Create a mantel masterpiece this Yule season

You’d think the thin strips of wood above our fireplaces were gangplanks the way they make us quake at the knees when it’s time to dress them up for the holidays.

Your holiday mantel display should match the tone and style of the room.

You’d think the thin strips of wood above our fireplaces were gangplanks the way they make us quake at the knees when it’s time to dress them up for the holidays.

Even those who love to decorate for the season feel stage fright when it comes to tackling mantels. But I’ve got a secret for you: Creating a marvelous look on your mantel is simple when you follow one of these two strategies:

Add tiny touches: Adding just a few seasonal tweaks to your existing year-round display is the simplest, and sometimes most effective, way to spice up your mantel for the holidays. It’s the option I’m choosing this year. I’m crazy about the look on my mantel right now, so I’m going to keep everything exactly where it is and just add a bit of greenery and a touch or two of glitz.

Arm yourself with some wonderful greens and play around a bit. Tuck an evergreen pick or strand of pine garland behind the artwork above your mantel, letting the branches cascade lazily over one corner. If you want, hang a few ornaments from the branches. Let a few more picks peak out from behind the items on your mantel.

If you have sconces hanging beside the artwork above your mantel, remove the candles and fill the cups with seasonal items such as pinecones, tree ornaments or holiday fruits, like pomegranates.

Then, spruce up your mantel display itself by adding a bit of greenery here and a few holiday accents there. Like I’m doing, tuck a few picks behind the large objects, like urns or vases. Top a cluster of candlesticks with round tree ornaments. Fill an apothecary jar or hurricane with pine cones or pomegranates. Dress up a vase with a bouquet of wintergreens and berries. If you have a piece of statuary or a figurine on your mantel, give it a playful holiday touch. Hang a tiny ornament, suspended from a ribbon, from its hand, or crown its head with a wreath of evergreens.

Do a complete remake: If you’re raring to reinvent your mantel for the holidays, ask yourself a few key questions before you start. Should the display be formal or informal? Remember, it needs to match the style of the room. Would you rather have a symmetrical or asymmetrical look? Are you in the mood for a display that’s simple and streamlined, or over the top?

One more tip before you get started: Top your mantel with a piece of plywood painted or stained to match. That way, you can pound in nails to secure the greenery without hurting your mantel.

If you’re going for a no-holds-barred display, have fun. Your mantel is one spot where you can go a bit wild for the holidays. To create drama, focus on making one big statement. For instance, fill a large urn with branches you’ve spray-painted gold or silver. Pick branches that are so tall that they almost reach the ceiling. Or you could drape a long cord of showy pine garland up and over the mantel, letting it pool onto the floor on each side.

If you’re itching to get some new holiday decor on your mantel, check out the glitzy trees that are hot this season. Get a trio of trees in graduated sizes and cluster them at the mantel’s center, filling in with a few glittered deer figurines so the overall grouping is shaped like a triangle. Or group a cluster of trees and deer on either side of the mantel, creating two pyramid-shaped displays.

If you already have more holiday decor than you can pack into your storage boxes but you’re still yearning for something new this year, invest in one or two key decorating tools you can not only use in your holiday decor but also in year-round decorating. Some of my favorites are five-armed silver candelabra, beautiful silver trays and gorgeous containers. Then weave your new pieces into your year-round mantel display and add a few of the holiday touches described above.

Mary Carol Garrity is the proprietor of three successful home-furnishings stores and is the author of several best-selling books on home decorating. Write her at nellhills@lvnworth.com

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