Display personal photos artfully on a fireplace mantel.

How to Decorate a Mantel With Pictures

by Alicia Garey

A fireplace mantel can fulfill many practical and decorative goals. Whether appointed minimally or personalized with family photos and collections, the mantel gets noticed. It can be decorated for special occasions or holidays, or serve as a place for changing floral arrangements on a regular basis. Today, many choose to hang a flat-screen television; however, most mantels are slightly too high for this purpose. Hanging a picture or displaying photographs on a mantel is a charming and easy way to celebrate art and family.


Assess the room's decor to help determine the display. Hang a painting or drawing that coordinates with the colors in the room, or a set of black-and-white photographs of nature for a contemporary display. Use family photos in multiples of three to five off to one side of the mantel, balanced on the other side with a vase or candlesticks in a traditional setting. If the room is ultra-modern, introduce high-gloss lacquered frames, or get creative and spray old carved wood frames bright white and hang them on the wall as art.

Keep It Simple

Avoid clutter on a mantel. Allow objects and picture frames breathing space in between, and place larger frames farther back, angling smaller frames in front so all of the pictures can be easily viewed. Coordinate the types of frames you display by using either one style of wood or silver, or a combination of one finish in similar but distinct designs. Make photographs the star attraction by framing multiple 8-by-10- and 5-by-7-inch photographs and lean them against the back, layering the sizes next to one another for a uniform look. Frame images of vintage maps or scenes from nature in the same size and style frames, and hang them in a neat grid on the wall over the mantel. Add one slim glass vase with a vibrant flower to any picture arrangement for simple elegance.

Mirrors Count

Hang one large, framed mirror or four to eight square, beveled mirrors in a grid to add dimension to an otherwise blank wall above a mantel. Display a few photographs on one side of the mantel and a large round candle in an elegant glass or stone candleholder. The candlelight reflects in the mirror, adding a warm and inviting feeling to the room. On a brick or stone wall above a mantel, hang one starburst mirror as a work of art for shine against the natural material.

Consider Scale

Add visual height by displaying one large work of art over the mantel and install a picture light over it. Create a symmetrical display using tall candlesticks or wall sconces on each end of the mantel, and center two large black-and-white photographs on the wall. Make the mantel interesting by including natural elements such as tall bunches of wood branches in a vase on one side, and three to five framed pieces of family photographs -- or even children's artwork, which can be alternated over time. Or scale it down by grouping a few vintage books in the center of the mantel placed between elegant carved bookends, and display two or three small, oval silver frames on either side of the book display.

About the Author

Based in California, Alicia Garey has been writing interior design articles since 2013 for the Huffington Post. She is featured in California Paints' Designer palette, and designed "Loft" for The Sofa Company. She studied interior design at UCLA, and is an Allied Member of the American Society of Interior Designers.

Photo Credits

  • George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images