The hearth was originally the source of cooking and warmth in the home. The modern-day fireplace, which evolved from the hearth, is a focal point of a room and a place for gathering family and friends, especially in the months of fall and winter. Whether finetuning a fireplace as part of your interior design or making it an appealing mise en scene for a holiday event, a well-appointed mantel is key. Interior Designer Chad Graci outlines some basic Dos and Don’ts for getting it right.

First, there are ways to refresh an existing fireplace. When colorful ceramic tiles from the early 20th century look dated, Graci suggests letting the colors spark the palette for the room or reworking the tiles by having a decorative painter plaster over them and then apply a faux marble finish for the look of an entirely different material. Likewise, a painted mantel can be given a new lease on life by having a professional strip it to its natural wood.

“Many in New Orleans’ old houses are cypress or oak,” Graci said. “Paint everything else and have the mantel become the showpiece in its original wood.”

If renovating or building, Graci says the scale of a mantel is key. While an enormous French mantel might be appropriate for a Romanesque mansion, it would overpower many other architectural styles. His general rule of thumb: a mantel should not be higher than your head. Graci advises keeping a mantel simple or antique, and make sure that it has volume and depth so it’s defined and doesn’t look like moldings attached to a wall. He also works with companies that offer quality stock mantels and custom options.

  1. Nothing is prettier than fresh garland draped over the mantel for the holidays. If you want to add something, try lace in vintage ball ornaments.
  2. Add texture and color to garland with old pheasant feathers, spray paint Magnolia leaves gold, or drape cypress branches with pine needles. 
  3. Stay away from anything plastic and glittery. Keep it natural and fresh.

To dress a mantel, he suggests a classic, symmetrical arrangement such as a clock in the center and two glass hurricanes on either end – or an asymmetrical display that still provides visual balance – such as a large item on the left and two smaller items on the right. 

“A step-down is a great way to achieve asymmetry,” he said of the latter.

Graci recommends hanging something “fairly important”, such as a mirror or work of art over a mantel and stresses that they should be proportioned correctly to the space. He also has a favorite method for hiding televisions above mantels: he recesses them into the wall and covers them with a folding, hinged panel.  

To add a finishing touch to your perfectly designed mantel, he suggests placing a container of dried foliage or flowers, decorative white birch logs, or an opaque fire screen inside the fireplace when not in use.

About the Designer

Interior Designer Chad Graci of Graci Interiors is known for his fresh take on traditional design precedents. Graci has four mantels in his home and has styled each with symmetrically arranged objects. He recently designed a room for the 2022 Kips Bay Decorator Showhouse in Dallas.