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  • Cornel Warren

Mantel Decor 101

Decking the focal point in your home is not always easy, but if you get it right the compliments come pouring in.

When you walk into our open-plan home, you are immediately guided to the living room by the light pouring in through the soaring wall of windows. In the center of that wall is the stately fireplace with a lovely gray mantelpiece with soft, neutral tile work separating it from the wood floor. Although our mantel is fully wired for cable, power and even HDMI, we don't typically keep a TV up there (though we never got offers on our house when we didn't have the TV up there!!). I prefer serenity. A little haven of peace and quiet where no one will try to sell me something in a screaming voice. So our mantel is typically dressed with photos or mirrors or other decor pieces that make the room look polished.

Be Bold

I recently redid my mantelscape when we decided to list our home again. Many of you came along as we (disappointingly) tried and failed to sell our home last fall. Fortunately, we learned many lessons that helped us get the house under contract after only one day on the market this spring!

When we listed, our agent talked us through a plethora of updates and changes we needed to make. One of them was (you guessed it) reduce the amount of decor around, especially family photos. I had plenty all over, especially on the mantel, so I had to come up with a plan to move away from some of them (if only temporarily). Instead of going for the traditional even-steven look with a symmetrical setup on stage left and stage right of the mantel, I decided to change it up a little.

Here's a mantel decorating guide that helps give some insight into the thoughts behind my layout.

Go Big

The family portrait on our mantel is almost three feet tall, so it immediately fills the space and makes the area above the mantel look less bare. When it comes to mantel decor, it's important not to go too small. Tiny trinkets and picture frames look like clutter from across the room. If your living room is large, and your fireplace is seen from a distance, you need to keep in mind that few, if any, visitors will see your decor up close. If you can't identify the people in your photos from the entrance of your living room, you've gone too small. Go big, baby!

Add Depth

Mirrors are like a magic portal that not only add depth, but also pull in colors and decor from other parts of the room to tie the space together. You may have seen some of my other mantelscapes over the last year, and you can see that I've incorporated mirrors in many of my displays. They add light and liveliness to your mantel.

I once did a survey of mantel layouts with Instagram friends, and the overwhelming favorite was option 1 above, with the long, horizontal mirror. You can see different views of it if you scroll through my IG feed. Mirrors can't be beat on a mantel!


Although your mantel layout doesn't have to be identically symmetrical, the principles of interior design dictate that it is important to create balance in a display. Since I have height on one side of my mantel, I had to go with something solid on the other side.

I found this globe at TJ Maxx the other day (similar one linked below), and with my parents traveling the world lately, I wanted a way to show the kids where grandma and grandpa were going all the time. Plus, it was the perfect piece to balance out my mantelscape!

I didn't feel that the globe on its own made a strong enough statement, so I added some antique books to give it that extra impact. That did the trick! Next up, texture.


Although a magical mirror certainly helps to bring life to the mantelscape, adding a texture piece with natural whimsy is also essential. You don't have to use stems, but flowers, knit textures or even draped cloth can help bring some natural movement to your mantel. I've been liking the eucalyptus sprigs, lately, though as you saw above, I've used flowers, sticks and even magnolia leaves as well A wreath can also serve the purpose of adding texture.

As you can see, adding a little whimsy really works wonders for any dead space you might notice on your mantel. One thing my diagram doesn't mention is light. I like to have a lamp on the mantel because it creates a special ambiance at night when the windows don't really offer much. This upright lamp is perfect because it looks more like a candle stick and it has a beautiful champagne gold finish.

Finishing Touches

Finally, adding the finishing touches makes your mantel decor complete! It's easy to go overboard with tiny trinkets and little pieces of flare all over the place, but like I explained above, that makes the place look cluttered. Instead of adding a polished appearance, overdone decor makes your space appear messy and unkempt.

Try to stick to the rule of being able to see the pieces well from across the room. Don't try to force too many things into your display if you want it to look clean and neat. Your house isn't a shelf at Pier 1... A little pile of books goes a long way!

Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions! I'd love to help you optimize your mantel display!


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