Mantels of Quality

Coulters Living How to Decorate a Christmas Mantel

If ‘design’ is ‘love’ as expressed through our individual visions of beauty, then permit us to worship.

A roaring fire is oft the focal point of a cozy family or living room; especially on a rainy or snowy night. And yet it is as oft misunderstood or misrepresented as merely a place to add clutter or hang a mirror, clock or mount a flat screen TV.  The truth behind intelligent design is that decorating a mantel is all about adding only those design elements that augment its natural beauty, shape and proportion.

A well-designed mantel piece provides luxuriating appeal and adds immeasurable warmth to the sizzling embers stirring within its hearth; reflecting the flicker of flame on a gorgeous wood, brick, tile or marble surface or any number of combinations that help to filter the light in interesting and inviting ways. I love a fire on a rainy afternoon. Next to a cup of tea, it’s the single most enveloping joy to be had on a drab day.

Most people do not possess the luxury of designing a fireplace mantel. They merely inherit the one inside the house they have purchased.  It’s not altogether as difficult as it may first seem to change up the look of a fireplace if its facade is not immediately to your liking.  Wood-carved inserts and veneers made of tempered glass tile or hand cut marble can transform a mantel from drab to fab without spending a lot of money. You can also choose to resurface and/or re-tile the wall around it; a bit more labor-intensive and more expensive…but still, not out of the realm of possibility.

But what do you do once you have the perfect mantel of your choosing?

Herein, a few basic tips will suffice.

First, approach the mantel as you would any design project, applying a layered and logical approach to your choice of compliments.

Start by anchoring the innate symmetry of the mantel with a large focal object. You could just slap a TV there (a very bad, but very common idea). Why? Hot air rises. So, how logical does it seem to place any home electronics near a heat source?!? You wouldn’t do it to your computer, would you?

Regardless, there should only be one anchor in your design. Not only is there likely no room for two or more, but simply cluttering a mantel with a lot of big pieces will definitely create a sort of ‘storage-shelf’ chaos. The sheer scale and visual weight of the anchor should be appropriate for the allotted space, balanced by the size and shape of the firebox below it. So no anchors stretching beyond this area and definitely none to hang over the sides of the mantel itself.

Next, choose objects to adore the right and left of the anchor. This can be a challenge. You do not want these objects to compete with near equal size or shape. You also do not have to go ‘matchy-matchy’ – placing identical objects on either side of the anchor. Symmetry, of course, has its place.  But if the chosen objects bear a similar visual weight (meaning their dimensions favors a natural visual balance), then the objects themselves can be of startlingly different quality; made of glass and/or wood, plastic and/or pewter, mirrored and/or woven rattan, and so on. The combinations are endless and practically irrelevant, so long as there is visual uniformity – rather than conformity to your choices.  Always keep the scale of each object in mind. Each has to work in relation to the others.

Last, but not least, add ‘filler’: objects of varying height and shapes to link together the gaps between the anchor and its complimentary display of objects. Herein, be wary not merely to bridge the space between with objects to mimic a competing horizontal line. This will detract from the horizontal construction of the mantel itself.  You do not want anything to compete with the mantel!

Again, keep scale in mind. Filler should be smaller than other objects.  If you are going for a minimalist approach, you can actually skip filler altogether. The ultimate effect of mantel decor should be to create a visual triangle above the firebox; the tallest point dead center, allowing for the eye’s graceful ascendancy from the mantel’s ledge edges inward and upward to its apex.

Bottom line: a mantel can be a great space to display intimate heirlooms, statuettes, art work, family photos in decorative frames, collectibles, seasonal décor and freshly cut or artificial flowers.  Whatever your choices, do not be afraid to experiment. Have fun…and enjoy.

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