Interior Design: Mantle Makeover!

By Teresa Huddleston owner of Huddleston Interior Designs

Since we’re in the middle of winter, now is the perfect time to give the focal point of the room – the fireplace and mantle – a fresh new makeover. You’ll enjoy a cozy fire even more if you love the look on and above your mantle. Let’s get started:

Does size matter? When it comes to mantles, it most certainly does. One of the most common mistakes I see with mantle decor is that the items on it are way too small. To avoid this, measure the height from the top of your mantle to the ceiling. The items you hang above your mantle or the items you set on the mantle should be in proportion to that number. (They should fill at least half of that vertical space.)

mirror.jpgMirror, mirror on the wall: Personally, I’m not a huge fan of hanging mirrors above mantles and here’s why – most of the time the mirror ends up reflecting a ceiling, a ceiling fan, a light fixture or nothing at all. That’s just not a pretty look. If you want a mirror above the mantle, try tilting it from the top so that the reflection is of something pretty or interesting.

First things first: Start with the item you want to use as the focal point above the mantle – an oil painting, a flat screen television, a tapestry, metal art, or a large professional photograph of your family. Whatever you choose, try not to cover either a painting or a large photograph with glass so you can avoid glare from ceiling lights. If you hang a large family photo above the mantle, don’t put lots of small framed photos on the mantle itself. It’s just too much and will detract from the focal point. If you’re putting a flat screen television above the mantle, consider leaving the mantle itself bare because items sitting on top of it often block the view or crowd the screen.

A few of my favorite things: So what should you look for when you makeover a mantle? Here’s a topiary-urn.jpgquick list of what I like to set on top of mantles: large finials (18 to 22 inches tall), topiaries (ball or cone style; greenery helps soften the look), leather-bound books, decorative boxes or urns. Be cautious about putting lots of picture frames on your mantle. Typically, they’re just too small for this spot, and the really large ones (like 8×10 or bigger with easel frames) are usually hard to set on top of a mantle that’s not very deep.

A bright idea: If you want lighting on your mantle, try to find some “up light” lamps. That means the bulb and fixture point up toward the ceiling so no one sees the exposed bulb.

asymmetrical-mantle.jpgWhat’s your style? In mantle design, you can go with a symmetrical design or an asymmetrical look. If you want symmetry, try putting the same item on each side of the mantle, like two up-lights or two topiaries. Personally, I like asymmetrical designs (shown right) because, for me, they create a little more interest in the room. Another option is to use a single (appropriately sized) item on your mantle because a stripped-down look can often create a sense of calm.

Need inspiration? Flip through a few design magazines to spark some ideas. Or walk through a few open model homes to see how the professionals have done it. And please don’t be too shy to call an interior designer to come over for a consultation. Cost for a consultation is typically very reasonable. And we LOVE this stuff, so designers can really help you achieve the look you want. Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to play around with the design and try different looks out before you make anything permanent. Just be sure that the mantle decor fits with the look of the room so that the overall design feels cohesive.

Lastly, don’t get so focused on your mantle that you forget all about the fireplace itself. It may be in need of a nice fireplace screen to finish off the look. Once you’ve got your look in place, sit back, start the fire and sip your hot cocoa, knowing you’ve given your mantle the makeover it deserved.

Teresa Huddleston is an interior designer and owner of Huddleston Interior Designs.To contact her about a consultation or any project you’d like to tackle in your home, call her at 479-871-4116 or e-mail her at