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How to style your mantel

Inspiration for decorating the perfect mantelpiece – all year round.

By Nicki Bamford-Bowes

One of my favourite pastimes is restyling my mantelpiece. It is fun, creative and it can bring so much joy in making a room feel all new again. It instantly transforms a room and you can achieve a host of new looks without it necessarily costing anything at all.

If you don’t have a mantel, these tips can also be applied to styling a sideboard or decorating open shelves.

christmas styling mantel styling nicki bamford-bowes


Shopping your home and swapping pieces around makes styling your mantelpiece the most cost-effective room refresh ever. It is easy to get stuck in a rut with your home. It can begin to feel stale simply because nothing ever changes. For example; if you bought that art for that space. That light for that table – and never move it – your space can start to feel pretty boring after a while. Because even if that light is stunning, you start to not see it because your brain is tuned in to it just being THERE ALL THE TIME.

Apart from major pieces such as beds (and even they have been known to swap in our house), I never buy anything for my home with a view that it is only ever going to be used in that one intended space forever. I am constantly swapping art, lights, cushions, rugs, side tables, vases, candles, mirrors, chairs – the lot! The same applies to styling items for my mantelpiece. I restyle my mantel often – when the season changes, for a special holiday occasion such as Christmas or Halloween, or just because I need to get excited about that room again. I often fall back in love with special pieces when I see them in a different space or place. So, let’s go for it...

christmas styling christmas mantel nicki bamford-bowes
A mantel for all seasons.
After reading these tips, take a walk around your home and look at your items with fresh eyes. See what you could include from other rooms to give your mantel (or the entire room) a whole new look. If swapping around your whole house sounds a little overwhelming, restyling the mantel or a shelf is a perfect place to start.


Layered yet lean

When styling a mantelpiece, I love a minimal, pared-back look. There can be a tendency to plonk as much as possible onto it – the mantel being the ‘display shelf’ of the room. But, too much ‘stuff’ can make the room feel cluttered. Leave breathing space between groupings of items. The trick is to create a layered look that lets your special things shine.

TOP TIP: Before you do anything, declutter. Always start with an empty mantel. Clear everything off it and reduce and rehouse any surplus items.

interior design masters nicki bamford-bowes
Play with groupings and height and allow breathing space between clusters. Avoid the tendency to pile too much onto your mantel.

Groups of interest

Create balance through groupings of items. Lots of little items of the same height can feel cluttered. Lots of big items can feel heavy. Instead, mix and match. Groups of three work well. Think small, medium, and large in terms of size and height, layering the tallest at the back or one side.

Mix in shapes, materials, different textures, or finishes such as glass, earthenware, and brass.

Vases are great at adding height, pops of colour, and different textures. Books placed horizontally on their side are a brilliant prop. Pop smaller items such as lights and plants on top of a pile of books to elevate them.

TOP TIP: Step back to assess the balance and overall look. It's ok to not get it right straight away. If something doesn’t look quite right adjust the height, reduce the group, or change it out. Play with the items and have fun. My husband calls this faffing. I call it creative evaluation. 

Symmetry v asymmetry

Where is your mantel? Which room? How is this space used? Is it formal or informal? It is good to consider the overall space to help guide you in the style of your mantel.

Symmetrical mantels – with say, an identical lamp at each end – can feel very formal. Great in certain spaces and situations such as a dining room or a grand hallway. However, to create a more relaxed vibe in spaces such as a lounge, bathroom, or bedroom, I prefer a more informal, asymmetrical mantel.

interior design masters nicki bamford-bowes
Getting the balance with a less formal symmetrical. In the dark blue room, you can see how I’ve used flowers in a textured vase as the focus, while the tall, modern brass candlesticks on the other side balance the look. The symmetry works well in this room which was designed to create a feel of modern grandeur and sophistication – without being stuffy or formal.

Starting point: go big, go high (or go home)

It is good to start with the biggest piece. A piece of art hung above or rested to one side is always a winner. I consider these focal pieces the ‘anchor’ or hero piece of the mantel. It is the tip of the magic ‘styling triangle’.

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interior design mantel styling

You can’t go wrong with a huge mirror hung above a mantel. It bounces light around and also gives you a sneak peek of the other side of the room. I carefully place my lighting or art to appear in the mirror reflection.

Mirrors – dress to impress Don’t forget the mirror itself. You can also have some creative styling fun with these. I am regularly dressing and accessorising my mirrors. At Christmas, I wrap foliage and lights around them. At Halloween, they are covered in fake blood and cobwebs. In spring I create an easter wreath with flowers around them.


interior design masters nicki bamford-bowes easter styling

AUTUMN • Halloween

halloween styling

I love a pared-back minimal look for every day. However, when it comes to seasonal styling, that all goes completely out of the window. I really go wild and have some creative fun. Look for foliage that reflects the season. These ferns leaves looked like perfect cobwebs. I loved the different types of pumpkins with textured skin for a 'witchy' feel. Books are a great prop (for any season) to lift items up and play with height.

WINTER • Christmas

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Lights on, lights off. A twinkly fireplace is the perfect Christmas decor.
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Big is better. Never too much foliage at Christmas.

I love to also change up my mirrors by adding additional features, such as more mirrors – for a whole new look. Here I have added a small mirror tray (£12 from @hmhome) that changes the shape and adds an additional hint of colour. I love how it adds an extra unexpected sneak peek of the other side of the room.

Take your eyes on a trip

The best-designed spaces are those when your eye is taken on a journey. A room looks bigger and more inviting when, instead of having just one stand-out design feature, your eye is led around the room and directed at other things to look at. When you look at a group of objects you tend to start by looking at the tallest and biggest thing, but your eye can then be attracted down and around by smaller items, items of different heights and interesting colours and textures. This doesn’t just apply to rooms but also to spaces within rooms such as mantelpieces and shelves.

From your hero piece, the one that catches your eye first, use objects with height such as a light, mirror or tall vase of flowers or candlesticks. Place these off-centre, on one side of the mantel for the asymmetrical look. The tall items give the eye a starting point for the eye to flow from, leading it down and along to the other items along the mantel. Place items below the mantel line, like a chair to the side of the mantel or vase at the foot of the mantel to continue the eye down and then around to the rest of the room.

REMEMBER: If everything on the mantel is low and small, it risks looking a mess. Don’t forget your hero piece and play with height and texture to break things up.

Light it up

Every mantel in my home has a light of sorts. Whether it be a simple table light, a wall light or a light hanging over it. Not only are lights great styling accessories which give you interest, colour and height, but nothing is nicer than the cosy evening glow when your focal point is gently lit up, highlighting all your beautiful things.

Lighting is everything.

Look, style, repeat

Repetition is a great trick. I love to repeat shapes in my styling accessories that I have used in the rest of the room – such as repeating circles in mirrors, side tables and lights. Apply this also to materials and textures. For example, if you have used marble in the room, such as a side table, include some marble candlesticks on your mantel.

You can repeat through colours too. Echo the colours used in your decorating scheme through to your styling accessories. This helps pull the whole scheme together. These colours can be picked out in your artwork selection, vases, or flowers for example.

In my blue room design below, I kept to a limited colour palette of blue, black, and pink. I then picked up on these colours in the styling accessories on the mantelpiece. The pink in the chair is echoed in the pink blossom on the mantel. Black accents are added through candlesticks and vases. Keeping it pared-down and simple helps pull the scheme together for a sophisticated look. 

Plants and flowers are a must

Finally, no mantel is ever complete without the colour, texture, and life that flowers and greenery can bring. Without them, I fear a mantel may feel rather cold and sad. Mix in fresh and faux flowers and change according to the seasons.

Don't forget your foliage and flowers.
Change your styling for the seasons.

All styling by Nicki Bamford-Bowes @andthentheywentwild

Copyright of Nicki Bamford-Bowes, & then they went wild, @andthentheywentwild,


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