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Mantle Talk....

The "How's" and "Why's" of Accessoring a Mantle

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Homeowners often agonize over finding what they consider the perfect print, or the perfect vase or the perfect mirror. Most of the time, from my experience, its not always finding the perfect objects of display - rather displaying the objects in a perfect way. It would be so much easier if I could list a set of rules for which to follow strictly. But, as we all know - decorating does not fall into the "one size fits all" category.

So, where do I start? First of all, allow the theme - or style - of the room to guide you. Most fireplaces have ample wall space above the mantle which scream to be filled in some manner. The main ingredients needed to fill this space are plenty of personality, a little creativity and most of all...the willingness to try different things. Below are a few basic guidleines which will hopefully, answer a few of your questions when it comes to accessorizing your mantle.

1) Theme: Choose items that relate to the room and best reflect the room's well as your own!

A family room with warm, earthy colors - for example - would not visually support an ornate, guilded mirror placed above the mantle. Rather, a showcase of collected prints that compliment the room's decor and color pallette would be the better choice. Also, keep in mind your own personality and that of your family's when choosing objects. Don't worry so much about what's "in" and what isn't. I am often asked is it "okay" to display family photos. You bet it is! As far as I'm concerned "family" will never go out of style. One way to display family photos is to choose a variety of frames which all relate in style. Perhaps you enjoy the look of wood frames. Choose assorted frames with slightly different styles but stay within this style - smooth front, carved front, etc. Choose one or two mat colors that are complimentary to the room's color scheme - and stick with these colors. You might have to spend a little more with this look, but these frames hold pictures that are worth far more. Treat them like precious art!

2) A piece of art or grouping of accessories can set the tone and mood of the entire room!

This basic guideline can get a little tricky if you are an enthusiast art collector. A true art collector often possesses a piece based upon the actual work. The collector is not necessary driven on how the piece will "fit" or "compliment" a given space. Where as, most decorators look for artwork for entirely different reasons. For example, how well will the colors of the art blend into a given color scheme? Artwork and accessories above a mantle can be a room's inspiration. From one single print, for example - you can develop a workable color scheme and build from there a color scheme for not only that room but for your entire public space. For this reason, artwork and accessories can take time to locate. This is the best part for those of us who enjoy the thrill of the hunt!


3)Scale: Consider the dimensions of the space above the mantle.

Its always a good idea to keep the measurements of this area with you at all times when you adventure out on shopping trips. This way, your chances of second guessing will be almost eliminated. Scale is very important in the greater scheme of decorating your mantle and the space above. If the piece is too small, there are artful ways of pulling these items into scale (read "Art"-iculated Rooms to get a better understanding of this concept.) Scale should also be taken into consideration in conjuntion with...

4)Balance: This guideline is one where a homeowner's personality and accessorizing likes and dislikes come into play.
For example, while I try to be more geometric and exact in my placement - this style may be too predictable and stiff for some. Just keep in mind the "total picture" when placing your artwork and accessories. Whether you prefer a balanced placing or a more contemporary look of an off-center design - keep all items in balance and scale for a cohesive look and feel.

I, also, want to discuss one of the most important guidelines, in my opinion. That guideline is 5)"Flow." I know you have heard this word used generously in the decorating world. "Flow of Colors," "A Room's Traffic Flow," etc. In terms of accessorizing the mantle, flow refers to how easily your eye travels from one side of the mantle to the other. A common mistake that many homeowner's make is to line up objects straight across the linear space in soldier's-at-attention style. This creates a horizontal and repetitive pattern. Instead, create visual interest by using a zig-zag placement - or what I like to sometimes refer to as the "roller coaster effect." The dips and valleys created with this placement entices the eye to move from end to end with ease.
To achieve this look, place taller objects such as large candlesticks, vases, lamps (etc) on each end. In the middle, add a medium height object(s). Place smaller and shorter objects between the taller and medium-sized objects - thus creating the up & down rollercoaster effect.

6)Use lifts and props to give added height when shorter items are not quite tall enough. For example, a small clock can be placed on a stack of antique books. A plate will get an extra boost of height by placing it on a plate stand - and then on a stack of books if even more height is needed.

7)Odds-on Favorites!I know you've heard it before but its a guidleline worth repeating. Accessories used in odd numbers always look much more pleasing than even numbers. In a design class, I once why. I was told it related to how humans visually relate to objects. He went on to say that this is primarily because the human body possesses body parts - for the most part - in pairs. Eyes, hands, feet, ears, etc. We also mentally perceive and formulate things in pairs - "right and wrong," "yes and no," "him and her," etc. When things are used out of this norm - such as an odd numbered of items, the human mind perceives this as more stimulating. It made sense at the time! LOL Whether this is true or not, I don't think anyone will argue with this concept. For whatever reason, using an odd number of objects just "feels right." LOL (Sometimes the best explanations are the easy ones.)

I think you will find that once you begin - and you employ some of these basic guidelines, accessorizing your mantle will become second nature. After a while, you won't have to rely on these guidelines because your instincts will take over. I want to stress again that these are simply guidelines to get you started. Allow your own tastes and desires to lead the way. Have fun with your mantle!! And while you're at it...consider these same guidelines when accessorizing other areas of your home.