Skip to main content

Flat-screen or flowers? What belongs on your mantel

By Ann Hoevel, CNN
updated 5:10 PM EDT, Tue July 9, 2013
<a href='http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1000672'>Tania Griffis</a> of Dallas used plenty of elbow grease and faced DIY failure while renovating her living room. Now, her mantel is just how she likes it. Tania Griffis of Dallas used plenty of elbow grease and faced DIY failure while renovating her living room. Now, her mantel is just how she likes it.
HIDE CAPTION
Open House: Mantels
Open House: Mantels
Open House: Mantels
Open House: Mantels
Open House: Mantels
Open House: Mantels
Open House: Mantels
Open House: Mantels
Open House: Mantels
Open House: Mantels
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Whether winter or summer, mantels are a focal point for any room
  • Decorators: Combine large and small art and tchotchkes to tell a story
  • Share your patio and deck ideas in the next CNN Open House iReport assignment

Editor's note: Welcome to CNN's Open House, an online tour of iReporters' houses that showcases incredible decor. Space by space, we'll move through beautiful design moments that make a house a home. Want to show off your decorating skills? Submit your photos to our iReport assignment!

(CNN) -- A fireplace isn't just a spot to keep logs and kindling. According to decorators and design enthusiasts, it's where you put your heart on display.

Of course, in decorator speak, a fireplace serves as a design focal point, something you can use as a jumping-off point for furniture placement and accessories. It adds "charm" to any room. But in practical terms, what you choose to display on a mantel is something that will be seen -- and seen as important.

Often coveted as a must-have detail for home buyers, fireplaces -- and mantels in particular -- evoke a specific feeling of tradition and comfort, decorator Emily Clark said.

"I think they represent the coziness and warmth that we envision when we think of what 'home' should be," she said. It doesn't matter whether the fireplace is regularly used, she said, noting that the climate around her North Carolina home doesn't always provide the opportunity for a roaring fire.

Holly Modica of House by Holly said the time her family spends around their fireplace makes the cold, snowy days in Connecticut easier to bear. When hurricanes and recent record-breaking snowstorms caused power outages, their fireplace delivered.

"There is something so cozy about sitting by the fireplace and enjoying the moment," she said.

But what if it's not cold?

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

There's little reason to use a fireplace in the middle of a sweltering summer, but that won't stop decorators from giving their mantels the summertime treatment. Many decorators who contributed to this week's Open House assignment confessed to switching out their mantel decor often, at least once per season.

Open House: No matchy-matchy in the bedroom, please

Light, bright and simple are the go-to decor philosophies for summer mantels. Fresh garden clippings in simple containers, seashells, driftwood, outdoor lanterns and cool shades of green and blue help keep the mind on beach vacations and lazy days.

Thoughts of home

"There is absolutely something nostalgic and magical about a fireplace," said Run to Radiance blogger Tania Griffis. "While they aren't exactly a necessary thing to have these days, they represent a time period and a way of life where things were a little slower and more traditional." She and her husband love their fireplace so much that they stared a Christmas tradition of pulling a mattress into the living room and sleeping nearby on Christmas Eve.

Sometimes, as in Julia Konya's case, the memories associated with mantels are more literal.

"To me, a fireplace is a symbol of my childhood in Germany," she said. "My family still has the same very traditional wood-burning fireplace from when I was growing up. It has a beautiful heavy stone mantel and is surrounded by a huge built-in library wall.

"We spent every winter and holiday around that fireplace," Konya said. "While people in other homes used to put their family photos and knickknacks on their mantels, my mother never decorated like that. My mother always kept it simple and only displayed a few pieces of her inherited silver."

And that's a tradition Konya carries on, as seen on her blog Cuckoo4Design.

There's just something special about fireplaces, Anisa Darnell of Milk and Honey Home said. Aside from hanging stockings from the mantle during the winter holidays and lighting fires in the box for cold weather ambiance, "we take all of our big family photos in front of ours," she said.

Open House: Steps to a decorated staircase

Application of tchotchkes
For decorating purposes, a mantel is essentially a shelf. But it's not usually very deep, and there's no right or wrong way to decorate it. And that can stymie the best-laid decorating plans.

Although mounting a flat-screen television above a fireplace is one modern solution to the "focal point" part of the decorating equation, it's also the part of a room where modern decorators feel comfortable about "breaking the rules," said Elizabeth Baumgartner of The Little Black Door.

Memories of mantels cluttered with formal portraits, holiday cards and the urns of loved ones have given way to the idea of a mantel being a piece of art, she said: "I love that people are reclaiming it and making it their own."

"A mantel is a great way to showcase what is meaningful and beautiful to you," said Corrie Moore, the owner of Little House on the Update. "People are using mantels as more of a showpiece now. Before, it was just a shelf to set things on."

"They also tell a story," Modica said. "You can easily change your decorations out for every season and display things that you really love. It could be as simple as one or two things or as many as you want. It's your story."

Open House: Are you brave enough to decorate boldly in the foyer?

Stories large and small

As staircase pictures walls and gallery-style picture hanging continue to gain popularity, the mantel is now the place for decorative items.

"Scale is an important challenge when decorating a mantel," Modica said. "Finding that perfect big item may take some time. An oil painting, a mirror or just an interesting empty antique frame are all good options."

Smaller items resting on the mantel help balance out the bigger items. But sometimes those smaller items get tricky, said Stephanie Zell of Atlanta. Her home has a double-sided fireplace, with one side facing the living room and the other her bedroom.

"The biggest challenge for me is trying to edit the items on the mantel," she said. "Sometimes I can go overboard and find too many things I want to stick on it, (and they) don't necessarily go together."

Baumgartner sticks to arranging items in groups of odd numbers, making sure the items share a similar color or shape.

"I think the biggest challenge is knowing how much is enough," she said. "Be sure to include some negative, or empty, space to make it more pleasing to the eye."

Or, you can run with that space, like Holly Browning of Down to Earth Style does. "Nothing is wrong with a very simple mantel, so if you don't think you got it right, keep it sparse," she said. "(It's) a much better choice than adding clutter."

Are you obsessed with decorating your house? Show us your skills at CNN's Open House and your photo could be featured in next week's story. Our next focus: Backyard patios and decks.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
updated 12:49 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
While most parents think about having a 'sex talk' with their children, not as many think about talking about technology, and that is a big mistake, experts say.
updated 8:53 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Parents are too ambivalent about their kids' "privacy" online, writes Dr. Jodi Gold--they're either spying fruitlessly or afraid to shape their child's online footprint.
updated 8:55 AM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Is there an unspoken rule in Hollywood that celebrity parents can only pick unusual names for their kids?
updated 5:50 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The premise is simple: You can eat one marshmallow now or, if you can wait, you get to eat two marshmallows later.
updated 7:43 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
While most children wait and hope Santa visits them at home on Christmas Eve, this year dozens of Denver-area children went directly to the big man's arctic home turf.
updated 5:25 PM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Almost 300 students who had been rejected by Johns Hopkins University received a joyous shock over the weekend when the prestigious Baltimore school said they'd been admitted after all -- but they hadn't.
updated 5:09 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
There is no way around the topic of nakedness in front of your children without getting personal and slightly uncomfortable.
updated 6:55 AM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Teens might be shedding their rebellious reputations: A survey says they're doing fewer drugs, drinking and smoking less. But E-cigarette use is up.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Carol Costello asks whether American culture sends a message to girls that it's not cool to study math and science fields.
updated 12:44 PM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
It's that special time of year, when Christmas and Hanukkah toy sellers try to put children in a box.
updated 7:59 PM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
Foodies and travelers: They're adventurous, they have discerning tastes and they love to discover a little-known jewel. Here's how to shop for them.
CNN iReport asked families with children with developmental and physical disabilities to share what their lives are like.
updated 7:00 AM EST, Mon December 8, 2014
Don't know what to get parents who are always on the move or kids who seem to have everything? This is just the list for you.
updated 11:45 PM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
You probably know LOL and OMG -- but what about IWSN, CU46 or IPN. It's all about KPC -- "keeping parents clueless."
updated 9:17 AM EST, Wed December 3, 2014
Out of control parties, sex and alcohol are some of the dangers kids might get into when left alone overnight. But some are mature enough to handle it. How do you know?
updated 11:58 AM EST, Tue December 2, 2014
Across the country and around the world, synthetic drugs are tearing holes in families.
updated 11:42 AM EST, Tue December 2, 2014
There's no place like home for the holidays -- and for one little girl in Cleveland, it's the only place.
Girl Scout cookie sales are entering the 21st century. For the first time ever, Girl Scout cookies will be sold online through a national platform called Digital Cookie. This breaks the organization's ban on e-sales of Thin Mints and Samoas.
updated 9:19 AM EST, Mon December 1, 2014
Author/actor B.J. Novak
B.J. Novak is catering to kids. His first children's book tops the New York Times list of best selling children's picture books. But here's the catch: it actually doesn't have any pictures.
updated 7:20 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Hundreds of students walked out of their Oklahoma high school Monday to protest the school's response to the alleged bullying of three classmates who say they were raped by the same person.
updated 8:10 AM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
If it hasn't happened already, it likely will at some point: the moment you don't like one of your child's friends. What do you do?
updated 5:20 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
November is National Adoption Awareness Month. CNN's Michaela Pereira grew up in a family of five adopted girls in Canada and eventually reunited with her biological half-sister.
updated 12:35 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
If you think 'my teen would never sext,' you might be mistaken. Recent studies suggest it's more common than many parents might want to admit.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT