Rookie Mistake: Fireplace Mantel Decorating

Rookie Mistakes: a series of common decor mistakes made by a design and DIY rookie…me! And no, I’m not judging because I have made, and continue to make, these mistakes too!

Here are the top five Rookie Mistake posts from the series. (You can catch the rest of them at the bottom of this post.)

Remember, the Rookie Mistakes series is a NO JUDGEMENT ZONE. I’ve made ALL of these mistakes in my home and  I simply want you to learn from me so you can make your home look amazing.

Rookie Mistake: Decorate Fireplace MantelHow to decorate a fireplace mantel

DIY Fireplace Makeover

I chose this month’s rookie mistake after seeing far too many mantels that were in need of some styling TLC. I do have a fireplace mantel…but with our built-ins directly across from it, I don’t style mine as the focal point in the space (but you can check out how we DIY’ed them to add marble tile and a white mantel right here!).Marble fireplace and clock

Jan’s Condo Tour

So the truth is, I haven’t had that much practice styling mantels over fireplaces. But I’ve learned what NOT to do and I’m hoping to share my thoughts so your mantel can be gorgeously accessorized and effortlessly styled in no time.

There isn’t one specific problem that I see over and over again. Instead, there are multiple rookie mistakes being made when it comes to mantel decorating.

Over Decorated

I’ve seen far too many fireplace mantels that are jampacked with decorative items. Picture frames, vases, flowers, small accessories….just too much stuff going on. You don’t want to fill up each and every space on the mantel. Instead remember, less is more.

Under Decorated

In contrast to over decorating, some people under decorate and barely put anything on their fireplace mantels. There is an opportunity to make this the focal point of a space and really draw the eye to the architecture of the fireplace and corresponding mantel. So one measly candlestick or a few very short items isn’t going to cover it. Instead, you’ll need to intentionally choose some items to display to really make an impact.

Incorrect ProportionsThe wrong proportions can throw off your whole room

A fireplace mantel presents a great opportunity to really draw the eye up in a space. Hanging a mirror or leaning tall pieces of art are great ways to really add some height. However, I see lots of fireplaces with small frames cluttering the top leaving lots of valuable wall space above free (like in the MLS photos of my home, above, when I purchased our condo)

So now that we know a few of the fireplace faux pas, let’s showcase a few inspiration pictures of gorgeously decorated fireplaces.

Fireplace Mantel Inspiration

A mixture of items in varying sizes and styles is a good start

Photo via The Inspired Room

Yes, yes, yes! Love this fireplace from The Inspired Room. The leaning art makes a statement, while the tall vase adds height to the right side of the mantel. Gorgeous and simple.

These items were carefully chosen and placed to complete this mantel

Photo via Emily Henderson

This mantel, from my favorite designer Emily Henderson, showcases so many beautiful pieces. The art in the center really grounds the space, and the accessories bring life to the mantel. It looks effortlessly thrown together, but every item was chosen very intentionally.

A neutral palette can have a huge impact in a room

Photo via Room for Tuesday

Finally, this striking fireplace from Room for Tuesday. I’m all about this neutral color palette and love how the framed art draws the eye up to the ceiling.

Step-by-Step: How to Decorate a Fireplace Mantel

Now let’s break it down step-by-step, so you too can spruce up this important space in your home.

Start with a Blank SlateStart with a blank slate

Whenever I start styling an area in a home, I always remove absolutely everything off of the surface. This gives me a good excuse to dust too! So remove everything, dust the surface, and step back and take a look at what you’re working with.

Collect Objects with a Similar Color Palette

Now, time to gather all of the pretty items you may display. I suggest keeping a similar color palette so everything goes together. If you’re displaying a piece of art, take a look at the colors in the piece and pull from that to figure out what color accessories you should find. Here are some of the things you should gather…

  • Art or Mirror to act as the focal point (more on this in the next section)
  • Vases or Containers (great for flowers or plants)
  • Books or Boxes (really just items to create height and layers)
  • Pretty Objects (candlesticks, special items, etc.)

Add Something to Ground the SpaceAdd something to ground the space

Now time to add something up onto your mantel. I love the idea of adding a big round mirror (this gold mirror is a favorite!), or a large piece of art. This is the time to add some major height to the space, so make sure it’s big enough. You can hang your piece, or feel free to just lean them. If you go with the leaning look, I always like putting command strips on the top of the frame where it touches the wall. That way it won’t move or come crashing down. Also go a bit off-center, to the left or right.

Layer in a Frame

If you go with the leaning frame, then add another smaller frame layered in front to fit. Make sure it’s proportioned correctly…not too small and not too big.

Create Different HeightsCreate different heights

Just like when you’re decorating any other surface, you don’t want everything to be at the exact same height. This is where boxes and books come into play. Add a few hardcover books to the surface and place a box on top. Or add a tall vase to one side of the mantel to bring some height onto the end of the fireplace mantel.

Incorporate LifeIncorporate life

You can never go wrong with flowers or plants. A vase with fresh flowers or dried eucalyptus could be pretty! This faux eucalyptus branch looks like the real thing and could add some height to your mantel in a geometric vase. Or go with an indoor plant (here’s a list of my favorites) to add some greenery up there. I also love the idea of adding a plant that is a bit “drapey” so the stems hang a bit over the fireplace. So pretty!

Favorite Decorative Pieces for your Mantel

My favorite items to decorate a fireplace mantel

Round Mirror // Gold Candle Sticks // Faux Eucalyptus // Vintage Mirror // Rustic Vase // Decorative Gold Bowl // Storage Baskets // Faux Fern // Framed Art // Framed Canvas

I hope this post gives you the inspiration to see your fireplace mantel in a whole new light! Use my steps to highlight this gorgeous spot in your home and make it the focal point it deserves to be.Tips to decorate fireplace mantel for holidays

P.S. Need some help decorating your fireplace for the holidays? Be sure to check out this blog post.


Catch up on More Rookie Mistakes

The Year of Casey

Hey there!

I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m a Chicago gal teaching you how to design, DIY, and maintain your home…by yourself! Learn more about me right here.