Flat-screen or flowers? What belongs on your mantel

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
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?
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.
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