The Fireplace Mantel

Have you ever?  This fireplace, with its painted surround and mantel is like nothing I have ever seen before.  The wood panel on top of the mantel, with its elaborately detailed carved vignette soars better than 14 feet above the mantel.  I would guess the entire fireplace tops out at more than 20 feet.  A new client wanted this mantel decorated for the holidays.  What direction would I take?  The room’s furnishings and rugs are in dark and rich tones-rust, red, and brown.  The Christmas tree was densely trimmed in copper, gold, and green ornaments-and lots of  very wide brocade ribbon.  This made for a good start.      

The client, charming and friendly-quite unlike this very imposing architectural feature.  She said she was sure she would like what I did.  I made sure to take note of what she liked.  People generally surround themselves at home with things they like-things that make them feel comfortable.  I knew the only holiday decoration which would harmonize comfortably with this fireplace would need to be very large, and tall.  A pair of cast iron urns would provide the weight I needed for a tall element.  The copper curly willow branches, bahia seed pods, and copper glass ornaments made for trees of a holiday sort, that would sit on the mantel.    

Felt furniture dots underneath the urns insured there would be no scratches to the wood.  The garland for the mantel would be anchored to these very heavy topiary trees.  Attaching a garland to a mantel is always a challenge, if there is no option to sink screws into a wall, or brads into the wood.  Any opportunity for a vertical decorative element with enough weight to hold the horizontal element in place is welcome.   

A 6 foot long garland of faux white pine was p[laced behind each of the urns, and wired together in the center of the mantel.  Fresh magnolia braches were added to that garland.  It did not seem to me that the garland needed much else, besides some very wide ribbon. 

Working with ribbon can be a challenge; wired ribbon is so much easier to work with.  I get the ribbon on, check the lengths, move it this way, and that, before I worry about the finished appearance. Once I have an idea of the shape and directions of the curves, I can fine tune.  This ribbon is copper sequins in the center, and woven gold on the border-sumptuous.    

It took another 40 minutes after this picture was taken to get the ribbon out of its awkward krinkly phase, and just right.  Flowing and graceful takes a little time to achieve.  

 I like decorating the mantel for the holidays. I like even better that every mantel is different, and that every client is different.  What characterizes all of them is an interest in making sure to represent the holiday.  This client just moved into a new house 4 days ago.  This massive fireplace that is open to two rooms has a very simple and shallow mantle.  We dressed it simply in silver fir lashed to a length of bamboo pole, fresh pomegranates, artichokes, oranges, and a few white coconuts. As her furniture has not yet arrived, and boxes are everywhere, she was thrilled to see this sign of normal holiday home life.    

This granite fireplace surround has no mantel.   It is the only solid surface in a wall of glass. A mixed garland of Douglas Fir and white pine is draped over the very top, and trails almost to the ground.  This is a very modern version of first fireplace pictured.  It has the same imposing scale and presence.  A very large mixed green wreath is of a scale proper to that massive granite surface. The tweo fireplaces could not be more different in appearance, but they are much alike in spirit.     

This client’s mantel is constructed from purple anodized wire, glittered netting, chartreuse reindeer moss, and three dimensional gold fabric stars.  Though the wood mantel is very traditional. the holiday materials are anything but.  A wired artificial garland provides a base to which all the other elements are attached.  Lead sinkers or pot feet, can provide additional ballast, should you need some. 

The garland on this mantel is low, so as not to obscure the print over the fireplace.  The elves at each end-yes, this is a family with kids. 



Several years ago, all my mantel got for Christmas were three pots of pink cyclamen.  Who knows what this year’s decoration will be. This much I know-it will be different.




  1. The first one is wonderfull, really in harmony with this kind of fireplace!

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