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How to Decorate a Mantel

As you're walking through your home this fine fall afternoon, take a moment to slow down and notice a large item in your living room. There. That thing. Your fireplace.

We understand that you haven't noticed it lately. But the long, hot summer is winding down and it's probably time for you to consider making some seasonal decorating decisions; the fireplace a good focal point to start with that will make a big change. A few basic items can serve as anchors, then you can make smaller adjustments as the year progresses.

The fireplace basics include:

• A large, central piece to hang above. This could be a mirror, a large piece of art, a wreath, or a collection of items that will figure prominently above the mantel. The large piece should not be visually bigger than the fireplace opening.

• A fireplace screen. Obviously, this is necessary for safety reasons if your fireplace is functional, but it can also add to the room's decor. Many fireplaces come equipped with a mesh curtain to prevent any errant embers from leaving the firebox, but I think we can all agree that they are not the most attractive way to cover the opening. By all means leave them there, but dress the front with a decorative fireplace screen. There are many screens available that coordinate with fireplace tool sets and unify a functional fireplace.

If the idea of decorating the mantel is daunting, try this trick that decorators use: it's called "Three Plus One."

Here's how this works: You have your large, central piece over the mantel. Now choose three smaller items that are somehow related to each other. Three candlesticks of varying size. Three vases of a similar color or shape. Three decorative plates, three photographs, three related pieces of pottery. Take a look at what you collect, what you value, what's important to your family. Keep in mind the color scheme or overall theme of the room; if your home decor is, say, cottage or beachy, maybe you have three items (a jar of seashells, a model ship, a lighthouse figurine) to use. Let your imagination guide you. Put these items on one side of your mantel, but don't necessarily line them up. Think about layering them, tucking one slightly behind another or bringing one forward. They may look nice angled slightly toward the center of the mantel. Play with that arrangement until you're happy.

Now for the "One." On the other side of the mantel, place one larger item. This piece should not be taller than your large center piece, nor visually "heavier" than the three items on the other side, combined. It could be related in color, texture, or theme to the other pieces, or could tie into the decor of the rest of the room. A gorgeous glazed vase with florals, a silk topiary, a large flower arrangement; all of these would work.

You have all the basics in place now. How do you dress your mantel for the season? This is the fun part. Each of the pieces you chose as the "Three Plus One" is variable year-round. Changing out candle colors, plates, or florals is simple and easy. Think of your fireplace basics as its Little Black Dress, and the "Three Plus One" as the accessories. Play with fabrics elsewhere in the room to tie it all together and just like that, your fireplace is dressed for the season.

Spring Mantel Suggestions

Fall Mantel Suggestions

Holiday Mantel Suggestions

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