How to Style Your Mantel (Or Any Open Shelf!)

Interiors & Decor

Mantel Styling Tips | Wit & Delight

Styling your mantel is a great decor area to flex your creativity muscle, since the mantel is an element that’s relatively easy to change up whenever the mood strikes. Think of this space as one where you can show off any mementos, pieces of artwork, and trinkets that are special to you. I love both packed, maximalist mantels and super minimal mantels—it’s ultimately up to you which route you take.

Today I’m sharing some of my tips for styling a mantel all year round. If you don’t have a mantel at home, fear not, because the suggestions below can also apply to any open shelf!

My Tips for Styling a Mantel

1. Start with a large piece of art, which will act as your focal piece.

This focal piece should play with the scale of your space and can be anything from a tapestry to a mirror to a framed print. It can be hung on the wall or leaned against the wall—whichever you prefer. If applicable, consider using a conversation piece that’s a bit unexpected or sets the tone of the room. 

Both of the mantels on the main floor of our home feature a large focal piece; there’s an antique mirror in the green family room and a piece of art in the peach room, above our Escape gas fireplace insert from Heat & Glo.

Mantel Styling Tips | Wit & Delight
Photo by Nicole Feest at NYLONSADDLE Photography

2. Overlap your focal piece with several smaller pieces of art.

While I’m not currently employing this styling tip on our mantels, I love the look of overlapping pieces to create visual depth. If going this route, I suggest starting with two or more items in different sizes. I like to think of the focal piece as the papa bear size and the overlapping pieces as the mama bear and baby bear sizes—they’ll automatically work great as a set in relation to one another.

With the largest focal piece at the back, overlap the medium-sized piece to one side of it and the small piece to the other side. (Head to this video for an example of how I overlap artwork of various sizes.)

3. Add in decor accents in varying textures and mediums, like wicker, stone, or brass, and in varying heights.

When it comes to accent pieces, select ones in a material (or materials) that adds something different to your space. If the room has a lot of wood, select something shiny. If it already feels sleek and bright, go with something natural and earthy. I love to bring in objects of different heights too, to add even more visual interest. Mix and match until you reach a result that feels pleasing to you.

Mantel Styling Tips | Wit & Delight
Playing with artwork and decor on the mantel and on an open shelf in our green family room

4. Add a live element with a plant.

Plants instantly bring vibrance to a space. Select something with mass—either light and feathery like a fern or structural like an aloe vera plant. And don’t overlook the pot! It can bring a zing of color or pattern to the mix.

5. Swap out objects and art seasonally (or whenever you particularly feel like it).

A mantel is a living, breathing example of your tastes and interests. While many of us decorate ours during the holiday season, there’s no reason we can’t also give it a little extra love the rest of the year too. As we approach Valentine’s Day, consider styling yours in a way that’s more romantic with a mixture of vases and flowers. When autumn arrives, you may want to bring in more rustic textures like reclaimed wood and a sprig of golden leaves brought in from outside. Get creative and have fun with the process!

Mantel Styling Tips | Wit & Delight
One example of maximalist mantel styling | Photo by Chelsey Werth

BY Kate Arends - January 26, 2022


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