Traditional Mantel Decorating Ideas

Mantel design and photo by At the Picket Fence ( holiday season tends to shift one little part of the house into focus that fades into the background the rest of the year: the mantel. As a home improvement website editor, I’ve seen so many gorgeous and delightful traditional mantel decorating ideas that I just have to share them with you. Whether you are looking for a way to turn your mantel into the focus of a room throughout the year, or if you just want to dress it up for the holidays, these five mantel decorating ideas are sure bets with high, but understated and always appropriate, style.

1. Go Gilded: Gold, when used in moderation, looks classic (not glitzy). It adds just enough pop to liven up a neutral wall. To create a gold mantel display that looks classy, and not trashy, mount a large round mirror with a gilded frame in the center of the wall, a couple inches about the mantel. Then flank the mirror with groupings of gold-accented decorative objects. For example, place a photo in a burnished gold or brass frame to the right of the mirror, as well as a neutral-colored vase with gold trim. To the left of the mirror, place a small grouping of multiple height neutral-colored statues or vases with gold trim.

2. Equestrian Escape: Evoke the Virginian or English countryside by creating an equestrian-themed mantel. On the two outer ends of the mantel, place a set of matching lamps. The lamps should have tall, narrow stems in a dark wood and small, dark, richly pigmented shades. Next, symmetrically divide the wall space above the mantel and between the lamps into two parts. On the right half of the wall space, mount two framed photos of horses, one above the other. On the left side of the wall space, hang a large round mirror with an antique wood frame. In the center of the mantel, create a small display of equestrian accessories, including a black velvet riding helmet, a leather helmet box, and a trophy cup used as a whimsical vase.

3. Big Branches, Stay Symmetrical: Want to bring the outdoors inside, but maintain a polished, traditional look? Balance the rustic look and feel of pine branches with a polished, symmetrical arrangement. Start by mounting a framed mirror in a traditional shape in the center of the wall above the mantel. The frame of the mirror should be a shade close to that of the wall, if not the same shade. Next, moving outwards from the center of the mantel, display a set of three matching metal decorative accessories. In between the metal decorative accessories, place a set of metal votive candleholders, one on each side. Flank the set of three decorative metal pieces with large metal pillar candlesticks topped with white pillar candles (remember to briefly burn the wicks of the candles to give them that lived-in look). Flank the whole display with large neutral-colored, metal accented vases full of pine branches.

4. All About Art: A stately, framed piece of art, displayed alone or with decorative accessories, is conservative but timeless, and perennially attractive.  In this case, the frame is as important as the art. Don’t have money for an original? Buy a high-quality print. The frame should be hefty, and classically styled, and of a high-quality wood. Center and mount the framed art on the wall above the mantel. A centered, classic picture light installed above the framed art adds a distinguished touch. Last, accent the art with a decorative accessory or small statue on the mantel. If you are choosing a statue, place it on the right side of the mantel, angled slightly inward. A china display is also a classic look. Flank the art with large matching china urns on the outer edges of the mantel. Inside the urns, in the center of the mantel, place a small decorative china urn, and flank that with two larger decorative china plates on stands. Stodgy? Maybe it is, but it is definitely a timeless classic mantel arrangement.

5. Flower Power: Fresh flowers pop in a line of skinny vases in front of a large framed mirror. For this mantel arrangement, you’ll be hanging two wall sconces and a large framed mirror above the mantel. Hang a large rectangular mirror (about 2/3 the width of the mantel) at the level of the mantel. You could even just place it on the mantel and lean it against the wall. Be sure that the frame is of a stately design, made of either antiqued metal or a sturdy wood. On both sides of the mirror, in between and equidistant from the vertical lines of the outer edges of the mantel and the outer edges of the mirror, hang matching wall sconces, either fitted for electric lights of candles. In the center of the mantel, in front of the mirror, line up a large group of short, skinny vases or cups. Fill them with fresh flowers according to the season.

I hope that I’ve sparked your interest in mantel décor. For mantel decorating ideas from DIY bloggers and interior designers, go to, and search for “mantel”. You’ll find photos and ideas from some of the best design bloggers on the Web.

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