Art & Design Interiors & Design

Magical Mantelpieces: 7 Festive Decor Ideas That Will Wow your Guests

From classic ideas to fresh takes on festive design, find all the inspiration you need to give your home a holiday glow up this season

The 2020 holidays were a more muted affair than many of us had hoped for, but happily this year seems set to make up for it. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans are expected to spend $850 billion to ensure this is an unforgettable season—a 10.5 percent jump on last year. And while generous gift giving tops the spending list, festive decor comes a close second.

So, whether you prefer a classic look or want to break the mold this festive season, the place to start, say the decor experts we spoke to, is the fireplace. I especially love to decorate a mantelpiece,” says Los Angeles-based celebrity designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard. “It becomes a centerpiece of the room, welcoming all who gather around it.” Follow these clever ideas from Bullard and other top designers to take your holiday decorating to the next level.

1. Frame It

Festive decor in the form of white stockings, candles, and golden bells, surrounding a mantelpiece
The space surrounding your mantelpiece is perfect for making a statement—play with warmth and light in the hearth below and use the space above to display statement ornaments or treasured family photos. Image: Courtesy Pottery Barn

Decorating the space around your mantelpiece creates a cohesive design. Try placing beautifully wrapped gifts around the hearth, with smaller, daintier packages on the mantel itself. Or, if you’d like to add warmth without going to the effort of building a fire, fill the space with glowing candles instead. And if you love the tradition of an annual holiday photo, the space above the mantelpiece is the perfect spot to display family pictures.

2. Add Visual Interest

A candle in natural bark holder surrounded by green festive garland with lights and ribbons
Play with different textures, such as natural greenery, bark, and touches of velvet and ribbon, to keep your mantel from feeling flat or one-dimensional and create tactile moments that invite touch. Image: Alamy

Texture stimulates our sense of sight to almost the same degree as our sense of touch. Amy Studebaker, owner and principal designer at Amy Studebaker Design in St. Louis, recommends mixing greenery for maximum effect. “I love mixing boxwood with eucalyptus or even cedar. The textures woven together feel fresh,” she explains. Then add in other natural elements and finish with lush touches of velvet. The idea is to opt for a variety that’s easy on the eyes—and feels just as good to the touch.

3. Go for Garlands

A festive mantelpiece with large garland surrounded by blue and silver Christmas decor
Ensure your garland appeals to an array of senses by including dried elements, such as pine cones, flowers, or fruit slices, and spraying them with natural citrus oils for an added hit of festive scent. Image: Getty Images

“I’m a great believer in natural garlands, both for the smell and the sheer organic beauty,” Bullard says. “I dress the full length of the mantel and swag evenly on both sides.” Studebaker likes to let the foliage reach all the way to the floor. “The sweep of the garland on both sides of the fireplace feels luxurious,” she says. For added glamour, Bullard sprays magnolia leaves in metallic shades and mixes them into the garland, along with cinnamon sticks, berries or holly, and dried flowers or lemon, orange, and pomegranate slices. White holiday lights are Bullard’s finishing touch. “I like the smallest bulbed strings of lights for this purpose; they add an ambient glow and feel magical at night.”

4. Make Your Stockings Pop

Stockings filled with festive red and blue gifts, and matching red and blue decor on mantelpiece
Stockings provide the perfect reason to be playful. Fill them to the brim with gifts, and carry that childlike take on the festive season into your decor with whimsical decorations in a similar color palette. Image: Getty Images

The only thing better than a row of beautiful stockings? One with stocking stuffers peeking out over the top. Catching a glimpse of what’s inside provides a whimsical touch that’s pleasing to the eye and bound to get everyone excited. “I’m always pushing people to find the whimsy in life, the things that make you smile,” explains New York-based interior designer Lori Miller of LGC Interior DesignTo take it up a festive notch, carry a similar color theme across your decor and the gifts and stocking stuffers, too.

5. Viva Vintage

A row of nutcracker dolls on top of a fireplace at Christmas
According to German legend, having a nutcracker in the home will bring good luck to all who live there. Create your own luck, and Christmas cheer, with a mix of traditional elements and cherished collections. Image: Getty Images

There’s nothing like the holidays to make you feel nostalgic, and mantelpieces are the perfect place to display meaningful collections. Create a base from traditional greenery and then add in personal items, such as classic snow globes, a troupe of nutcracker soldiers, or treasured family heirlooms. “For last year’s mantel, I placed my vintage cowbells with a natural garland,” says Meridith Baer of Meridith Baer Home, a premier interior design company with offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, the Hamptons, and Miami. “I love the mix of antique brass along with the rich green.”

6. Scale Your Selections

Mantelpiece with mini trees filled with lights on either side, and an arrangement of different sized ornaments
Consider how the objects you display together relate to one another, then bookend your mantel with taller items and use smaller pieces to create a visual path that the eye can’t resist. Image: Matthew Ball, Unsplash

Size counts—when choosing holiday decor, that is. Add height with light displays and tall candlesticks, then mix in elements of various sizes to add visual interest. Resist duplicating what you do on one side of the mantelpiece on the other. Instead, aim to create symmetry by displaying items of similar scale rather than mirroring the same objects on both sides.

7. Eschew Excess

A farmhouse style fireplace in tones of white and cream with festive greenery
Forego traditional festive colors and hygge your home instead, with a Scandi-style palette of whites, creams, and natural tones. Add metallic elements in gold and silver to feel slightly less minimalistic, but just as merry. Image: Getty Images

Looking to break the traditional festive mold? Embrace a minimalistic aesthetic with winter whites. To keep the look as interesting as it is sophisticated, mix different creamy hues with metallic accents, understated LED lights, and small touches of greenery.

Banner image: Alamy