Design Room Swoon:

How to Style a Mantel

Words by Sacha Strebe

Video by Tara Sgroi

When you think of the word self-care, images of a soothing bath or an at-home facial might come to mind for many, but when I want to relax, there’s one thing I always turn to: styling. Arranging and rearranging decorative objects into creative groupings, seeing what enchants the eye, and conjures emotion is one of my favorite pastimes. It truly engages all of the senses and soothes my soul. From the coffee table to my open kitchen shelves, I’m constantly moving things around in accordance with my mood, the seasons, or a newfound object that’s inspired a change of direction in my home. With fall just around the corner, I’m feeling the urge to switch up my style once again towards a moody, cozy vibe to embrace the shift. First up, the fireplace. Watch Athena rearrange her mantel above, then keep reading for our tips on how to style a mantel, and shop the look!

How to Style a Mantel
How to Style a Mantel

Find Your Anchor Piece

This will be the focal point of your mantel, the hero piece that draws you in and invites you to linger. For Athena, this is the tall and sculptural vase to the left. The height, color, and shape immediately attract your attention, ushering your eyes slowly towards the right where your second grouping lives. You could also choose to lean an oversized artwork here as your anchor which is then accompanied by a collection of decorative objects such as a vintage vessel, candle holder, or sculpture. Typically, you want to anchor your mantel with something that has a unique or unusual design aspect, verticality, sculptural quality, and a subtle “wow” factor which will help inform the overall design direction.

Consider Composition

How you group things together can really drive home the narrative of your objects. Think of it as the artistic connection between the separate elements of your space. When looking at Athena’s living room mantel, you can see that the sculpture on the left could absolutely stand on its own. It’s tall, offering much-needed verticality, has a sculptural quality, and even a little bit of life with the plant—it feels very comfortable standing solo. But the other items on the right would actually feel too diminutive and lose their value if they were singled out. When approaching the styling of your mantel, really take a look at your objects and decide what needs friends, what needs to be grouped together, and what can stand on its own.

Always Group in Three’s

A good rule of thumb when curating a composition is to remember that most items need to be grouped in three’s unless it’s a standalone piece. If you want to add more than three, typically grouping objects in odd numbers works best visually. Also, consider verticality—stagger varying heights and dimensions to diversify the levels and engage the eye, allowing it to dance from one object to the next. If your composition is feeling too horizontal, stack books underneath a decorative object to raise it up and balance out the grouping. Athena elevated her short, round vessel by adding sculptural branches and positioning it atop an Axel Vervoordt book for that height she craved. 

How to Style a Mantel
How to Style a Mantel

Avoid Straight Lines

Similar to the broken planes rule, try to avoid styling your pieces in a straight line, too. This can feel too linear and monotonous which is tedious to the eye. Push some pieces to the back and bring others into focus at the front so you create that depth and contrast. Nothing is flat or one dimensional in life, so why should your mantel be any different?  

Play Around With Your Groupings

Even the most decorated and experienced designer or stylist will improvise and play around with their pieces before landing on their final arrangement. Even with careful planning, it’s not until you move, arrange, and rearrange your pieces that you can finally see how they co-exist. Curate different textures, colors, heights, and shapes in various groupings and then solo to see what works and what doesn’t visually. Together, in the overall composition, you’ll see how they come to life. 

Add Greenery 

As you know, we love a branch at EyeSwoon HQ so go outside, clippers in hand, and cut some greenery to add that living element to your mantel styling. Don’t be precious about symmetry here, either. Cut them all at varying heights and embrace imperfection. It will also help to add that sculptural quality and verticality your arrangement yearns for. Also, remember that branches can look equally as beautiful once the leaves have dried out, too. 

Don’t Overfill It

Remember, less is always more. You’ll see on Athena’s mantel that there are only ever four to five pieces curated in various arrangements. The key is to source objects and décor that feel really special on their own or are elevated when paired together. If it’s starting to look too busy, remove a piece and stand back, then remove another and take a photo, see how it makes you feel at every stage of the process. You’ll know instinctually when the arrangement is “right.” 

Shop Our Favorite Pieces to Style a Mantel:

Consider adding a sculptural lamp nearby to bring additional visual interest into the space.

These wavy candle holders in wrought iron add that decorative touch along with verticality to your mantel.

Tapered candles are always my go-to because they add just the right amount of visual splendor but don’t overwhelm.Position a bowl with added character atop a stack of books to stagger your arrangement and break the visual plane. 

Add a box in marble to bring in that textural quality but also to stash things like matches for lighting your candles.

Position a bowl with added character atop a stack of books to stagger your arrangement and break the visual plane. 

Vintage vessels are an instant pick-me-up for any arrangement. Their patina alone brings visual interest to the grouping. 

Consider mounting wall lamps nearby for that moody touch and shine a light on your mantel styling.

Art can be sculptures too. Lean this piece against the wall behind your mantel to create a focal point. 

Candlesticks at warm light but they also bring height and depth to your mantel styling.

Position objects and vases on stacked books to create height and break up visual monotony.

You know how much we love rattan. This floor lamp brings that textural material into the space.

We’ve never met a marble we didn’t like but this one raises the bar with its sculptural, scalloped edges.

If color isn’t your aesthetic, diversify your neutral palette with objects that vary in texture and materiality.

Plaster is always a great way to add touchable texture.

Add greenery or dried branches to this vessel for added sculptural verticality.

Position wall art on your mantel to create a dramatic anchor that sets the tone for the rest of your styling direction.

Bring a touch of color to a neutral grouping with these moss-hued candles.

Vintage lighting brings the drama even when they’re not on.

You don’t need to go down the rabbit hole of Etsy if you’re strapped for time, this CB2 vase brings that vintage quality home.

Reach for classic design tomes that stand the test of time and add a literary touch to your space.

Opt for candles that bring their own sculptural element.

Even the mundane can look stylish. Case in point, this fireplace tool set that looks like art.

Functional items can have style. These marble brushes will look like decorative objects when they’re not in use. 

Candle holders can be their own decorative objects even without a candle.

Choose vessels in varying shapes and layer them.

Bring depth and dimension with artwork that has a 3D quality.

Proof that even your match striker can be visually appealing. 

A marble bowl is a special piece all on its own.

Choose art that speaks to you, engages the eye, and adds visual value to your mantel space.

Don’t overfill your mantel. Instead, keep a wabi-sabi mindset when arranging your vignette and only add pieces you love like this sculptural artwork. 

This texture plaster piece is simple, but as the old adage goes, the simple things in life are often the best. 

Don’t be shy of positioning a solid black piece like this artwork to anchor the space and add a striking touch.

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