A fireplace mantle doesn't seem like much when you think about it. It's just a framing device for the fire and a shelf for decorations. But a well-constructed mantle, with well-chosen decorations can become the focal point of the room. If your fireplace doesn't have a mantle, you may want to consider adding one. If it does, you may want to consider remodeling or even replacing the existing mantle with something bolder and more dramatic.
Adding or changing your fireplace mantle can instantly transform the look of your room. This may not be immediately obvious if you haven't noticed the trends. Not too long ago, all fireplace mantles looked more or less the same. They were constructed of a high density fiberboard which looked fine, but didn't necessarily draw the eye.
Things have changed. At the high end, you can now choose a stone mantle that will make a bold statement and immediately draw all eyes in the room. A granite, limestone, or marble mantle can add the look of solidity and strength that you've been looking for. Black marble with gold filigree can give an amazing elegance to your home. Neutral granite can offer a relaxed but solid feel. Or for something a little more rustic, a brick mantle can extend the warm and cozy feel of the fireplace surround so that the fireplace isn't so much framed as drawn up into the room.
Stone mantles, of course, cost a bit of money. You may want to try something less expensive as well as less labor-intensive to install. An unfinished paint-grade mantle and surround can be had for surprisingly little, under $200 in some cases. Once you've got that, you can stain or paint the mantle to match your decor and add your own personal touch. Paint the mantle white and stencil some flowers on it for a country look. Or stain it very dark to give the old-fashioned appearance of rich wood.
Once you've got the mantle in place, of course, you have to decide what to put on it. Many amateur decorators will place a lot of little knick knacks on the mantle. And that may be the look you want. But you may also find that the effect is more cluttered than decorative. Consider instead choosing a few larger pieces that the eye can easily focus on. This will make a bolder, more dramatic effect that can be appreciated from far away instead of just up close.
For example, many people like to put candles on the mantle. Instead of a row of many small candles, consider putting three or four very large candles on the mantle. The effect will be something that can be appreciated even from across the room. In the same way, a few large crystal pieces may make a better statement that lots of small crystal ornaments. Two large vases with large flowers on either side of the mantle can make a better framing effect than small vases across the whole thing.
Even pictures will benefit from being larger-say 8x10 rather than 4x6. And in that case, two or three 8x10s of the family can stand in front of a larger portrait that is hung over the mantle on the wall behind. The wall behind can be decorated in other ways too. A mirror is often a good idea, adding depth to the room. A painting or a large wreath also looks nice. Here again, the idea is not to have many little pictures or items but a single large item that draws all the attention and pulls the whole look together.