Avoid These Fireplace Mantel Mistakes

The fireplace mantel seems like an easy area to decorate without much stress. But you wouldn't believe the number of tutorials, advice and message boards dedicated to getting it "just right." If you constantly struggle with decorating the mantel you've come to the right article!

1. Over decorating

Are you cramming too much onto the mantel? A good fireplace mantel should have just enough decor without looking like there are so many objects that they threaten to be pushed off.

When in doubt, leave it out. Add enough so that from left to right there are enough holes filled in, but you'll want some empty space to properly show off your things.

2. Under decorating

Similar to the above, it's easy to under decorate the mantel as well. Too sparse or too spare will look like you've forgotten to do the job. It's nice to leave some "white space" around special objects as this helps draw attention to them. But a single frame or candle doesn't add enough height or drama to this main focal point. If you aren't sure about how many objects to add, put what you think you should then step back; add and subtract until you find the right balance.

3. Trying to be too thematic

A theme is great, especially around the holidays, or you may have a special collection you want to show off. But getting too thematic with your fireplace mantel can make it look like a storefront window display.

Avoid themes that seem out of place too, like a nautical theme (when you live in the desert), or a doll theme (when you don't have small children in the house), or something outdated (like a Christmas theme in February). 

4. Attempting symmetry

Symmetry is found throughout nature, and we often see symmetrical items or rooms as balanced and in proper proportion.

But a fireplace mantel usually looks best when it is slightly asymmetrical. This doesn't mean lopsided but rather not exactly the same at either end. It's ideal to have a balance of objects (by visual weight, or size) but mantels look great with a design that's a bit "off" as well. It helps draw attention to your objects and makes the decor feel dynamic.

5. Not decorating high enough

Fireplaces, and their mantels, are great places to show off. So if you have height above the mantel, be sure to take advantage of it. Hang a tall mirror or piece of art, add some tall twigs in a vase, or set out some varying height candlesticks. This height will also help establish some asymmetry design.

6. Going too small

As much as you need to add some tall objects, be sure to add some smaller ones as well. This will help ground the mantel decor and add balance to the other pieces. Adding decorations that require closer inspection make the mantel seem interesting, like a curios display.

7. Creating hazardous decorating situations

All the best decorating in the world can easily go up in flames, literally, if you aren't careful. Decorations above or near a wood-burning fireplace should have a good amount of clearance (or simply remove them before lighting a fire).

Decor like fabric, straw, plants or other flammable materials should be used with caution. Candles are another common fire hazard with decorations. Never leave burning candles unattended; even dripping candles can spread fire. Children and toddlers can easily be tempted to pull down hanging decor from a mantel so consider your decorations carefully. Read more about this topic here.

8. Not changing it up often enough

Your fireplace mantel, like a shelf display, should be changed up often. This doesn't mean you have to go out and purchase new items all the time, just simply switch out what you already have. It's easy to swap out your decor based on holidays or seasons, but consider switching out decor just after a trip (insert postcards into frames or display some favorite souvenirs), or for a birthday party.

Even a simple rotation of decor from other rooms can be fun. Think of it this way: when it starts gathering dust, remove everything, clean it up, and shuffle things around.

Image credit: Gretchen Evans DesignFoley & Cox Interiors, Porch.com