The Mantel Process

Thanks for all your wonderful comments on my fall mantel!! Thought it might help if I showed you how I arrived at this arrangement (after about an hour of trying different things). This same process can be used for decorating/accessorizing a bookcase, ledge shelf, entryway table, entertainment center, etc.

Here's my philosophy....achieving a pleasing vignette is about finding a good balance between 3 things. In order of importance (to me):
  • color
  • size
  • shape
I rank color first because I think it has the most overall impact. If you stand back and squint at a space/vignette/piece of art, its going to broken down into blurry blocks of color. In order for a vignette to feel balanced (or on a larger scale, an entire room), I think it has to have some repetition of color. Otherwise, your eye would be drawn to the one thing (pop of color) that is different than the rest. And we want to keep the eye moving, so that each and every little treasure eventually gets noticed.

While using the above 3 "principles" to accessorize, you've also got to keep your content in mind...what you are actually using as your objects. This will also probably be a balance - between things that you have that you need to store, things that you have that have significant meaning/importance to you, and things that just look pretty.

So, content is what I started with on Saturday for my mantel. I wanted to definitely display the wood vice I got at Brimfield and this cool botanical leaf print that I had purchased awhile ago and hadn't done anything with yet. (I'll number the pics in order...number goes with the photo below it.)

1. A decent start. (For anyone who hasn't met my mantel yet, the mirror is always here and I just switch out whatever is on either side whenever I feel like it.) I've got 2 things I like up there. But its kinda boring and there's not a lot of color. I think I need something more "fall-y" too.

2. ***Rooting around in my boxes from the attic labeled "Fall". *** This dried gourd from Michaels could work, nice touch of color and its got a rounded shape (what I have so far is very boxy). I think it will look better over here on the right in front of the botanical, which is slightly taller than the vice. Plus, it might get lost if I put in on the left in front of the vice, there sort of the same value. It'll pop better against the cream of the botanical. Hmmm, now I've got this big yellow thing on the right and your eye is drawn right to it. I need something yellowy for the left hand side. Ooh, what about this wheat bundle I made a couple of years ago?! Yeah, this is starting to look decent.

3. I bet I could use my new letterpress block numbers up here too. They're all fun shades of brown and the texture of them would be nice with the wood from the vice. I like them in front of the botanical on the I've got an area of dark brown to balance the vice (and ribbon on the wheat) on the left. Plus, they're short and long which adds a nice size difference to this side. I'm really digging this right-hand side, I think its done. Simple and easy. Now to nail down the left...

4. There's something bothering me about the left hand side. Its good that I have yellow on either side, but I think the lightness of the cream background on the botanical is drawing your eye over there. I need something light on the left to balance it out. What about this matted photograph I bought this summer at PEI?

5. No, that sucks. Dumb idea. It's way too small. The scale is all wrong. Its getting lost back there. I need something bigger but still with white or cream in it. I know...I'll try my bird print...maybe the dark brown frame will even look good over here. ****run and grab the bird print off another wall***

6. Eeek! Maybe not. Too heavy. And you can't even see Mr. Birdie's face. Maybe I should start over on the left? What if I rotate the vice and lay down the wheat? Now I've got something really tall and something long and low.

7. Not bad...except that bottom part of the vice is really hidden behind the wheat now. I should try raising the vice up....on some books...that have matching colored covers to my palette. ***raiding of the entertainment center in the family room ensues*** (Ps. I love using books in decor. Especially when I need to make something taller.)

8. Well, I like the addition of the color in the spines but now there's another problem. See how the tippy-top of the screw on the vice is exactly the same height as the top of the mirror? Can't have that...remember, we want varying heights. Silly, Sarah. Ok, what if the wheat isn't working? What else do I have around here that has some yellow in it? Look! A fake sunflower in a cute little glass bud vase!

9. Hmmm...nope. Sunflower is cool, but I'm back to that problem of needing something light over there to balance out the botanical. Maybe Mr. Birdie will fit in now?

10. Maybe not. Ok, back to square one. The wheat standing up, the vice laying down. If I combined my photograph and bird print I could have enough brightness over there.

11. Sweet. This is feeling way better. I think I'm almost there. Still kinda don't like that dark brown frame, its too much dark on this side. Need something lighter....

12. Eureka!!! This Norman Rockwell coffee table book I had on my coffee table (go figure!) is just the right size and color. And bonus... now I have a pop of red (hello, fall!) and some text forms on this side to play off the numbers on the right side. Yay!!! I now have a balance of color, size, shape and content (some stuff with special meaning, some stuff that I needed a spot for anways, some just decorative stuff). Phew! Now I need a drink. But wait, I have to put back all the stuff I didn't use:(

This is what my living room floor looked like when I was done the mantel. All the stuff I messed around with was from somewhere else in the house. It's all about trial and error.

Hope this wasn't too long and that it maybe helped. Does anyone else go through a process like this while they're styling? Do you have any input on my "principles"? Would you add any additional things to take into consideration while accessorizing? Do you think at any point I made the wrong decision? Would love to hear your thoughts?


  1. Looks great! I have that mirror hanging in my powder room.

  2. looks great Sarah! I'm the worst at mantel vignettes. I have no idea why, and i think i can tackle just about anything! You can come decorate mine now. =)

  3. Looks great! I totally do the same thing when switching up my mantel: running from room to room, grabbing different pieces.. my husband thinks I'm crazy! :)

  4. Hi Sarah,

    I love your Fall mantle. Thanks for inspiring me to start decorating my house for the new season. I'll try to post a new blog after I get it all finished.

    Thank you for stopping by my blog this week. I really appreciate your sweet comments!

    - Emily

  5. Hi Paz, what a great post, you really have this down to a science. I starred your post so I can remember this decorating strategy, I usually just put something here and there, but this is a great system. I felt like I was there with you agreeing and disagreeing on what looked good. The end result was perfect. Have a good week!



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