Monday, April 25, 2016

How to Decorate a Long Mantel: A Before and After

If you guys have followed the blog for very long, you know that our "hearth room" as I like to call it, has been a bit of a thorn in my side. I love this room for its giant picture window, that it's open to the kitchen, is very spacious and has a beautiful fireplace and built-ins at one end. But I've always felt like it was the "ugly step sister" to our other living room, which seemed to get all my best decor while the hearth room was a bit of a hodge podge. Plus, probably the most difficult area to decorate in our home has been the mantel. Most mantel decor doesn't seem too hard to me - it's a great focal point that is fun to accessorize. But our mantel runs the length of the room, and also has lots of vertical space, and I've always been at a bit of a loss as to how to fill it. Through the years I've tried many looks (which you can see here) but nothing ever felt quite right to me. I always thought I needed to "fill" the visual space, both vertically and horizontally, but doing that left things feeling busy. I finally decided to go for a much simpler, cleaner look and I think I have finally achieved the right balance!

I also decided to take the plunge on painting the fireplace white. I held off because I really do like limestone, but I was craving a fresher, cleaner palette and knew that would help. The limestone read very yellow, and it doesn't help that our floors are a yellowy-taupe tile (which I'd love to change but can't right now), so it was time to break out the paint brush.

It has made such a huge difference! In fact, I'm a little sad I lived without it painted for 2.5 years! I think this new look represents the shift I've been feeling over the last year in my design aesthetic. I've always loved white, but I think I was more on the "cottage" end of things and I'm finding the rooms and pieces I'm drawn to lately are more on the modern end. I still love classic furnishings and charming details, but with a bright-white palette, clean lines and simplicity.

I think the change has come as a result of Instagram, if not a larger shift in the design world recently. Instagram is probably my biggest source of inspiration and, as you can see from my 16 favorite accounts to follow, the white/modern/clean/pops of color look is definitely trending right now.

I think Joanna Gaines handles the balance between farmhouse/cottage and modern/simple so well. Her designs are always fresh, light, charming and on-point. Even in her designs though, I've seen a shift between the classic farmhouse look of season one and a little edgier designs mixed in the last season. And I have to say I'm loving it!

So, if you have a very long mantel you're trying to accessorize, here are my best tips:

1. Keep it Simple

You don't have to fill the whole thing (lesson learned!), just enough to provide a focal point and some interest. Leave some white space and let it breathe a bit.

2. Use Symmetry

Symmetry is always so pleasing to the eye, so you can't go wrong when using it across a whole wall.

3. But Not Too Much Symmetry...

My mantel uses symmetry loosely. The middle window and frames create a central focal point and act as one grouping, without being too literally symmetrical. Same with the candlesticks.

4. Use What You Love

This is my number one decorating rule, and I really should listen to myself more often. I was trying to just fill space, and even though the accessories I had here were cute, I didn't just LOVE all of them. I finally put only the things I truly loved on our mantel, and it works beautifully.

I can't wait til this room is complete! Our sofa from Joss and Main arrived last week, but unfortunately it had a big black mark on it, so they are sending a replacement. I'm still in the process of gathering pillows, and am considering a new rug though I'm not sure I want to spend anymore right now, so I may just make the current one work.

You might noticed I simplified the built ins also. I am happy with them for now, although they may not be completely perfect just yet. I'm still trying to find the right balance between vintage and modern so may keep playing with the accessories here.

Does anyone else have an extra-long mantel? How did you handle filling your space? Hopefully it didn't take you 2.5 years to figure it out like it did me! ; )

Paint Color: Coventry Gray by Benjamin Moore
Fireplace Paint Color: Simply White by Benjamin Moore
Arched Window: Vintage
Frames on Mantel: Ikea Ribba
Blue Art Print: Minted
Magnolia Print: Magnolia Market
Sconces: World Market
Glass Bottle: Joss and Main | similar
Magnolia Branches: Tuesday Morning | similar
Gold Boxes: Home Goods | similar
Ruffled Bowl: Pier 1
Upholstered Bench: TJ Maxx | similar
Zinc Wall Clock: Hobby Lobby | similar
Candlesticks on Mantel: Hobby Lobby | similar | similar


  1. It's looking so so good! The painted mantle totally transforms the room into light, bright, and clean! Good job!

  2. Wow! I think it looks SO good Courtney! I saw it on IG, but it's even better seeing it big here. It's cleaner and simpler, and looks amazing. I think you nailed it!


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  4. Don't feel bad about your 2.5 years. I've lived in my house for 17 years as of May 1st and still have nooks and crannies that I haven't finished or want to redo because I never quite got them right. And now that my hubby and I are empty nesters, I have rooms to repurpose and the process starts all over again! Your mantel works so well. It has a lovely balance to it. When it is just right, you'll feel it. Something in your head will click when you see it done just so.
    Judi at Blue Cat Review

    1. Thanks Judi! That does make me feel better :) And I have to keep reminding myself that the process is the fun part! Plus, is a room ever really "done" when you love to decorate?!

  5. We have such a long mantle too (we just moved into a 60s house last year), and I usually have only a sunburst or vintage window on it because I don't know what else to put up there! It's so tricky because it's a space that everyone sees (from the kitchen, too) and since I don't want to clutter it, I just leave it bare, haha! I loved your mantle before but it looks awesome now too!

  6. Could you tell me how you painted the hearth? Ours is a huge piece of painted stone right now and is painted a dark dark brown. Our mantle is the same thing and we have brick elsewhere on the fireplace. I've been debating painting the brick, but wasn't sure about painting the mantle and hearth since it is just a large piece of stone and thought it might look funny to be all white. Help! GUess I'm just nervous about painting everything the same color and how it will look!!

    1. I think painting everything all white would help it look unified and carry a lot of visual impact. I bet it would be beautiful! For mine I just used masonry/brick paint as a primer and then two coats of semi-gloss regular paint. Hope that helps!


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