Some years I go at my holiday decorating with great gusto, fueled by a long list of ambitious decorating projects I can’t wait to try. (Once I hung a huge fallen branch from the ceiling in my dining room, filled it in with faux greens then decorated it with hanging votive cups. I was exhausted, but man, was I thrilled with the drop-dead-gorgeous results.) But this year, I just want a hint of the holidays in my home decor, a gracious but gentle nod to the season.

Whether you’re going for a splashy holiday display or just want to quietly sneak in a touch of Christmas, one of the easiest – and most important – spots to trick up is your fireplace mantel. Here’s how.

Sneak in a Bit of Christmas

This year, instead of clearing off my mantel to build a big, elaborate holiday look, I’m keeping the existing display as is, then weaving in a touch of Christmas. After years of completely reworking the arrangements on my mantel every season, which is a total blast and keeps my creative fires stoked, right now I have a grouping on my mantel that I’m so crazy about, I can’t bear to change it. So, I’m keeping all the big pieces just as they are and filling in around them with a few fallen twigs interlaced with some great faux greens. I’ve opted for a pine garland that looks like it’s dusted with frost, and I’m crazy about the look.

Do you like the appearance of your mantel? Try doing the same thing. Get some great greenery garland and picks, and tuck them in around your existing pieces.

Winterize Your Fall Display

If you decorated your mantel for fall, you may be able to give the existing display an instant holiday feel just by trading out a few of your decorative elements. In the photo above, my friend Marsee’s unique fireplace niche was decorated as cute as a button for fall. Being the smart girl she is, she used winter greens as the base of a bouquet she created in a black iron urn. Now, look how she transformed the display for the holidays in a matter of minutes:

Marsee just removed the pumpkin and pick of fall leaves, then inserted a glittery mini Christmas tree into the urn. She finished off by placing a silver reindeer figurine in the foreground. Can you believe how simple that was and yet it hardly looks like the same display! Knowing Marsee, she’ll completely change the look of the urn once again in spring, perhaps filling it with seashells, a fern or some moss balls.

Make a Big Statement with Greens

I can’t say enough about how essential great greenery is when it comes to holiday decorating, especially if you want the maximum wow factor for the minimum investment of time and money. In the photo above, we simply swagged a big, showy garland across the front of the fireplace, not disturbing a bit of the existing display. It made for a majestic presentation in a matter of minutes.

When you work with greens, be sure to secure them to the mantel so they don’t crash to the ground, taking all your treasures with them. I’ve solved this problem by waiting until Dan is out of the house, then I hammer a few little nails into the back of the mantel. (Dan cringes every time I pull out a hammer and begin happily pounding on our walls, so I spare him the pain by waiting until he’s gone.)

If you’re like Dan and have an aversion to nails, check out the new hooks that stick to your wall temporarily, then pull right off without ripping up the paint. They hold a remarkable amount of weight and are a great solution for securing a display you only want up for a few months.

Razzle-Dazzle with Baubles

If you want to take your winter green display up a notch, just add in a few baubles or sparkly shiny treasures. Wire in a few Christmas tree bulbs, either in the center of the mantel or hanging off the loose ends of the garland. You could also tuck in a trio of sparkling mini Christmas trees on one or both ends of the mantel. Or, work in some fun holiday figurines, like glitter-crusted reindeer, a Santa or an angel.

Set a Mood with Soft Light

One of the biggest decorating frustrations I hear from friends and customers is that their mantels are super skinny, too small to hold the grand displays they’d like to create. A great solution is to use wall lanterns in your holiday mantel display. These lovely lanterns are thinner and taller than regular lanterns so they fit well on thin mantels, infusing this small but important space with loads of charm. Put a wall lantern at the center of your mantel or put one on either side. Then give them a holiday makeover by tying them up with some great holiday ribbon.

Use Vertical Space to Create Drama

If you have ceilings that go up to the sky, take advantage of all that wonderful space by using some tall and powerful pieces on your holiday mantel. We have done a lot of that this year at Nell Hill’s, using tall, thin vases to hold bouquets of fallen branches.

Try Something Out of the Ordinary

There is nothing quite as fun as filling your home with forced bulbs during the dark, cold winter months. I always watch them like a hawk as they grow and bloom, a promise that spring will return again. Why not start the process early in the winter season, working bulbs into your holiday mantel display? Add in some silver holiday votives and some bright green apples, and you’ve got a fresh, fun and truly unusual look for the season. Then, when Christmas is over, remove the votives and apples, and wait for the blooming of the lovely spring flowers.

Next Week … I’ll have tips and lots of photos of gorgeous holiday tabletop treatments to inspire you to make your dining table a thing of beauty for the holidays.

Want to receive the latest blog posting
in your email inbox every week?
Click here to sign up.

26 Responses to “Make Your Mantel Merry in Minutes”

  1. NanaDiana Says:

    Hi! I was googling nativities and one of your pictures came up. I am going to post it on my blog tomorrow with a link back to you if that is okay. I am so glad I found you-Your blog is lovely and I will be a regular here now that I have discovered it.

    I hope you are having a wonderful beginning to your week. Diana

  2. Amy@Maison Decor Says:

    I loved seeing what you did with your mantel! It is gorgeous. I worked on my today and I weave in bits of real greens with a base of faux and am happy with the result.

  3. Lisa Fernandez Says:

    Mary it looks lovely. As always. What a little green can do right? Beautiful. But I know what you mean about going out and feeling pure exhaustion. That was me last year, this year, although I did your candelabra on my stairs, I toned it down a bit. Sometimes less is more. Love your post. Merry Christmas.

  4. Pam Wortham Says:


    You have a beautiful marble bust of a French girl with a bonnet in one of your early books sitting up on an armoire. I keep expecting to see it again in some of your posts. Do you know the one I’m talking about? I can send a picture if I need to.
    I believe my mother has one like it. It looks very expensive and I’m wondering if you know the origin and value of this piece?

    Thanks and I love your post and would love to visit your store one day!

  5. Jennifer Crawford Says:

    I love the first photo featuring the pine cones and branches. The simplicity of it is what strikes me and complements the room so well. This year one of my mantels is well dressed in Christmas finery where the other has a few touches added to my current display. What fun mantels are to decorate at Christmas and any time of year.

    Thanks again for great ideas and have a wonderful Christmas!

  6. Deb Braun Says:

    I love the idea of using gazing balls in your decor. I tried to find some last year but it was not the season to be finding outdoor decor and the ones I did find were soooo expensive. Do you carry them in your shop where everything is always such a great bargain? thanks for all of your wonderful ideas.

  7. Dorothy Reinhardt Says:

    I love the look of tree branches in arrangements. Unfortunately I can’t convince my husband to let me bring any in the house. How do you make sure there aren’t any hitchhiking ‘guests’ in those downed branches? Do you spray them with something first?

    If there was some way to ensure they are pest free I may be able to use them.

  8. Connie Says:

    I love your mantels. My question is, when using fresh greens do they stain or leave residue? I don’t want my paint disturbed.

  9. Julie Mainelli Says:

    I have seen several pieces of religious art in your Kansas City store. I love the Madonna piece above the fireplace. Do you routinely carry such pieces in your store in Atchison or Kansas City or do you have a suggestion as to where I may see some of those pieces? I am looking for a larger Madonna/Child possibly with St. Anne or St. Joseph.

  10. Diane Says:

    I love your fabulous inspiration. But, I so wish the photos were larger…I just feel like I’m missing the whole picture….and you do create awesomeness for sure!

  11. Daphne Says:

    Still waiting for a time to see your stores in person! Love the photos! I have a skinny mantel and put a larger piece of plywood across the mantel. It could be stained, painted, covered with fabric, etc. and now I have the extra space I need for larger items and I can hammer away to my hearts content! :)

  12. Karen McPherson Says:

    Why the heck did I not buy one of those mirror backed lanterns when I was there??? As a matter of fact…why didn’t I get two??? Oh well, now I have the perfect excuse to come back to Atchison!! See you then.

  13. Maureen K. Says:

    Do you have that mirror with the little sconces on it at your store? If so, how much is it? If not, do you know where to find it? Thanks ~ love it!

  14. Linda Says:

    I love the idea of the temporary garland hooks. A close call with a mantel decoration has my husband hiding his tools.

  15. Tammy Ellis Says:

    I absolutely LOVE your blogs!! They all inspire me and get my creative juices flowing. But I agree with a request posted earlier – can you please make the pictures bigger so I can take in all of your decorating magic?
    Merry Christmas!

  16. anna Says:

    Decorating friends,
    Click on the pictures with your mouse–Like magic you will have a larger picture and can see the beautiful little details that will spike your left brain ideas! Like many, this year I am using the less is more philosophy with the decorating..A simpler, yet special look will be up when I shed this cast!

  17. Mary Carol Says:

    Pam, I know which bust you are referring to however, I do not have any history on it, and since that picture, it has gone to visit a new home of a friend of mine.

  18. Mary Carol Says:

    At the moment Deb there are no gazing balls in the stores, however, you might check a garden center this time of year.

  19. Mary Carol Says:

    Unfortunately, there is probably no way of knowing if the branches are pest free. I have had mine around for so long they are totally dried out. Try cutting them in the cold to keep the insects away. Also, if your husband still objects–try buying some of the faux branches available to purchase.

  20. Mary Carol Says:

    I have never had that problem with my fresh greens, however, if you are afraid of discoloring or scratching your paint you might lay down some saran wrap or something underneath the fresh evergreens. You know me–I’m painting constantly.

  21. Candi @ the French Nest Says:

    Mary Carol is the green paint on the walls one of your paint colors? I LOVE it!!!! I must visit soon! Merry Christmas!!!

  22. Mary Carol Says:

    Hi Candi–The green paint featured in this blog is our ‘Gooseberry’. For a picture and listing of all the Nell Hill’s paints just go to the website and click on the online shopping.

  23. Mary Carol Says:

    Hi Tammy and Diane—As Anna mentioned, just double click on the picture and wha-la instant enlarged picture.

  24. Gayle Welsh Says:

    LOVE them all. Very inspirational. I do something different each year so this has given me a lot of new ideas. Can you tell me the paint color of the wall with the beautiful green garland? Would love to paint my guest bedroom that color. Thanks. Gayle

  25. Mary Carol Says:

    Hi Julie—I use to get some religious pieces of art at the Briarcliff store, however, recently, I have not seen anything worthy of purchase. The pieces shown in my home above my mantel are very old–art I have collected over the years.

  26. Mary Carol Says:

    Maureen—The antique mirror/sconce shown in the blog belongs to a very dear friend of mine. I like you, think it is beautiful.

Leave a Reply