Here is a tutorial with some ideas on how to decorate a summer mantel. In essence, a mantel and hearth are an oversized vignette; sort of a big vignette, made up of smaller vignettes. It makes sense, then, that the principles of a vignette apply to both the big picture and the smaller, individual parts. Those principles, color, texture, contrast, height, depth and volume are what make a vignette pleasing to the eye.
Decorating a summer mantel does not necessarily require a tub full of “summer” decorations. You can combine some of your regular decoration items, such as books, candles, frames, topiaries, with a few summery-type items like shells, lighthouse figurines, a piece of coral, or colored glass bowls or bottles, to achieve an easy, welcoming summer mantel.
Let’s start at the beginning, with a blank mantel and hearth.
In the interest of keeping the look simple and summery, I hung a round mirror in the center of the wall above the mantel.
Starting at the bottom, on the left side of the hearth, are a couple of stacked vintage suitcases. These suitcases are pretty much a permanent fixture all year round. I usually keep the top one open and place a seasonal floral arrangement of some kind in it to fill that space. For a summery feel, I am using this white silk hydrangea bouquet in a French flower bucket.
On the right, I have a magazine basket that I bought at garage sale. I like the wood pattern; it is interesting without being too ‘style specific’. I flipped it upside down and it serves as a kind of a free standing little display shelf! For decorating this summer mantel, this was my first approach – a petite topiary and a conch shell.
To me it looks a little bland, a little underwhelming. But when I tried it with THIS oversized topiary; it seemed a better fit. The height fills that area well, and it looks suitably proportioned to the conch shell. Another option might be a tall vase with branches or simple green leaves.
But maybe it’s too dramatic? I scaled it back down to what seemed to me a little more safe: a pair of matching candlesticks with candles. (Candles are a definite ‘go-to’ for me; battery operated and on timers).
Moving up to the mantel itself, I continued to use shells. I have always thought ‘shells on a stick’ were just so cool – and I feel so lucky to have two! Here I have mixed them in with a few random items including battery candles on candlesticks. On the right, I mixed the shell on a stick with an oversized star I found at TJ Ross, and a seahorse candleholder from a thrift shop.
And on the left, the shell on a stick is combined with an ivy topiary, another thrift shop find.
Other options for these two groupings could be candles and/or large shells stacked on books, or a glass bowl of pretty shells. Also, nautical-themed pieces such as a ship’s wheel, fish netting, blue- or green-colored glass jars filled with sand, a little lighthouse, or beach-y glass bottles would work. And if the 4th of July is coming up, a few smaller-sized flags would definitely provide a patriotic feel!
In the photo below, you can see that there is a definite 3 color palette: a spectrum of whites and ivory, green in the foliage, and various natural shades of brown. Vignettes work best when the color palette range is 1, 2 or 3 colors. You can add additional colors in small quantities but its best if those colors match the value and tones of the palette colors.
At this point, it looks okay. I am not looking for a “zowie” – but I would like the mantle to look more interesting and inviting.
On Pinterest, I have noticed vignettes that include a blank picture frame or two in the background. What about adding some picture frames behind the vignettes?
For the left hand side, I picked out one blank frame, and also a pressed leaf in glass that was already in a frame, and two more frames for the right hand side. The objects on the mantel don’t necessarily need to fit INSIDE the frames; in fact, I think it is better that they don’t. But all of sudden, adding the frames gives the two separate vignettes a more emphasized position. They are no longer floating aimlessly on top of the mantle. They are anchored and more visually defined than they were before.
Stepping back to take more of a long shot view, it’s come together nicely. The two end vignettes are each holding their own between the mirror. The two dark wood picture frames fit in with the primary color palette, with their brown and green colors. The other two picture frames are in complementary colors. They are not an ‘exact match’ but they are not a stark contrast, either.
On the left hand side of the hearth, the stacked suitcases and white hydrangeas definitely have a summery look, and on the right hand side, is the upside down magazine holder sporting the candleholders.
But from this long view, all of the sudden those two candle holders look a little wimpy. So let’s go back to the oversized topiary and conch shell, that initially seemed too dramatic.
Well…. they are dramatic…but in a good way. The topiary fills the space nicely, and the conch shell contributes to the overall summery feel. The lighter colors stand out against the fieldstone, but also visually connect with the lighter color of the hydrangea, the candles and the star.
This summertime mantel has come together, but the process has been more back & forth than linear. Staging and styling any surface involves testing, adding, remixing. When you let your eye roam over a scenario, sometimes your imagination will actually tell you what your eye is looking for. It could be a focus spot, or a color, or even a shape. Sometimes it even takes a few days for a vision to come through and actually come to life!
I hope you found some ideas, inspiration, or insight from this post. Adding seasonal vignettes to our homes makes them feel inviting and welcoming, and adds to the overall enjoyment of the season!
All the best to you!