Interior trend: make time for mantelscaping

September 13, 2021

As the temperature drops and we head back into our homes in search of cosiness, fireplaces will, once again, become a home décor focal point. While we may only light the gas, fan the real flames or flick the switch of a stove-effect heater when it’s really cold, the mantelpiece is a year-round feature that you can dress to have a big impact. In fact, there is something called ‘mantelscaping’ – the art of arranging knick-knacks, trinkets and flowers on the ledge (the mantel) that sits above a fire. 

The good news is you don’t have to have a working fire, or even an opening, to have a mantel and enjoy mantelscaping. It’s increasingly common to affix a piece of timber to a wall – such as an old railway sleeper – to create a mantel, while others retain a mantelpiece as a feature after decommissioning a fireplace, just so they can decorate it.

The most authentic addition to a mantel would be a mantel clock – also known as a shelf clock. Dating back to France in the mid 18th century, the tradition still pervades today, although more contemporary styles are manufactured alongside the ornate versions seen in Georgian and Victorian eras.

The perfect companions to a mantel clock – an addition that can be traced back centuries – are candles. While we are spoiled with different sizes, fragrances and types today, the classic mantel candle would be a tapered example held in a decorative candlestick. 

Before you dismiss this candle and holder combination as too pretentious or fussy, the art of mantelscaping includes balancing the height of objects. Elegant candle sticks with tall, slim candles work perfectly with chunkier jar candles and tea lights. Just be sure to leave enough distance between the wall and the candle to avoid leaving soot marks when lit, use a proper candle snuffer to extinguish the flame and always be aware of fire safety 

Varying heights can also be achieved by adding object d’art – items that bring aesthetic delight or tell a story. Glass bell jars and cloches, sea shells, driftwood and decorative urns all work well, and you shouldn’t underestimate the power of a vase. As well as choosing the actual display vessel according to its stature, the height of your flowers (either fresh or dried) can draw the eye and add a dynamic edge.

Photo frames are another mantel staple where you can express yourself and have fun. Choosing to frame only black and white images lends a classic feel, especially when the photos are in gold or silver frames. A more casual look can be achieved by simply propping up postcards, small, unframed prints or even invites to weddings and thank you notes.

Mantelscaping is also rivalling the door wreath as something that can reflect the changing seasons, especially when it comes to festive events. Why not pile your mantel high with mini pumpkins and gnarly gourds when it’s Halloween, or intertwine battery-operated fairy lights between your every-day items at Christmas? For an effortless option, choose a pre-lit, pre-decorated garland – readily available online and in garden centres. Look out for seasonal versions with pine cones, autumn leaves and berries, studded with tiny, warm fairy lights for a cosy glow. 

When mantelscaping, it’s up to you whether you opt for symmetry, with a focal point in the middle of the mantel and items mirrored either side, or whether you follow the interior designer’s much favoured ‘power of three’ rule, where objects always appear together as a trio. The joy of mantelscaping is its accessibility – simply arrange what you love most and make small tweaks until you can sit back and enjoy your display.

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