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Decorate Your Fall Fireplace Mantel Like a Designer

5 Steps to a Beautiful Fall Fireplace Mantel Using the Basic Elements of Design

Last week I showed you a peek at my Fall mantel when I posted how to make a Wood Bead Garland for Fall.  Today I am going to show you the entire mantel as I am taking part in a Fall mantel blog hop with 30 other DIY decorating bloggers.

Instead of just showing you photos of my Fall mantel, though, I thought I would explain what goes on in my mind as I create a new look for my mantel every season, often using the same items from year to year.

Side view of an autumn inspired decorated mantel5 Steps to a Beautifully Decorated Fall Fireplace Mantel

Readers often ask me how I come up with my ideas and execute them. I worked in retail display for many years. The job gave me lots of practice creating displays and vignettes on store shelves and ledges, using only the contents in a prop room to create them. I had to be resourceful and learned a lot of ways to make the same items look different so they would continue to entice shoppers.

To change the look and style of my mantel, I simply play around with the items I have chosen, along with applying the “basic elements of design” until a new look emerges with which I am happy.

You can do the same thing with the items you own to create a beautiful Fall mantel in your home, simply by following basic design principles.  These elements all work in conjunction with each other. Together they are what turns a bunch of decorative stuff into an eye-pleasing statement and makes you a designer.

This year when decorating your mantel for Fall try using these…

Fall Fireplace Mantel Design Element Basics

Without getting complicated, these design elements and principles are what I keep in mind when I look at my stash of decorative fall items and an empty mantel over my fireplace.

Note, I said, “keep in mind” as they are merely a tool to create something visually pleasing using just about anything on any surface. Feel free to break from them to come up with something totally unique and perfect for your taste and personal decorating style. They are just a guide to get you going.

Also, don’t forget to consider that the wall behind the mantel becomes part of the whole mantel decoration. It could be a painted wall, stacked stones, paneling, a mirror, or a piece of art.

Step 1: Balance

Figure Out If You Want the Decor on Your Mantel to Be Placed Symmetrically or Asymmetrically

Balance is the weight of the items placed along the length of the mantel. The elements don’t necessarily need to be of the same size on each side of the mantel. Balance can be achieved by placing a large element on one side of the mantel and several small elements on the other side that are equal in color, texture or size.

Easy autumn floral arrangement

Last year I decorated my mantel using symmetrical balance. It is achieved when the weight of the elements on both halves of the mantel are even on each side of a center line.  In this case the sides are nearly identical.

White mantel decorated for fall.

This year, I decorated my mantel using asymmetrical balance. It is achieved by the use of color to create the balance, but you could use objects to achieve it also. The white canvas on the left is balanced by the 3 white candles on the right.

Balance can also be achieved by placing the canvas in portrait mode where it is taller than the rest of the items on the mantel.  To balance that on the other side, I draped the wood beads off the mantel on the right. These two items create an invisible diagonal line across the mantel. Note that I also placed more white candles on the hearth to bring the color white and similar items to acccent the whole fireplace into the mantel design.

Also look at how you space the items. You don’t want to simply line them up, unless you are going after that look. To create more impact on the mantel, consider how much space you place in between each element on the mantel. This can change the look dramatically. Layer or overlap items in front of each other as I did with the white canvas, window sash and wreath. Tighten the design by bringing the whole collection to the center of the mantel. This will make the items look cohesive and not like a bunch of clutter lined up.

Step 2: Size & Proportion

Keep the size and proportion of your items in mind. If you are using larger items, placing something really small or dinky will just end up looking like clutter. If you are not sure if an item you place on your mantel is too small or large in connection with other items, do the “Squint Test”.  Simply stand about 10 feet away from your mantel and squint your eyes as you look at it. This will put the size and shape of the items along it in better focus and allow you to see if something looks off.  It really works, I do it all the time to keep whatever I am working on in balance as I add and remove new things until I like what I see.

Step 3: Repetition

Repetition of elements along a mantel will strengthen your design by tying together individual elements. It helps to create association and consistency and provides a visual rhythm that pleases the eye.

Repetitive elements can be as simple as the actual items you place on the mantel, the use of the same color of a collection of different items, using repetitive shapes, or even texture.

3 rustic balls lined up on autumn inspired mantel

For instance, I used 3 (odd numbers always look more visually appealing) rustic textured balls along the left side.

3 white candles on mantel with wood garland wrapped around them

On the right side, I lined up 3 white candles. These don’t match, but that doesn’t matter in an asymmetrical display.  If I was working on a symmetrically decorated mantel, I would use the same 3 items on each side.

It's Fall Y'all decorated mantel
Post: Free Printables Fall Mantel

For this fall mantel, I used repetition with the free printables that say – It’s Fall Y’all across the window sash.

Step 4: Contrast in Texture/Color

Contrast allows you to emphasize or highlight a certain item. It is created when two elements are total opposites. Note the navy blue window sash against the stark white canvas and the third item, the Autumn-hued wreath.  Contrast doesn’t necessarily have to be achieved using colors. It can also be achieved with shapes and textures like the stone wall behind my mantel or a basket against a shiny copper planter or shiny mirror hung on the wall above the mantel.

An orange paper circle wreath on a navy blue window sash.

When you add items that contrast against each other, it guides the eye to where they should look first or to the most important element. For it to work successfully though, it must be strong and obvious. It needs to make an impact.

Rustic wood bead garland with raffia tassels draped off a mantel decorated for fall.

And don’t forget, just as when you decorate a room, choose a color scheme for your fall mantel. I used navy, orange and yellow. Again, odd numbers look better, so choose 3 colors or go monochromatic and use all same shades of a color when choosing the items to use to decorate your mantel.

Step 5: Harmony

Once you are are done, take a step back and see if what you created is not only in harmony with the rest of the room, but with all the elements themselves. When they are, you will know that you have succeeded in creating a fall mantel just as a designer would.

Using these basic elements of design can be used to decorate any area or surface in your home; they are not just for creating pretty mantels and vignettes.

Do you take into account any of these design elements when you decorate your home?

Photos of 4 fall decorated mantels. Text overlay says Fast and affordable fall mantel decorating ideas.
How to decorate a mantel for fall using colorful items you may already own.

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21 Comments

  1. love how you broke down eachstep. And the bead string with tassels…it makes such a difference

  2. Would love to know if you have seen this wreath (or something similar) this year? Your mantel is beautiful!!!!!!!!!

    1. Hi Laura – thanks. I wish I could tell you that I have seen the wreath, but I haven’t. It was a HomeGoods purchase where they don’t carry the same items from year to year. Did you try Kirklands? Hobby Lobby? They might have something like it.

  3. Thanks Diane for this post. I struggle with my mantle. I like to change it for the seasons but don’t want it to look too cute. I recently changed what I have hung above the mantle and I’m not sure if it’s working. And that took me months to choose!

    1. Hi Tina – If you are not happy with how it looks, play around with the items on it until you like what you see. Use various sizes of objects and maybe bring in something from another room to add to it. It can take some trial and error to get right. Stick with it and you will see.

    1. I love your Fall Mantel, especially your orange wreath. I have a lot of same shade blue as your window frame with rust & orange accents. Where did you find such beautiful leaves for your wreath?
      I’m praying for all of you that will have any problems from Florence. We’ve been through hurricanes in Tx & Fl. Always carried flood insurance because these storms that move slow & rain several days can be devastating.
      GOD BLESS. Jayne

      1. Thanks Jayne – I bought the orange wreath on my mantel at HomeGoods. I also saw it at Kirklands. The hurricane passed by my town with only rain. We were very lucky. It is back to normal for us tomorrow.

  4. I’m a fan of the symmetry of the first photo which is crazy because I love oddness!

  5. Love your blog and have followed for years. Not so in love with the Facebook, Pinterest, fritter banner that runs through pictures. I also realize ads have their place but it’s difficult to scroll through reading the blog without being diverted to an ad and then circling back to read the blog. It was nice when they were off to the side. Thanks for your lovely ideas and I hope the weather is kind to your area!

  6. Yes, I was thinking about your home during this storm too – I hope all goes well.
    I don’t have a mantel!! But even without a mantel, I put things into a certain order that I think would reflect a similar mindset! I have shelves… and counter tops, etc. My mother had that artful touch, wish she was still here for consulting!
    …glad you have this decorating thing down, so I can always ask you! <3

  7. Your Fall mantle is beautiful. I have been thinking about you because of the hurricane headed to the Carolinas. Are you making preparations or evacuating? I wondered where if you expect to have power outages or damage from the storm. I hope you and Ed will be safe! Let us know when you can.

    1. Hi Shirley – Thank for asking. :-) Life around SC today is beginning to get a little crazy. The interstate coming from the coast is all west bound, no one can go east anymore until after the storm passes. Where I live, should be OK. We expect rain and wind, but as it looks right now we may be just on the edge of the projected path. I think the worse we will see is a loss of power which always happens. I just hope it is only for a short time. XO

      1. Thanks for answering Diane. I hope the storm misses you and the power stays on.
        Good luck!