Three steps can make your mantel a decorating marvel

People seem to have two perspectives on decorating fireplace mantels for the holidays. Some see this long piece of wood as a stage for their masterpiece. To others, it seems more like a gangplank — decorating this key focal point feels intimidating.

Let me underscore that decorating should never be stressful. Just the opposite.

So, to alleviate any mantelmania you may feel, here are three simple steps for success.

Step 1: Pick pieces you want to feature.

Every year when I pull out my boxes of holiday decor, I feel as if I’m unearthing buried treasure. The boxes are packed with my favorite pieces, some of which I’ve used in my holiday decorating for years, others are new additions. Before you dress your mantel, pull out all the items you might want to use in your display, including greenery, ribbons, ornaments and seasonal and year-round accents.

Lay all the ingredients out before you so you can see what you have. As you do, assess your stockpile. Are there accents you no longer love, or that are starting to look dated or tired? If so, let them go. Surround yourself only with things you love.

Is there anything new you’ll need to freshen up your collection? New greens (they only last a few years)? A fun new focal point like an angel, reindeer or Christmas tree? If so, now you have an excuse to go shopping! (As if you needed one, right?)

Step 2: Choose a theme.

Your mantel and chandelier need to communicate one lovely, focused look, not be a hodgepodge of lots of different themes. Think of your home like a movie set. Everything in a display needs to be true to that movie. If you pull in pieces that don’t fit your theme, it’s like dressing your set for two very different films. It doesn’t work.

I’m crazy about birds and natural greens, so I like to pull together displays that look like they are a snapshot from nature. Right now, just about every holiday look is in, from glamorous and regal to whimsical and fun. So the sky is the limit when you pick the theme that works best for you.

Don’t forget to dress up one of two chandeliers in your home, whether in the entry, dining room or kitchen, because they give you tons of bang for the buck. A gorgeous fixture pushes the entire room up on the drama scale and doesn’t take that long to do.

Step 3: Layer it up.

Everyone has her own LQ (lushness quotient). Some of us like displays that feature layers upon layers of decor. Others of us prefer to decorate with just a few powerful objects that make a strong statement in their simplicity. What is your LQ? Bring that to life through the layers on your mantel and light fixtures.

This column was adapted from Mary Carol Garrity’s blog at She can be reached at

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