It’s that time again – pressure to create the unusual, dramatic, interesting, holiday mantel decor. Mantels each have their own challenges: too wide, too narrow, too deep or tall or non-existent. Add the need for a creative solution to the physical aspects of the mantel, and it’s enough to cause a “Bah Humbug” reaction. I’ve shared my mantel decor the last few years – you can see my process and results here for 2011, and here for 2010, and here for 2009 (at a different house with different challenges).
This year as I was tearing down and starting my fourth (or was it fifth?) iteration, my husband said, “I like to see you having a design challenge.” And he was right, this year really was a challenge……
Christmas Mantel Design
When you tackle changing the decor of a mantel (or any other aspect of your room) without a plan, you need to allow for a little experimenting. Sometimes what’s in your head doesn’t look as great in reality. So, I experimented.
Last year I had this grand plan for an all white and silver mantel using these great lighted stars but I ended up going a different direction. I thought I’d try again so started out with a very symmetrical arrangement. My mantel challenge is its extreme depth. I’ve got almost 3′ and these flowers just get dwarfed. This is simple, the beginning of elegant, but the scale is wrong for the depth of my mantel. Plus, how to hide the cords?
The silk flower arrangements are a simple three stems of amaryllis pushed into dry foam, add some silver glitter curly sticks, feathers and cover the foam with a bead garland. I’ve used the fabric mesh over batting to cover the mantel tile for a softer look.
I felt like the flowers needed something against the back wall for contrast so added some tall branches from the yard. The garland is laid there to see if color will help. In this version, the sticks are too rustic and busy and detract from the elegant beginning….the addition of some color would be a good thing.
I tried a few more things to see what might work – the picture is too small, the silver curly sticks don’t even show up; the whole thing isn’t working. I need a different direction.
Mantel Decor Do-Over
I have this giant Santa (last year it was on the floor by the fireplace) – he’s probably 3′ tall – the right scale for the opening.
What goes with a Santa? Why a sled and reindeer, of course! I added some greens to mimic a forest floor and some pine trees for dimension and contrast in the back. This feels too visually heavy on the right side.
I filled the sled with wrapped packages for some color but now it feels very jumbled and busy. My eye doesn’t know where to look first.
My solution is to move the trees to the opposite side, creating balance and contrast behind the reindeer. Out with the packages, and on to …..
How about filling the sled with some greens and bringing back some of the flowers? This arrangement takes advantage of all the depth on the mantel with the Santa pushed far back into the right corner, the sled centered, and the reindeer pulled toward the front. But, boy there’s a lot going on!
Holiday Mantel Last Try
In this final effort, I kept the Santa but simplified the surrounding elements.
I brought back the branches because their rustic nature seems to complement the Santa (and they help disguise the cords). I changed up the reindeer for a lighter version that leads the eye up to the stars. Filling the space between them is still a pile of packages, but without the sled, I was able to use bigger boxes so it is less jumbled. I also eliminated the greens on the mantel tile which restores the visual lightness of the all white look.
This simpler mantel is more appealing and from a distance I’m able to discern the various elements instead of having them all run together in a mass of visual clutter. However, does it seem a little stark to you?
How about adding a garland to act as a grounding element to fill up the big empty space? I like it, but the big bows are once again adding too much visual clutter. Simplify, simplify.
This is my final version and I’m very happy with the overall result. The feathers at the corners are duplicated in other arrangements throughout my home. The red and white berries and glittery greens add just enough color and sparkle to keep the garland from becoming a dark hole.
Holiday Mantel Decorating Guidelines
As you can see, it sometimes takes a little trial-and-error to reach a final arrangement that you like. That’s okay. Use my experience as a starting place for your own mantel:
1. Gather a variety of items that you think will fit on your mantel and that might complement each other or fulfill a theme.
2. Start with the largest items and play with balance, scale and placement for maximum interest (Santa, sled, flower arrangements).
3. Add some medium sized elements to play a supporting role (the gift wrapped boxes on my mantel).
4. Add the details, the smallest fill-in items (ornaments, pinecones, candles, etc.).
5. Evaluate the overall look and edit as needed – sometimes it’s easiest start with just a few things and add one or two items at a time until you reach saturation.
6. Sit back, put your feet up and enjoy the fruits of your labors for the rest of the holiday season!
One Quick Idea
As I decorated my entry way, I tried something new – it is easy, inexpensive and full of visual impact. It’s SO easy, I just have to share.
I gathered some broken branches gathered from a nearby park and lightly painted them with a bit of white spray paint.
I simply added lots of long pieces of curling ribbon tied to the branches – there’s great movement when the heat clicks on or the front door opens. It fills the corner with whimsy and brightness and movement – and for just a few pennies of inexpensive curling ribbon!
Let us know how your holiday decorating progresses – do you struggle with your mantel decor? What’s your favorite tool for breaking the creative barrier? Do you put up the same mantel decor year after year or do you like to switch things up? Share your story, your ideas, your solutions – we’d love to hear from you in the comments.