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posted: 7/6/2012 5:00 AM

Make your fireplace mantel a hot focal point

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  • Hanging a bold piece of contemporary art over the fireplace mantel is one way to give this all-important spot a new look.

    Hanging a bold piece of contemporary art over the fireplace mantel is one way to give this all-important spot a new look.
    Scripps Howard News Service

By Mary Carol Garrity
Scripps Howard News Service

As the unrivaled focal point in a room, your fireplace mantel is the star of the show. So it's fun to give this all-important spot a new look every so often. Here are three very different -- but equally dramatic -- summer mantel treatments to inspire you.

Contemporary color:

Start with a bold piece of contemporary artwork. I will never give up my love and devotion to traditional furnishings and artwork, but I'm really enjoying adding these rays of sunshine into my home. Next, since the artwork is so bold, select accents that don't compete too much. We started with a pair of tall, white ceramic urns holding faux ferns. The lines on the urns are classic, so the overall display will tie in well with the traditional artwork that surrounds the mantel.

I've often used books as decorative elements, and in the past year or so, had fun wrapping some of them in interesting paper. Bright turquoise plaid paper on the book adds a pop of complementary color and softens a few of the hard edges in the display.

Just when I thought the brightly colored pottery that designers are showing now couldn't get any better, I discovered new marvelous pieces in retro colors and groovy shapes. While they come in a host of colors, select ones that tie in the colors in your artwork and the paper-covered books.

Light and breezy French Country:

The second look is soft on the senses, steeped in tradition and a bit romantic.

Start with a tall, stately French mirror. When I design mantel displays for friends and customers, I frequently use mirrors because I like how they bounce light back into the room. A mirror with soft colors is a perfect partner for a host of different color palettes. One designer flanked the mirror with a pair of matching lanterns because their traditional lines made him think of the lanterns that used to hang on the sides of carriages. Each lantern holds a sparkling glass candlestick topped with a pillar candle.

Working high to low, try adding a slightly shorter decorative grouping next to each lantern: a short stack of old books topped with lidded apothecary jars.

Since glass tends to look flat and empty when displayed on mantels, take two picks of faux greenery, bend them into loose circles, then insert them into the apothecary jars. Finished with the very shortest accents -- like a jar holding a mirrored ball and a piece of latticework pottery.

Earthy elegance:

It's an artful trick to wed the rustic elements found in nature with more elegant treasures. The result is restful and refined, yet earthy and organic. Here's how to pull it together:

Select your tallest, most dramatic design piece first, something like a statue, perhaps even one finished in a rusty patina, or a willowy form, echoing the lines of trees.

Work in some clear glass elements. Use greenery as accents -- perhaps some plucky little moss balls on a lidded glass riser -- then help the eye make a downward journey across the overall display by training a faux moss-covered branch over the edge of the mantel.

Regal, yet rustic, the finished product will be the perfect pairing of the wild and the refined.

• Adapted from Mary Carol Garrity's blog at

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