There is something magical about your fireplace mantel, isn’t there? This small plank of wood serves as the all-important focal point in one of the most public rooms in our homes. No wonder so many of us get stage fright when it comes to decorating our mantels.

Now you can say goodbye to mantel decorating angst because it’s really very easy to make magic on your mantel when you know how. All you need are a few tips from the pros, and you’ll be off and running.  So I grabbed Nell Hill’s visual directors Becky and Marsee and asked them to show us how they style the show-stopping mantels at the Nell Hill’s stores.

Set the Stage

Marsee says when she styles a mantel she always starts with a blank slate. Clear everything off the mantel and give it a good dusting. Then, stand back and decide what look you want to create. Something simple or complex? Serious or playful?  What colors, textures or themes do you want to introduce? Do you have a favorite piece you want to showcase on your mantel?

Once you decide on what direction you’re going, pick the right backdrop. What do you want hanging or leaning above your mantel? For our example today, the visual team hung a gorgeous replica of an antique gilded mirror. This mirror is one of my favorites, and we sell a ton of them in the stores. Becky and Marsee liked how the feminine curves of the mirror offset the coldness of the stone mantel.

Add Weighty Accents

Becky warns that one of the biggest mistakes people make when decorating their mantels is to fill them with little nick-knacks, creating a mass of diminutive pieces that get lost and give off a feeling of clutter and chaos. Instead, pick a few weighty pieces that are larger in scale to serve as the foundation of your display. Using a few killer pieces will give your mantel lots of drama.

For our example, Becky and Marsee selected six similar mahogany pillar candlesticks in varying heights and shapes. By picking candlesticks that repeat the same color and style, they’ve created harmony in the display. But by mixing up the heights, they also brought in lots of energy and interest.

When you select the pieces that will anchor your mantel display, be sure to pay keen attention to scale and height. The visual team picked these tall candlesticks because we have a massive mantel surround and very tall ceilings at the store. But if this were a home with lower ceilings and a smaller mantel, they would have likely gone with slightly smaller pieces.

I love how the visual team also topped the pillars with battery operated candles. I used to use only real candles in my decorating. But after waiting on far too many customers who were replacing the contents of their homes because they lost everything in fires caused by candles, I have changed my tune. I’ve found a few companies that make battery operated wax candles that are every bit as beautiful as the real thing. You can even get fake candles that work on a timer or are controlled by a remote. They are absolutely fabulous, and now I couldn’t live without them. You can order some right now at Nell Hill’s Online or pick some up next time you come to Nell Hill’s.

If you are going for a simple, clean look on your mantel, stop here. It looks sensational.

Add Layers of Interest

If you love displays loaded with layers, you can easily add a unique focal point to this simple mantel display, like Becky is doing here.

For our sample, Marsee and Becky first picked a riser to lift up the pieces they will use in their tableau, giving the display more prominence so it is not lost among the large candlesticks. They used one of my favorite types of risers – a replica of an antique wooden box. I adore antique boxes so much that I had several styles reproduced for my Mary Carol Home Collection custom line of accents in order to make these pricey treasures affordable to all of us. Some of them are available at Nell Hill’s Online – check them out.  Pedestals, books and cake plates also make ideal risers for mantel displays, so use your creativity.

Next, the girls topped the wooden box with a fern to introduce a pop of color and soften up all the hard surfaces in the display. To finish out, they added a blue and white Chinese import jar to bring some much-needed pattern to this sea of solids.  You could use just about any favorite piece as the third object in this display, like a conch shell from your last vacation, a bronze figurine or even a lovely dish.

I really like the finished look of the simple mantel masterpiece Marsee and Becky pulled together. It’s dramatic and loaded with visual interest, yet not busy or overpowering.

Or, for a modification, switch out the riser and instead use a stone capital. Trade the jar for a smaller vase.

Want More Ideas?

While I adore unusual displays on mantels, sometimes you just can’t beat a classic symmetrical presentation. At Nell Hill’s, we often create mantel treatments that feature paired jars, urns or tall glass cylinder vases. Try placing a large Asian ginger jar on each side of your mantel. Leave it as is year round or trick it up for each season simply by filling the jars with greens.

Or, for a whimsical summer look, gather together a number of clear glass vases. Let the vases skip down your mantel, being sure to arrange them so the overall height of the display varies. Then insert a single flower blossom into each vase. Feeling playful? Tie a strand of summer ribbon around the neck of each vase. You’ll have a look that’s fresh and fun and loaded with personality.

Next Week …

A wonderful table centerpiece can make or break your tabletop displays. So I’ve asked Marsee and Becky to give us pointers on how to create dining room table centerpieces we can leave up for show or pull together when we entertain. I went crazy over the amazing ideas they came up with. Come back next week and I’ll share them with you!


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27 Responses to “Secrets for a Sensational Summer Mantel”

  1. Lynn Brandys Says:

    I thought the presentation and ideas for mantels were very interesting.

    Especially using color and softness to add drama and attention to that area of the room and of course then tying the ideas onto the cocktail table or on other areas of the room

    Thanks for sharing

  2. Cindy Lang Says:

    Thought the clean mantle looked fresh for summer and always that touch of blue. Adding height is always a question on how so thanks for the tips.
    Cindy Lang

  3. Glinda Reynolds Says:

    I love how the candlesticks were arranged in different sizes and not in a specific order. This look dresses up the mantle and adds visual appeal.

  4. Charlene Wilson Says:

    Love the mantel display! Somehow, symmetrical design always appeals to me the most! Really looking forward to ideas for a centerpiece as that is my favorite part of preparing for a company dinnner!

  5. Nancy Says:

    thank you. very pretty. I have a large firplace with full mirror behind it, so I like the candles on the heavier looking candle sticks. I think I was try it. I have the large clear paperweight from you that I use with lots of different display looks!

  6. Allison Steed Says:

    Thank you so much for the pictures that go along with your blog. I look at your book(s) all the time for inspiration, so seeing new vignettes are so exciting!!! Please do more, soon!!!

  7. Chris Macey Says:

    Beautiful mantel ideas….I don’t have a fireplace but I really like the repro guilded mirror you pictured. Will you please give me details of size and price?

  8. Trish @TheOldPostRoad Says:

    Looks great ! Thanks for the step-by-step. That helps a ton.

  9. B. Lisenby Says:

    Love these how to’s and think your next book should be
    on this subject. I do not have a mantel on my fireplace,
    but plan to this idea on my buffet.

  10. deb Says:

    See the pictures really help. I’ve been wanting to change my mantle for years.

  11. Sandra Says:

    Love it! And the photos really are a big help people are so visual

  12. polly freem Says:

    Absolutely love all of your articles and your pictures. Thank you for giving us ideas to copy and create beautiful spaces in our own homes.

  13. Stephanie Says:

    The presentation of the mantel ideas was extremely effective. The ideas were feasible and adaptable to several situations. You provided the right amount of text and photos to accomplish the task. Thank you! I look forward to reading about table centerpieces next week!

  14. Merit Says:

    Mary Carol:

    Have always enjoyed your great presentation and fabulous ideas. Your friend Merit Hellman-Funk
    from what is now a snowy spring in Evergreen Colorado

  15. Marilyn Shannon Says:

    Thank you for sharing all your wonderful ideas. Can’t wait to get to KC in June and do some shopping in your stores!

  16. Mia Robin Says:

    I just love how the mirror reflects the greenery of the floral and how the much needed presence of the chuncky candle holders finishes the look.

    I have all your books!


  17. Jet Kinney Says:

    Love your mantel ideas…thanks for sharing!

  18. Mary Carol Says:

    Chris—Our beautiful gold mirror pictured on our mantel presentation measures 45″(H), 25″(W) and sells for $250.75. Let us know if we can help you out—would love to!

  19. Mary Carol Says:

    Thanks for all your great comments— always keeps me motivated to do more–love ya!

  20. Mickie Says:

    Mary Carol: Do you think the last photo (w/the clear vases & the print) would work on a buffet instead of a mantle? I am so tired of what I have on top of the buffet and love the light and airy feel of the clear vases with the greenery. We live in an old house with 10′ ceilings so I have the height, just not the mantle.

  21. Jacqueline Gillam Fairchild Says:

    As always Mary’s comments and ideas are perfect! I have included many of them in my British tea room Her Majesty’s English Tea Room, much to the delight of my guests. Thank you Mary not only for all your talent but for sharing it with so many of us.
    Regards, Jacqueline Gillam Fairchild

  22. Mary Carol Says:

    Absolutely Mickie—Change out the top of your buffet just as you would your mantels–the idea of change is always very good—enjoy!

  23. Rose Says:

    My (fake) fireplace is in a corner that is very deep. Help! Nothing seems to work. Any ideas?

  24. Toni Beck Says:

    I have an offcenter fireplace as well, which is 1/3rd of the total wall space. We built the entire wall into a unit to balance it better. My fireplace and mantel don’t show well of to the side and it is dark, but my mantel is only 12 inches wide for a display….any suggestions please?


  25. Pat Smith Says:

    I don’t have a fireplace mantel, but I will use this idea on a shelf I have in my living room.

    I love your stores!

  26. Payton Says:

    Absolutely Mickie—Change out the top of your buffet just as you would your mantels–the idea of change is always very good—enjoy!

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