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Christmas Checklist: Decorating the Mantel

From hanging your stockings to stringing up garlands, here's how to arrange your decorations for a festive mantel.


Prep Your Mantel

  • Visualize the scene: Remember, the fireplace is oftentimes the focal point of the room, so decide whether you want a subtle mantelscape or a showstopping display.
  • Clean and clear out the fireplace: Sweep completely cooled ashes with a hearth brush into a dustpan, put them in an ash can, and take them outside for disposal. Wipe the surrounding area with a cloth dampened in a mixture of all-purpose cleaner and warm water.
  • Protect your mantel: If necessary, build a mantel nailing board; this provides a protective barrier from the nails and hooks meant to display your seasonal decor like stockings, garlands, and wreaths.

Choose Your Standout Seasonal Decorations

  • Stockings: Hang your stockings above the hearth, spaced evenly from the mantel. You can distract the eye from unsightly hooks with a festive poinsettia garland. Personalize your stockings by adding keepsake mementos or monogrammed lettering. 
  • Garland: Condition your greenery to make it long-lasting and fresh-smelling. To do this, fill a bucket with room-temperature water. Using a hand pruner, make diagonal cuts through stems, then gently crush the exposed end with a small hammer. Set in the water for a few hours before working with the plants. Fresh greenery will last indoors for about two weeks.
  • Wreath: A wreath placed in the center overhanging the mantel gives a central focus. To keep yours from drying out, treat the greenery with an anti-desiccant spray. This seals the pores on the leaves and bark and helps the foliage retain moisture.
  • Collectibles: Heirloom ornaments or a miniature village all deserve attention. Showcase them artfully in the center or symmetrically, and skip embellishments to avoid making the mantel look cluttered.
  • Candles or lights: A cluster of candles or a string of lights can illuminate your mantel beautifully. Just be sure to keep clear of fresh greenery, decorative fabrics, or other flammable objects.

Arrange Your Decorations

  • Make the mantel your guide: When selecting a piece, consider how it relates to the length and shape of the mantle.
  • Keep everything in balance: When creating your design, keep the style of your mantle in mind. A mantle does not need to be exactly symmetrical, but it should be balanced. Even out a grandiose mantle with casual objects, or a minimalistic mantle with formal, sophisticated art.
  • Think of it like a collage: Consider how the different pieces relate to each other. It’s about finding the right balance of items.
  • Stuck? See it from a new view: If it helps give you perspective, step away and study your overall design from a distance.
  • Know what makes a great addition: A standout decoration should be able to stand well on its own.
  • Don't overclutter: Remember, less is more.