Photos clustered on a mantle make for a clean, modern look.

How to Cluster Photos on a Mantle

by Kristine Lofgren

When flipping through magazines or visiting friend's homes, sometimes you come across a chic design, but you aren't sure how to duplicate it in your own home. A cluster of photos is one of those things that looks classy but can quickly go wrong. There is a science to grouping items such as family photos, and once you understand the basics, you will be creating your own mantle displays in no time at all.

Assess your space. A deep mantle can handle multiple layers of photos or photos with thick frames, while a thin mantle calls for thinner frames. If your fireplace and mantle are large, use larger frames, rather than small frames, to avoid the photos looking disproportionate.

Consider the colors that surround the area where the pictures will sit. Frames look best when they are a contrasting color to their background, but still within the same color family. For instance, a light gray wall contrasts well with dark gray frames. Matching the frames to the mantle itself can help create cohesion, but it isn't necessary.

Divide the mantle mentally into three equal sections. Place the tallest picture centered on the line between the first and middle section. Move the bottom of the frame out from the wall slightly so that the frame is leaning back on the wall, just enough to keep it from tipping over.

Place the second tallest picture on the line between the middle and the last third of the mantle. Tilt it slightly as you did the first one.

Layer the third tallest picture over the right-hand side of the first picture. It should overlap the first picture by a few inches, but no more than one-third of the total width of the smaller picture.

Set a fourth, smaller still photo layered on the left side of the first picture. It should overlap the first photo about as much as the third photo that you layered.

Place a final, small picture in front left of the second tallest picture, overlapping it so that about two-thirds of the smaller picture sits in front of the larger picture. This smallest picture should be no larger than 6-inches on any one side.


  • Groupings look best when the frames have at least a few inches of height difference between the background photos and the photos sitting in front.

About the Author

Kristine Lofgren specializes in interior design, Web design, photography and gardening. She owns an interior design business in Salt Lake City. A graduate of Salt Lake Community College's interior design program, Lofgren is pursuing a Master of Arts in journalism from the University of Utah.

Photo Credits

  • Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images