I tend to go for a more organic and less stuffy approach when styling my shelves and mantles. I find that the looser more casual approach gives my spaces more of a relaxed and unassuming air. By not lining everything up perfectly and worrying so much about equal-spacing your items, you too can style your mantles with ease.
START AT THE BACK
I begin by sorting out the items I'd like to display, picking out the taller, larger, items first and beginning by placing them at the back of my mantle. If you only have one, that's just fine too — in most cases, less is more when it comes to larger decor pieces (too many big items can look overwhelming). Not always do I place the larger item(s) in the center — as so many tend to do. I favor setting things up a little off-center to add a little more interest!
Next comes your medium height pieces. If you have one large picture or photograph that you've placed slightly off center, layer in a medium height piece or object just in front of, and slightly to the left or right of your main piece. They can overlap slightly — having them completely not touching doesn't always look right, so overlaying them a bit will help create more of a cohesive vignette.
SMALL IN FRONT
Next comes your smaller items — these can be candles, vases, picture frames, stacked books, a clock or two, a shallow bowl — really, anything that has meaning and holds interest with you will do! I like to have a grouping made of large, medium, and then small items placed relatively close together on a mantle, and then off set it with a single (or maybe a pair of) medium sized item on the opposite end.
Creating the perfect flow of items on your mantle doesn't have to resort to rocket science — it just involves a little bit of balance. If you decide to rest your pieces predominately to the left side of your mantle, be sure to offset that group with something heading towards the right. You don't want your mantle to be left or right side-heavy, so adding that extra piece for counter balance is important.
Some of the most successful mantles I've done included a wide variety of objects and genres — there isn't a rule that states you must have everything matching for it to look tasteful. Maybe you have a family heirloom, a photograph, some hand painted pieces your picked up on one of your travels... you can get creative with the items you choose to put out.
If you go all out and mix your items, use this little trick I employ to help create cohesion with differing objects: pieces that share similar shapes, lines, colour, form, texture, and medium will visually meld together easier than those that remain completely unrelated to one another. Pull together a combination of round objects, or tall and skinny, or even one all done in sleek glass and mirror - the relationships between your items will visually strengthen by grouping pieces that share some of these elements.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 20, 2012