Fireplace, Interior Design, Redesign
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Perfecting imperfection, a.k.a. decorating your mantel

Winter doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, so how about one last hurrah for the fireplace.

Fireplaces are important.  Not that we have to rely on them so much for heat these days, but because they can be a beautiful focal point in a room when they are well accessorized. Accessorizing the mantel can be a real challenge. It’s a space where you want just enough, but not too much.  Uncluttered but not boring.  Symmetry, but sometimes maybe not.

Less is most definitely more, but if your mantel looks like this, we’ve got some work to do.


And please don’t do this either.


image via cote de texas

This one is not terrible.


But not great either.  Don’t your eyes crave something substantial in that space over the mantle?  Something to keep the fireplace from being overshadowed by the height of the bookcases.

Some ideas for what you might do with your own fireplace…

Minimalism.  It works really well, especially when you have no mantel like these fireplaces.  Don’t hold back, go big and bold!


image via designinthewoods


image via better homes and gardens


image via casa vogue brazil

How perfect is that black wall as a backdrop for this fireplace surround?

In more formal rooms symmetry and simplicity are often your best bet.


image via southern living


image via country living

fireplace mantel styling decorating how to ideas inspiration art 2

image via theaestate

Ok, maybe this mirror isn’t so simple, but you get the idea.

On the contrary, an asymmetrical arrangement on the mantel can be really striking.


image via better homes and gardens

Asymmetrical mantel 2

image via emilyanninteriors


image source unknown

See how that worked with three totally different kinds of fireplaces?

And then there’s what I think is a really great look for many mantles.  A balanced look.  Symmetry, but not.  What you could call ‘perfect imperfection’. Here’s a terrific illustration that can be used as a guide for creating some perfect imperfection for yourself.


image via stevenandchris

1. Start with something large in the center to “anchor” the space.

2. Add movement, which means things of varying height – a grouping of candlesticks or vases.

3. Add visual weight – something with some height and density –  it will balance the “movement” on the other side of the mantle while keeping things interesting.

4. Layer art and photos – the mantel is a perfect place for layering art of different sizes.

5. Add accessories of varying heights –  fill in with a few accessories, a small vase or two, a stack of old books, a decorative box.

Here are a few real life examples of perfect imperfection.


image via domino


image via frugalinfortworth


image via borderlesstraveler


image via sweetsomethingdesign

Another way to achieve perfect imperfection.

1. Anchor piece in the center.

2. Identical/symmetrical items on both sides.

3.  Fill in with layers of art and  accessories.

Like this.


image via house beautiful


image source unknown

5 american homemaker asymmetrical mantle display


Here’s a mantle we worked on recently.   This was really a really tricky space to accessorize, there were only about 2 feet of vertical space to work with between the mantle and windows above it.  2013-05-01 08.26.09

Here’s what worked for this mantel.  Symmetry mixed up with the homeowner’s great little block print and an apple green wooden box. For this mantel it was just the right mix and just enough “stuff” to look finished but not cluttered.

2013-09-24 08.40.33

One more thing.  If you have something really striking like this gorgeous stone, keep it simple and let the beauty of the fireplace itself be the main attraction.


Do any of these mantels appeals to you? There’s not one right way to accessorize a mantle.  Every fireplace and mantel are just too different for one style to work every time.  Having some guidelines can be very helpful, but you really have to play around with the arrangement.  I’m sure that after a little trial and error you’ll find your own version of “perfect imperfection”.

If you need help staging your home to sell or styling your home into a place you love, contact us or visit our website at   SFS-Logo-WEB


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