How to Decorate a Mantel

Many of you know that I’m a Pinterest junkie.  From recipes to photography to gardening, anything and everything you could want to know about is on this amazing site.  Of course, for me, my #1 search is usually home decor and DIY.  The other day I stumbled upon this great pictorial on how to decorate a Mantel.  I’m sure you know the expression, a picture means a thousand words, and this image certainly says it all.  Through the words in my blog, I’m forever looking for ways to inspire you to create a haven of your own, well this is it!

original image via and via

When starting to decorate your mantel, it’s best to remove everything and begin with a fresh palette.  It allows you to see it free and clear so your creative juices start to flow.

Simple tricks to start your mantel decor

1. Center 1 big piece: Begin in the center and choose something that is of a substantial size, maybe a mirror or artwork that you love.  This will be the main focal point of the mantel and will “ground” the other accessories in front.
2. Movement: Choose items that “move” the eye.  Whether it be candles which move from the flickering flame or items of varying heights which make the eye move up and down, include accessories that are intriguing and add vision interest.
3. Visual Weight: A secondary focal point that isn’t as big, but still gives a punch, is a great addition to a mantel ensemble.  When pulling together a mantel, it’s best to layer one piece in front of another.  Choosing a vase with flowers or branches that will sit in front of your “big piece” starts the layering effect.
4. Layering: Whether it be art, photos, candles, or accessories, layering and staggering different sized items in front of each other is a must to create a cohesive composition.
5. Vary Heights: Along with layering, adding accessories of varying heights is more visually engaging.  It helps the eye move up and down and across.  Between layering and varying heights, you want to create a wave effect with your mantel.  It starts out low, then goes up, comes back down, then up again, and finishes low.

As  Steven and Chris say, these 5 tricks create a Visual Triangle.  Starting at the top most point, you have your 1 big center piece, and then each side angles down with the addition of interesting accessories, resulting in a finished triangle = a beautiful decorated mantel.

Looking at some real-life examples always help, so let’s take a peak at two of my recent mantels.

Fall Mantel – This is my most recent mantel decorated for Fall.  Similarly to the pictoral above, I “marked up” the 5 tricks to create a cohesive mantel.  Starting with the big piece in the center, a rectangular mirror, and layering different accessories at varying heights, the Visual Triangle was created.  And do you see the “mantel wave”?  There are lots of lows and highs, lows and highs.

 Summer Mantel – This second mantel design was from the summer and even though it’s simpler and less accessorized, it still uses the 5 basic principles for decorating a mantel.

What do you like to showcase on your mantel?

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  1. says

    I LOVE this!!!! Typically I just add things until I “feel” like it looks right and actually ends up looking fairly close to what it “should” look like according to this. But, a great layout to keep in mind, I’ll be sharing this too!

    Pamela @

    • Jenna says

      Thanks Pamela – I even found it helpful too and realized that I was on the right track when looking at my various decorated mantels. Thanks for sharing on FB too :)

  2. says

    Thanks for sharing this awesome tutorial. It looks so easy, but can be tough at times. Maybe it’s finding the right pieces to fit and heights.
    Have a great rest of your week!

    Andrea xx

    • Jenna says

      Thanks Andrea! I’m so glad you found inspiration through my 5 principles for decorating a mantel! Have a wonderful week as well. xo Jenn

  3. says

    Great concept, and I think the examples that work best use pieces of different heights next to each other. Just as in the triangle placement for the overall look, keep the triangle placement for pieces next to each other, so no two pieces are of equal height if next to each other. Also having each piece touch or overlap creates a visual tangent that ties it together. We also use this triangle composition in portraiture for a more pleasing look, posing subjects so that heads are staggered in height rather than on the same plane.

    • Jenna says

      Thanks Colleen for chiming in and yes, you are so right, creating smaller triangles within the larger triangle is key to a successful decorated mantel!

  4. says

    I now know that my mantel is a hot mess. I get confused by the fact that the wall above it slopes upward from left to right. So, I just slopped a bunch of crap up there. I guess there are probably worse parts of my house!
    Anyway thanks for these nice tips!

    • Jenna says

      lol, your comment made me laugh! I’m sure your mantel is not a hot mess. Ignore the sloping wall and just focus on the horizontal surface of the mantel.

    • Jenna says

      Thanks Meredith. These tricks and ideas for decorating a mantel can absolutely be used for other areas of the home. They’re not specifically and only for the mantel. Any place in the home where you want to create a collection or vignette, these ideas can be helpful. Jenna

  5. says

    How to decorate a mantel post October 26, 2011
    My daughter, another blogger, sent me your post…. I love this! Very useful. I have been playing around with decorating my mantel (somewhat unsuccessfully) for over a year now. Your post is very useful. I am going to try it with your guidelines.
    Thanks sooooo much!

  6. Liz says

    This is a great article… wish I could apply it to my mantel… my mantel is so big nothing seems to look right… it is 10 foot long… help!!!

  7. Barbara Brister says

    I need your help. how can I send you a picture of mymantle? have just moved to the country. small home with a very simple 7 ft mantle with my grandmothers 34″ round mirror above. Help please Barbara

  8. says

    This was a wonderful post! We shared it on our twitter and Facebook today so everyone can learn how to decorate a mantel easily and to suit their own taste,

    The Greenway Team
    Greenway Home Products

    • Jenna says

      That is a difficult question to answer without seeing the mantel, the picture, and the space. A large picture or mirror is a great backdrop for a mantel. Layering items from front to back and creating ups and downs throughout, always creates for an interesting composition. If you love the look, then it’s not outdated. Follow what is meaningful to you and if you don’t like it, find an inspirational mantel and emulate it. Good Luck!

  9. says

    Hi Jenna…

    Seeing this a bit late, but I thought I would show you a summer mantel I just did in my home. I did a step by step on the blog – showing what worked and what didn’t.

    I did see that visual on Pinterest awhile back and thought it was such a helpful tutorial! Thanks for reminding me! Great post!


  10. Rachel says

    When I typed in ” how to decorate your fireplace” , I never had a clue that I’m going to see such awesome and cool ideas. Mine is an electric fireplace from Stylish Fireplaces of Toronto. We’ve just installed and are looking for the right decorations! And guess what? I’ve already found them! Glad that you shared this blog in fb too.


  1. […] Tip #5 is possibly the most popular tip: create a visual triangle with your decor. Whether you have a large painting centered on your mantel, or a tall candlestick like I have, place an item with substantial size in the center to “ground” your other accessories. Use smaller items toward the edges of your fireplace mantel. See some examples at SAS Interiors. […]