling is one of those areas that can be a lot of fun once you get the hang of it. It’s a great way to add personality to your home décor and play up the great features of your home’s design.

So, if you’re ready to learn how to style a mantel, here’s your step-by-step guide plus plenty of inspo along the way.

Design: Marie Flanigan Interiors | Photography: Julie Soefer

1. Choose a Focal Piece

When styling a mantel, it's best to start with a focal piece. If you're mounting a TV above your fireplace mantel, scroll down to learn how to decorate a mantel with a TV. If you are styling a mantel without a TV, or your television is going elsewhere, then choose a centerpiece for the mantel with height.

A beautiful piece of artwork or mirror often make excellent focal pieces to hang above a mantel. I love an antique gilded mirror to really open up the room. Be sure to scale the piece to the mantel and the wall. Of course, if you have a fireplace with charming exposed brick, stone, or some other interesting details, you may instead want to lean your centerpiece against the wall, resting on the mantel.

2. Decide on Formal or Casual

Depending on your room's and home's style, you may want to decorate the space with symmetrical items, such as matching taper candles or bookends. As a general design rule, symmetry creates formalness, whereas asymmetry creates a more casual, modern feel.

If you feel that a casual, fresh look is your goal, you’ll still want to aim for balance. That doesn’t necessarily mean two similar-sized items on each side. In fact, in design, odd numbers play together better than even numbers. So you would create balance with a larger item on one side and two smaller items on the other, or a grouping of two on one side and three on the other.

3. Add Visual Interest

The most important thing about a mantel is that it catches the eye and enhances the rest of the room. Many people choose traditional mantel items such as pottery, candles, greenery, or other decorative objects. But it’s always fun to add some unique and visually interesting items to your mantel décor.

I suggest watching antique and consignment shops for items that stand out and appeal to you. You can decorate with a few books or interesting items from your travels. If you have artwork above the mantel, you may not want to incorporate too many photographs, but a framed memory or two can also help personalize your mantel.

4. Stack and Layer Items

When styling a mantel, it's important to layer items. Don't line everything up perfectly, but rather stagger the pieces. For example, put more oversized items to the back of the mantel and bring smaller things forward. Keep it interesting with a tall, slender item behind a shorter, more robust piece.

Books make great stacking pieces on your mantel. You could also stack candles on top of other pieces. Try incorporating different shapes and sizes of similar items to break up the look and make it feel fresh and intriguing.

Design + Image: Studio McGee

5. Keep it Simple

When in doubt, remember that less is often more, especially when styling mantel decor. Many people overdo it or try to add too much to any design scape. It can be tempting to keep adding a little more to your home's different corners and spaces, but generally speaking, simplicity is often better and allows the space to breathe.

It's also a good guideline for people suffering from allergies and dust sensitivities. The mantel can quickly collect soot and dust if you plan to use your fireplace. If your mantel is near a kitchen or you have an open-concept floor design, you can also get residual dust and grease from cooking and moisture. Keep your mantel uncluttered by styling with just a few pieces you love.

Design + Image: Josh Young Design House

6. Include Natural Elements

If you’re familiar with my style, you know I love any opportunity to include natural elements in my décor. Including items like cut branches or pieces from nature help make any area feel grounded and peaceful. Depending on your style, driftwood, limestone and sculptural marble can be interesting items to style your mantel.

I also like using items made from natural materials whenever possible. For example, choose beeswax or soy candles over scented wax. Select paint and wallpaper that is less toxic with no VOCs. Antiques and older items can also make fascinating additions and are generally healthier and derived from fewer synthetic materials.

A progress shot of our fireplace in the Modern European!

7. Make it Personal

As with any area of your home, your mantel should be personal. Styling a mantel offers a great opportunity to showcase items important to you—a beautiful vase, sculpture from your travels, or interesting and beautiful books.

Remember that since the mantel is the focal point of your home and room, it should be unique and carefully considered. You can make seasonal changes throughout the year if you like, but if you are deliberate in your styling, it may be an evergreen area of your home that sets the tone all year.

Special Note: How to Decorate a Mantel with a TV

One of the biggest struggles with styling a mantel is the television. How do you work around (or moreover work WITH) your TV? Most of us would love to hide our TV away when it's not in use, but that's not always a practical option. If you spend a lot of time in your living room, then the TV is very likely a central item in the space.

So, what to do? One of my favorite technology developments in the last few years has been TVs that become artwork when not in use. The Samsung Frame is a favorite, although several ultra-thin, Smart television options are on the market now.

If you haven't explored this technology yet, it will astound you. Changing a simple setting makes your TV a beautiful piece of framed art. Change the screen display with your moods or select a favorite work of art or photograph as a semi-permanent piece. The options are nearly endless.

Design + Image: Studio McGee

The QLED technology is ultra-clear, and with a matte screen, there's hardly any light reflection. There are options to select the matting color, and you can choose different bezels that snap in place to complete the look (hence, the "Frame" name). It's an exciting option for any area of your home, especially if you're trying to style a mantel along with your TV.

If you place a TV above your fireplace, you’ll want to choose mantel décor that doesn’t interfere with the view but still helps to balance the space. Again, this is a case where less is often more. You'll want to position your TV so it's comfortably viewable, but also give yourself some space above the mantel, if possible, especially if you plan to add items on the mantel in front of the TV. Keep in mind the TV should still be “anchored” to the fireplace—and ultimately the room—so it doesn’t appear as though it’s floating off into space.

Styling your mantel is a wonderful way to bring your space together and add some personality and excitement to your home. Have fun with your styling. As a central area of the room, your mantel should bring joy to you and all those who gather in your home!

How do you style your mantel? Are there any dilemmas (like styling around your TV)? Let me know in the comments below.

X Lauren


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