HOW TO DECORATE A MANTEL LIKE A PRO

side view of a decorated mantel

Decorating the mantel is probably one of the most daunting decor tasks we do! You would think that it would be so easy to decorate a long piece of board, right? But not when it is the focal point for a room! Today let’s make decorating a mantel easy and get a free printable guide sheet and checklist at the end of the post for creating a beautiful mantel every time!

Make sure to see my most recent video about how to decorate a mantel!

One of the most asked questions I get is about decorating a mantel!

tall candlesticks on a decorated mantel

I bet I have styled hundreds of mantels in my lifetime! For every season and lots of holidays too!

But as I get more “expert” at creating what goes on that all-important, horizontal focal point I’ve learned a few tricks that make a mantel so easy to decorate!  

For many of us who love to decorate that small elevated board is often the hardest to get right!

Here are my best tips for decorating the perfect mantel! And these tips for any long flat surface like a buffet or dresser too!

CREATE A DEFAULT SETTING FOR YOUR MANTEL

simple mantel with candles and white pottery

Just like the default setting on your computer, create a mantel that you can fall back on time and time again.

It might take some thinking and adding and editing over and over to get a look you love. But oh, it’s so worth it!

But don’t “set it and forget it”! The beauty of a mantel is that with just a few tweaks you can use your default setting all year long! Keep it fresh!

These tips will help you create an easy and beautiful default mantel…

KNOW YOUR STYLE

mantel decor with large round mirror

Because a mantel is a focal point it sets the tone and mood for the rest of your room. You need it to be the best example of your decorating style!

It is so so important to know your decorating style! It will make every decorating decision you make easier and will save you so many headaches and lots of $$$ because you will know what will work and won’t work in every part of your house!

You learn about the HOW TO KNOW YOUR DECORATING STYLE course HERE! It will really change the way you decorate!

My style has certainly changed over the last 10 years! From farmhouse to New Traditional to Transitional. And what a big change!!!! Just one look at my mantels through the ages gives you a real feeling for my different style!

LESS IS MORE, BIGGER IS BETTER

white pottery on a decorated mantel

This seems to be my mantra when it comes to decorating just about everything in our homes!

But this decorating mantra and mindset work every time!

On a mantel, little things get lost and lots of things tend to make for a cluttered look! Too much a good thing is not good at all! Our eyes need a little negative space! A mantel will actually look better if there is a bit o empty space!

Think about using fewer and bigger items to create the perfect look for your mantel

Here comes the “HOWEVER”…

Bigger is better and less of more most of the time! However, if you like me, like an abundant look for a season or holiday then do what you love. Creating what you love always trump any decorating tip I’ll every give you!

THINK “BALANCE” WHEN DECORATING A MANTEL

a well balanced mantel with candlesticks and white pottery

Balancing decor is one of the most elementary essentials of decorating. And is something we need to think about when we decorate a mantel!

Balance is not always symmetry! Think of a scale! Balanced is when the things placed on one side of the scale is equal or almost equal to the other side. Our eyes love balance. The easiest way to make sure a mantel is attractive is to balance one side of it the other!

Even decor that is asymmetrical is often balanced.

Learning about balance in any decor is a must! Go HERE to learn about BALANCE ONE OF THE IMPORTANT ELEMENTS OF DECOR.

VARY HEIGHTS

tall topiary in white pottery on a mantel

One of the most important things you can do when decorating a mantel is to help your eye move from one surface to another across your mantel. Varying the height of things on a mantel makes it interesting!

large mirror and white pottery styled on a mantel

The image above shows how our eyes flow over the mantel to take it in. Those dips and different heights work in amazing ways to give interest to our designs.

LAYER, LAYER LAYER A MANTEL

long decorated mantel with white pottery and wooden candlesticks

Layering is one key to a stunning mantel.

If your mantel looks a bit uninteresting try putting something on the wall behind. 

Don’t just think what you can add to the mantel itself. You have a whole wall of prime decorating real estate to work with too!

Even if your mantel is very narrow like mine you can use the wall behind the mantel to add depth and interest!

The layer against the wall should be the tallest decor element on your mantel!

Think carefully about what you hang or lean as the background layer for your mantel. Here are a few ideas…

  • big mirror
  • large clock
  • wide painting
  • architectural items
  • subway art or saying
  • old window
  • wreath
  • framed shiplap

Choose something that you love looking at!

Curated items should be layered in front of the taller background items. Again, be very careful about what you are putting on your mantel. The items should look collected and work well together.

The mirror in my default mantel is layered behind the other items on the mantel and the topiary is on top of a layer of books.

white pottery on a mantel of varied heights

The family room at StoneGable is casual and used very hard! So I wanted the mantel to be casual too. Just a few well-chosen items make up my default mantel!

REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT

decorating a mantel with candlesticks, pottery and a topiary

Another way to make things on a mantel work together is to repeat elements. Don’t go for matchy-matchy but find ways to subtly repeat the same or almost the same things you are using to decorate.

On my mantel, the color palette is tight and is repeated over and over. This is such a subtle way to make items on a mantel look like they belong together.

Also, use things that are similar. For this easy, casual mantel I used white pottery in different heights and styles as well as rough wooden candlesticks.

MANTELS THROUGH THE SEASONS

As I peruse the mantels I’ve created over the years it’s evident how my style has changed! It’s gone from Farmhouse to New Traditional to Transitional. My taste is much more streamline and less layered and chippy!

Here are mantels for different seasons you might enjoy. See if you know what style I was decorating with!

FALL

fall mantel with white pumpkins

CHRISTMAS

Christmas mantel decorated with white houses

SPRING

spring mantel decorated with tulips

SUMMER

summer mantel decorated with geraniums

My mantel has changed and evolved over the years! And so it should! Mantels should “evolve” as your style does!

Why don’t you work on perfecting your mantel decorating skills and come up with a mantel that is perfect for your home and reflects your style? Everyone needs a “default mantel” that they know is beautiful!

Grab your copy of this free printable guide HOW TO DECORATE A MANTEL LIKE A PRO. It’s a guide sheet and a checklist so you can create a pretty mantel every single time!

decorated mantel with a topiary and tall wooden candlesticks

This post was first published on the blog Jan 13, 2018, and was updated with new images and content on April 8, 2020.

34 Comments

  1. My mantel is tiny, maybe a half brick worth. AND, I have to depend on my husband to get up there and make things right…like drilling for hangers on the brick. My chimney spans the 2 floors through the end of the living room. We have a big mirror leaning against the back of the mantel (because he’s procrastinated with hanging it) with a huge clock hanging above that (towards the second floor). It just looks so out of balance. I’ve started decorating the hearth which is also huge and deep (you can sit comfortably on it), I’ve thought about encasing the existing manual in some kind of wood, but don’t know what and it involves either a contractor to hang it or my husband to do that. I’m also worried about color. The brick is greyish/taupe and the furniture in the room is mostly cherry.

    1. Have you thought about just creating a wider mantel with a piece of board. Either stained or painted.I’d either keep the mirror or the clock but not both. Just hand one BIG thing above your mantel. You don’t have to fill that tall vertical space. Hope this helps, Carol! Happy Day!

  2. Love all these tips! Beautiful mantle! Wish some of your fellow bloggers would follow “less is more” mantra. Some seem to feel they need to put everything they own on every flat surface and it is very distracting. Enjoy your blog and love all your recipes!

      1. I love love love this I am having trouble finding the candle sticks when I click on the link there are 200 pages can you help me find them please

  3. Yvonne, Thank you for your most generous blogs! I have a dilemma. I cannot go too high with decor because my TV is hanging on the wall above my mantel at about 10″, the mantel is even with the TV in width. My apartment is on the small side as is my faux fireplace. What to do?
    Kat

  4. Great ideas, wondering what to place on a mantal when a TV is used instead of a mirror or picture. Our TVs take up a lot of space with some room on either side for candel etc. How can I make the mantal interesting?

    1. TV’s are just a part of decorating life! Especially over the mantel. I’d add a few candles or a lantern to each side and call it a day! Look for another area in your home to be the focal point like a great vignette on a coffee table.

  5. Decorating my mantle is almost as fun as doing seasonal vignettes and I am always planning what I will do next . Right now I am planning how to change it up for a late summer feeling. I always use some type of lighting with faux candles either in lanterns or on holders and use either a wreath or painting as a focal point. Other items on the mantle change to highlight the time of year. I am fortunate to have a large mantle with a plain brick wall above it. Hope your summer is going well.It goes by so quickly.

  6. Yvonne, thanks so much for sharing your lovely posts at “Love Your Creativity”. I have always admired your talents. Decorating is so much fun and I am so happy you are sharing your tips.
    P.S. Love, love your Braised short ribs.

  7. I love your white mantel and changing styles that’s th fun after all. I also change my decorating style through the years. would love to see ways to style a dark stained wood mantle mine is floor to ceiling wood, so it is a challenge to find things that will show up against the darkness.

  8. Love, love your mantel! I love to change mine out and this gives me so many ideas! AND……..what about those bricks??? Are they white washed or German schmear?

  9. Hello Yvonne,
    You have such great tips and helps! Thank you sooo much! Such a lovely blog!
    I was wondering if you would be so kind as to share where you were able to find the assorted wooden candlesticks on your mantel?
    Many thanks,
    Arlyne

  10. This inspiration hot my in box at the perfect moment! I cleaned Christmas off my mantle and have been contemplating what to put up. I had some old lovely windows that the paint is naturally falling off and stuck the up. Mother brick goes up to the vaulted ceiling so I have to have big pieces. The topiary is sub a rand idea and adds texture and color. Beautiful!

  11. Hi – I love your mantel decor! Can you share where you purchased the topiary? And did it come in the cute white pot? Thanks!

    1. Hi Amy, thanks for your comment. The large fern came from a local shop. And so did the pot. I am trying to work with the shop so my readers can buy the things I show. Hopefully, it will all work out.

  12. Your rooms are all lovely and livable! I think it would be helpful to get your input on how to make a home reflect the people who live in it so it doesn’t look like a show room. How do you showcase the books they read, the hobbies they do, the places they travel, the history of the family, etc.? It is a challenge to say “this is us” and keep in the confines of a design style and color palette. Any suggestions.

  13. My mantle has been one of the hardest things to decorate being stacked stone with a dark wood mantle. I am working on it almost daily to try to get it to a point of where I like it… I just added some greenery and I’m thinking that it looks pretty good right now… Thank you for all of your ideas… You are my inspiration! Just an FYI… I scored the same vase with the zigzag lines on it at home goods… I love it! I believe I paid 14.99 for it!

  14. Hello!
    I love your style and suggestions for mantle decorations.
    My dilemma is the sheer size of my bookcase 6ft. long (4 shelves) on each side of my fireplace. The mantle is 14 ft across with a big, black 42”TV sitting on the middle of it.
    Can you please provide any decorating suggestions on how in the world I can make the space pleasing to the eye?
    I just cleared all the shelves. There were about 42 pictures, 20 books and too many to count little pieces of “things”, vases, baskets, storage boxes and games.
    Whew! Any help is soooo appreciated. My style is modern farmhouse and very neutral.
    Thank you so very much!
    Deb T.

    1. Hi Deb, many of us try to fill flat surfaces like mantels or bookshelves but we really don’t need to! If I were you I would not decorate the mantel at all. And decorate the shelves sparingly. If they were filled that would be a whole lot of stuff to look at!!! And I think you are realizing that. First of all keep anything that goes on the shelves very neutral! And cover all the books that will go on the shelves with a neutral material. Go to this post and you can see how I decorated our shelves on either side of the fireplace. https://www.stonegableblog.com/get-the-look-family-room/
      Try not to put anything little on your shelves because that tends to make them look cluttered. Styling shelves takes time and you will probably have to try quite a few different combinations on your shelves! Be patient and persistent! I’m rooting for you! I hope this helps.

  15. Your mantel caught my eye right away! I love the look of the candlesticks and have been looking for some for a long time now. My only hangup is that I just recently got my floors refinished and I want my candlesticks to have a similar color to the floor stain. Is it okay to have differing wood colors in a home? Am I being too picky? Thanks in advance! 🙂

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