It’s hard to imagine a shelf that people obsess over more than the fireplace mantel. And sure, it’s more than a shelf—it can help protect your wall from the smoke of the fire occasionally roaring beneath it. Let’s be real, though: The thing that makes us scroll Pinterest until our thumb cramps is figuring out what to do with that narrow ridge of space. It’s typically the focal point of the room, so the pressure’s on to make sure it reflects your multifaceted, brilliant personality and, oh yeah, pulls the room together.
But guess what? It’s just an array of objects, and you can easily move them around at any time. So stop stressing over finding capital-p Perfection and play around with a few different options until you find the range that suits you. These fireplace mantel ideas will inspire you to do just that. (While you’re at it, pin this story for later, so you can come back and try something else out, should you need a refresh three years—or three months—from now.)
1. Let Depth Determine What You Display
Most mantels range from 4 inches to 12 inches, says designer Liz Wilson of MC1R Studio, and knowing the depth of yours is crucial for determining what you can display there. You may be dreaming of setting a Folklore-meets-cottagecore vibe by displaying your ceramic frog collection, but if Mr. Toad protrudes off the mantel, he just becomes a tipping hazard—and looks wonky there. For narrow mantels, your best bet is often taller, skinnier pieces that can draw the eye up, like candlesticks and hanging or leaned art (more on that below).
2. Use Art to Pull in Colors from the Room
If your room feels like it’s lacking something that ties the space together, how you prop out your mantel can be a gamechanger. What you place there “should reflect the same personality as the rest of the space,” explains Maggie Griffin of Maggie Griffin Design. Instead of a bunch of bitsy tchotchkes, try a statement-making piece of art to fill the space above your mantel that incorporates accent colors found throughout the room. (A little greenery doesn’t hurt either, especially if you have plants in other areas.)
3. Show Off Your Plants (aka Your Pride and Joy)
You painted your fireplace white to go for a light, bright aesthetic—what next? A row of plants is what. They add color, but in similarly toned planters, they catch your eye without looking busy or cluttered. Vary their heights to make things look even more interesting.
4. Play with Symmetry
No matter your style, you can’t go wrong balancing out a statement piece (like the mirror above) with similar items (vases, sconces and/or sculptures) on either side of it. “It’s clean, symmetrical and does not take away from the architectural details of the fireplace,” the designer explains.
5. Extend Your Collection
Further proof of the power of symmetry: Just check out this room from Maggie Griffin Design. Blue and white vases on either side of the art echo the china filling the walls of the built-in. The room feels personal—and polished.
6. Try a No-Fail Combo
When in doubt, borrow this timeless setup: “Some of my favorite pieces to use on a mantel are a pair of beautiful jars on either end and a gorgeous box in the middle,” Griffin says. “A striking mirror or eye-catching piece of artwork over the mantel is the icing on the cake!”
7. Double Up on Art
Often, people think in terms of gallery walls, which can be busy over a mantel—or a single piece of art, which can be a big investment. Two complementary prints can be just as stunning, and this photo proves it. Plus, you can find pretty affordable designs on Etsy, Society6 and 20x200. Or you could make your own wall art, for a truly personal touch.
8. Supersize Your Mirror
If you’ve been blessed with tall ceilings, make the room seem even more expansive with a massive mirror. It’ll help fill that wide swath of space above the mantel, while reflecting light and brightening things up.
9. Decide How Formal You Want Your Mantel to Feel
Ah, the eternal dilemma: Should you hang that piece of art, or lean it against the wall? “Your design style, the formality of the room you are in, and the amount of available wall space are all things to think about when deciding how to display your art,” says Decorist designer Casey Hardin. In general, hanging art sets a more traditional tone, while leaned art is more eclectic.
But that doesn’t mean this is an either/or scenario: “You could even hang a piece of art, and then lean a smaller piece up in front of it to bring in a more casual and collected vibe,” adds Decorist designer Baylee Floyd of Baylee Deyon Design.
10. Perfect Your Casual Lean
If you’re into the laid-back look of leaned art (or simply live in an apartment and dread the thought of putting holes in the walls), there’s a trick to getting it just right: “The largest art piece should be the first piece you prop, with one to two smaller art pieces layered in front,” Hardin explains. “Finish up by adding a fun sculpture or a small plant for a pop of green.”
11. Give Everything Some Breathing Room
You know how you’re inexplicably drawn to those perfectly organized pantries The Home Edit shares on Instagram? Their secret is that they know when to hold back—and take advantage of negative space. “The biggest mistake people make when styling a mantel is overcrowding [it],” Wilson says. “Don’t allow the mantle to become a spot for things you don’t know what to do with.”
12. Incorporate Nature
A piece of driftwood salvaged from your last trip to the beach or lake is a great way to incorporate coastal style in your home—and weave in a happy memory to your décor.
13. Get Romantic
Garland isn’t just for the holiday season. A swath of dried flowers can add a romantic flourish to the room, especially when combined with vintage books and lanterns. (Just keep them far from the flames—or lit candles.)
14. Go Monochrome
If you’re into minimalism but not super stark styles, sticking within the same color story is the way to go. These cream and white candles are clustered at varying heights to keep the mantel interesting without overwhelming it. (Psst: While you’re at it, check out Emma Chapman’s full fireplace makeover. The before/after will give you major inspo.)
15. Hang Art (or a Mirror) That Hits the Right Proportions
“When displaying framed art, the scale of the wall and the room is very important to consider,” Hardin says. “For a large statement piece of framed art, the center of the art piece should be approximately five feet from the ground. If you are hanging a single piece of art above a large furniture piece, such as a sofa or sideboard, choose a piece that is two-thirds the width of the piece of furniture.” You could go as wide as the fireplace itself but try not to go as wide as the mantel or wider—that can overwhelm the space, making everything look off-kilter.
16. Lean into Awkward Architecture
Pro: You have a fireplace! Con: It’s kind of squished into a corner of the room, to the point that you’re not sure how to lay out your furniture, let alone highlight that glorious mantel. When that’s the case, embrace your fireplace’s, uh, unique placement. Try an asymmetrical assortment of vases, candlesticks and sculptures, with the taller items near the corner of the room (like the “In all things, give thanks” sign is here).
17. Give It a Modern Farmhouse Spin
Use your mantel as a place to tell a story. Here, the vintage washboard, white bud vases and very Joanna Gaines-y framed print create a laid-back rustic vibe that’s right in line with the wooden mantel and shiplap wall.
18. Stagger Your Art
When styling your mantel, consider where you want your eye to wander. In the photo above, your gaze travels from the massive stack of wood, past the plant, and around to the art. The staggered heights of the art continue the Fibonacci-like spiral, which is emphasized by how the colors of the art mirrors the wood and the fireplace itself. Kind of magical, right?
19. Make Your Mantel Pop
If you’ve drenched your room in a super-saturated dark blue (a major trend right now)—or any other moody hue—a brightly colored mantel can really pop. And it requires very minimal styling to look incredible. Case in point: The crisp white mantel shown above, which matches the trim on the round mirror hanging above it.
20. Give Your Mantel the Roy G. Biv Treatment
Organizing your entire bookshelf by color can be tedious, but stacking a few rows of hardcover books in an ombré is far less effort—and adds a little whimsy to your mantel. Plus, they make great pedestals to show off smaller treasures, like the clock and miniature chairs shown above.