60-minute upgrade: Mantel Makeover
For the Vail Daily
Your fireplace deserves some attention. The major architectural feature in many living and family rooms, it is a visual focal point around which the rest of the space is organized. So it’s a shame that so many of us plonk a few objects on the mantel when we first move in and promptly forget about them. If that sounds familiar, it’s probably time for a change. With just an hour, you can give your mantelpiece a makeover that will transform the entire room. Clear everything off, give it a good dusting, and try one of these three basic plans.
Go big and bold
If you have a prized piece of art that measures half to two-thirds the length of the fire surround, center it on the mantel, stand back, and consider stopping right there. If your prized object is truly a prize, you don’t want to distract from its beauty with additional doodads. And certain types of fireplaces look best with just one large embellishment. A hearth with elaborate decorative carvings looks architectural rather than fussy with a single work of art. A bold, minimalist fireplace may demand only one graphic element to maintain its impact.
That element doesn’t have to be a traditional painting. A black and white photo, a beautiful mirror, a framed poster, even a large clock can work. For a casual mood, place the art directly on the mantel, leaning it against the wall (if it’s a heavy piece like a mirror, secure it in place with a wall anchor). If you want to create a more formal impression, hang the piece on the wall three to seven inches above the mantel.
Layer it on
On the other hand, if your mantel still looks a bit tepid with that one prized piece in place, try layering. You’ll still start with a focal point, but it will be part of a tableau. Place the focal point in the center of the mantel, or off to one side for a more informal look.
Choose objects with a variety of shapes and sizes to add sophistication and keep your eye intrigued and moving across the mantel. Candlesticks, a short stack of books, plants, ceramics, and framed art can all come into play here. Keep the arrangement asymmetrical, rather than lining objects up in a row, and place taller items in the back. Think about mimicking the ups and downs of a city skyline or a mountain range. Odd numbers often create the most appealing groupings, and larger items are usually better than small ones. If you want to use a smaller piece, stacking it on a few books or atop a decorative box will give it more presence.
It’s OK to partially overlap one object with another, just don’t hide anything entirely. And employ restraint — once you have more than five objects, your tableau can start to feel crowded. Feel free to experiment with a variety of pieces, but this shouldn’t be a random assortment. Objects should be related in some fashion (by color, theme, or material) and should complement the room’s decor.
When done beautifully, there’s nothing quite so timelessly appealing as a balanced mantelpiece. Pairs of identical objects — candlesticks, obelisks, stick lamps, and vases are traditional — typically flank a central anchor. You can also create two mini-vignettes that mirror each other. Consider placing a framed black and white photo in front of a topiary on one side of the focal piece, and duplicating the set-up on the other side. Another classic option is to line up an orderly collection of treasures that are nearly identical in color and size, such as a row of jade bowls or Art Nouveau crystal goblets.
But you don’t have to be matchy-matchy to achieve a symmetrical look. The key is to concentrate on balance: Two or three slender items grouped on one side of the anchor will have the same visual heft as one sturdier piece on the other side. However you go about it, a successful symmetrical arrangement usually leaves enough empty space for all the pieces to breathe.