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Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.

Did we mention repetition? Repetition is one of the most powerful design elements you can employ. Utilizing the same pattern, color, or texture creates a cohesive, complete look without appearing too theme-oriented. If you find an accessory, frame, or vase you like, buy two or three of them. Repetition allows the eye to travel from one end of the mantel to the other, creating a relaxed feeling as the mind subconsciously recognizes items that make sense together. A collection of round objects or pieces in the same color are easy ways to bring the element of repetition into your design.

Balance & Proportion

Balance and proportion create a calming, finished look. Mantels are typically large, so larger items should be used when decorating. Relatively small items can sometimes get lost and end up looking like clutter. Be sure the accessories you choose are in proportion to one another for a cohesive look.

Both symmetry and asymmetry create balance. Which style you use is completely a matter of choice. Symmetry is typically used in very traditional design, an example being a mantle flanked by an identical vase on each side. A super-easy way to create symmetry is by placing a large mirror or picture in the center of the mantel and balancing the look symmetrically with identical items such as candlesticks, vases, pictures, and other accessories on either side.

To create asymmetry, place three items on one side of the mantel in a grouping. Find another related object that has the same visual mass as the three items, and place it on the other side of the mantel. Be sure the items relate – perhaps they’re all blue or made of metal. This will help create the modern, eclectic look of an asymmetrical design.

Layering Your Mantel Design

If you prefer a cozy, casual look, layering items of varying sizes creates depth and visual interest. Place larger items in the back, while featuring smaller accessories up front. Use decorative boxes or risers to add an interesting mix of heights, tying each element to the others through some form of repetition.

If you prefer a more modern or formal look, keep the design simple and clean - a row of candles, a few matching items in the same color, or one bold painting creates striking, understated appeal.


The mantel is an ideal place to display a favorite collection of items. When placing them, be sure to employ the same effect as you would with layering, taking care to ensure the items vary in height for a more interesting look. Resist the urge to fill the mantel completely; open space provides a break, showcasing each item and letting the eye relax. To avoid a cluttered look, you may need to choose a few favorite pieces, changing them out periodically to keep things interesting and fresh.

Mirrors as Accents

Much like a bright, flickering fire, the light of a mirror naturally draws the eye. Mirrors are a great choice for mantel displays; they add a hint of sparkle and make the space appear bigger. One of the most versatile accessories, mirrors can customize the look of your design depending on the style. An ornate, gilded frame adds a dramatic touch to formal or traditional spaces, while a sleek, simple collection of clean lines brings a modern look to life. Mirrors can be used alone or as part of a larger arrangement.

Don’t Forget the Base

Once your mantel is dolled up with a bit of decor, you may feel that the lower section of your fireplace is looking a little bare. The eye naturally travels around the entire area, so bring some decor down with a few well-chosen items to create a complete design. Large, matching vases on either side of the firebox are perfect for symmetry, while a candelabrum is just right for providing a nice glow during the warmer months. Plants are another good choice, bringing a welcoming touch of nature to your home.

Happy decorating!