Updated: Feb 11
"How do you get the Christmas decorations to look right on your mantel? Mine never looks good."
Mantel decorating can be tricky - especially for the holidays. Do you take everything off the mantel to put up Christmas stuff? Or do you work around what you already have? How do you get the decorations to look even?
First off, take a deep breath. You can do this. It'll be fun. Maybe not this year, but once you get the basic mantel decorating formula down, you can repeat it every year!
Step 1: Put Something Large in the Middle.
This is the element that will "ground" the rest of your decor. In my case, it's a tall mirror that we have leaning against the fireplace. You could also use a piece of art, a large family portrait, a nice clock, a huge plate - you get the gist. This could be a non-seasonal item - mine is. That mirror stays up there all year. See?
Step 2: Hang Your Stockings.
Yes, you want to do this before putting up the rest of the decor. Space your stockings evenly across the fireplace. The stocking holders take up precious mantel space, so it's important to put those up before everything else so you see how much space you have left.
P.S. - If you've been driving nails into your mantel for the stockings, stop it. Go purchase some stocking holders that won't put additional holes in your mantel. (If that's not in the budget this year, wait until after Christmas and snag a few on clearance.) Make sure they're really heavy so when you fill the stockings, they don't go tumbling off the mantel in a fit of protest.
Step 3: Rifle Through Your Christmas Decor and Find Two Large Things You Like.
Fireplaces are big - way bigger than a coffee table or single bookshelf - so you need BIG decor to be in proportion with the fireplace. I'm talking at least 15" high for the tallest items. If you start small, your mantel decor is going to look dinky. You can even go taller than the large piece in the middle.
In my case, I have two large glittery reindeer I picked up at a discount store a dozen years ago or so. They're 17" tall. They don't even look that big on my mantel, right? I could go bigger - way bigger - but this year, I really wanted the gold glittered reindeer on my mantel.
You certainly don't have to use glittery reindeer. Large decor could be big pillar candle holders with candles, Santa or angel statues, decorative mini Christmas trees, large stars, big nutcrackers, seasonally appropriate pottery - really anything you have.
If you don't have ANY large Christmas decor already, it might be time for a trip to a local store that sells Christmas decor. Take your tape measure to make sure the decor is actually the right size. Buy two things that are tall. They don't have to match. Really.
Put the items on either side of your large middle piece. The easiest place to put them is halfway from the edge of the mantel to the edge of the big piece.
Step 4: Do a Little More Rifling and Find Four Medium-Sized Items You Like.
These items should be slightly shorter than your "tall" items. There's no hard and fast rule here, but everything should be smaller than your tall item. The goal is to create a cascading effect on either side of the mantel with varying heights.
You can use pairs of items (like my red trees) or different items (like my red reindeer and the glittery tree).
In my case, my tall reindeer are 17" high. My red glass trees are 14" high. The red reindeer is 15" high, and the sparkly tree is 16" high.
Put two of the items on either side of the "tall" item. Your mantel should be looking more complete now.
Step 5: Fill in with Smaller Items, As Needed
If you don't have a lot of room left and you like a more minimalist look, then you can be done! For those of us who prefer a more maximalist approach, it's a fun game of "fill in the white space!"
Here's where you can bring in your tiny decor - like my 5" tall "Santa" sign and my 7" tall pine cone candle. These smaller items are good for layering in front of the larger items.
Make sure to put the same amount of items on each side of the mantel for balance. And don't overload - keep it to 3 or less items per side (if you even have the space for that many).
Step 6: Add Greenery
You don't have to purchase one long 6-foot or 9-foot piece of garland to add greens. If you have a pine tree, boxwood, or holly in your yard, go out a clip off a few branches! If you don't have real greenery in your yard, you can find nice faux greenery picks at any local craft store. As with any decoration, you'll probably need 3 times more than you think you will. It's inevitable.
Now, it's time to shove the greens into the existing display. Try to put the same number of pieces on each side of the mantel for balance. The greens can be behind and in front of the other decor.
And ta da! Your mantel is complete! Now sit back, relax, and enjoy your mantel. If you're like me, you'll keep it up until mid-January!