Having a fireplace without a mantel is like owning a sofa without the throw pillows. The opportunity is there and it is clear that the sofa would look better with the throw pillows, but all you have to do is add them.
Take a look at these 30 tips to DIY and decorate your fireplace mantel shelf and you’ll have your living room looking like a whole new space in a weekend.
If you’re thinking that you lack the carpentry skills for installing a fireplace mantel, you should be pleased to hear that you don’t need them. There are many ways to install a shelf-like mantel on your fireplace and even more ways to style them.
What Do You Put on a Mantel Shelf?
Before you dive in and start looking at ideas for creating a mantel shelf for your fireplace, you are probably wondering just what you should put on a fireplace mantel in the first place. This is the cool thing about fireplace mantels—they are very versatile, so you can put almost anything you want on them!
Many people choose to change the décor of their mantel over the course of the year. They decorate it for various seasons and switch it up when the seasons change. But you don’t have to do this, as there are several ways to decorate your mantel. Below is a list to give you some ideas.
Things to Put on a Mantel Shelf:
- Seasonal Décor
- Flower Vases (real or fake)
- Decorative Jars
- Pieces of Artwork
- Souvenirs from Travel
- A Collection of Objects
- Decorative Rocks/Stones
- Cards You’ve Received
- Antique Items
How Many Items Should Be on a Mantel?
Although there are many items you can put on a mantel shelf, this doesn’t mean you should put all the items on at once. This can create a clash and can look busy rather than classy.
It is recommended that you have no more than 3-5 large items on your mantel at a time. Of course, if you have a collection, having a few more is okay, but you shouldn’t have so many that your mantel seems crowded. For those with a large collection of items, consider rotating which ones you display to prevent overcrowding.
How Deep Should a Fireplace Mantel Shelf Be?
Generally, when you are designing your fireplace mantel, how deep you make it will depend on what you plan to do with it. Planning on displaying a large collection of items will require creating a deeper fireplace mantel shelf, but will also take up more space in front of your fireplace and my cause a hazard to people walking by.
You will probably want a fireplace mantel depth of about 7 inches, as this will allow you room for all types of décor without protruding too far into the room. You will want to be sure that your fireplace mantel is the same depth all the way across so it doesn’t look lopsided.
How High Should a Mantel Shelf be Above a Fireplace?
Most fireplace mantels are made out of wood. Because of this, it is an extreme fire hazard if you build a fireplace mantel too close to the top of your fireplace.
The rules and regulations vary based on your type of housing and the state of live in, so be sure to take a look at these before you build your mantel shelf. If there are no specific rules in your area or type of dwelling, the National Fire Protection Agency states that the bottom of your mantel shelf is required to be at least 12”, or one foot, away from the top of the fireplace box.
How Wide Should a Fireplace Mantel Shelf Be?
It may seem a bit weird, but your fireplace mantel shelf should not be the same width as your fireplace. This is because most fireplaces are quite small and a mantel that short would seem odd (and leave little room for décor).
As a rule of thumb, your fireplace mantel should extend at least three inches past your fireplace on either side, but even this is still considered quite small. Most people choose to have their mantel extend at least 6 inches on their side of the fireplace box.
Do you have lots of items to display? Then be sure to extend your fireplace mantel even further on both sides. You can even have it extend from wall to wall, and wrap around the corners—the ceiling is the limit!
What Supplies Do You Need to Make a Mantel Shelf?
Building a mantel shelf is easy as long as you have the right materials. Before you head to the store, decide what style of mantel you want to install, as this will dictate which of the following supplies you will need.
Supplies Needed to Build a Mantel Shelf:
- Shelf Bracket
- Wood Stain
- Wood Sealant
How Do You Build a Fireplace Mantel Shelf?
Don’t have a mantel in your home but have a fireplace? Don’t fret, as it is quite easy to install your own fireplace mantel. It will take a few hours though, so be sure you have ample time to complete this project set aside before you begin.
Step 1: Measure
Even if you want a fireplace mantel shelf that extends six inches past your fireplace on either side, this may not be possible with the space you are working with. Find out in advance just how much space you have, keeping in mind the fire codes that must be obeyed.
Step 2: Buy Supplies
Surprisingly, it is quite common to construct a fireplace mantel shelf with lumber you can buy off the shelves—no special order necessary. Head to the store after you have your measurements so the employees there can help you with cutting your lumber if needed.
You will also need something to hold your mantel shelf in place. You can go fancy and build a full mantel with supports down the side, or you can buy a few shelf brackets and keep it simple. If you want your mantel to blend in to the space, now is also the time to buy the paint you need to match that around your fireplace.
This is also the time to sand and seal your wood to allow it to last the maximum amount of time in your home. You don’t have to worry about paint just yet, as you can do this after you install your fireplace mantel shelf.
Step 3: Level Your Mantel
Don’t get nail happy just yet, as you will want to ensure that your mantel is level before you start putting nails or screws in the walls. This is because your items will fall off if the shelf is not level. Grab a friend, and a leveler, and take extra caution to ensure your shelf is perfectly level before you attach it to the wall.
Step 4: Attach Your Mantel to the Wall
This is where having a friend comes in handy, as they can hold the mantel shelf in place while you attach the first screws or nails. This way it will be installed leveled as you measured it to be.
Before you set anything on your mantel, you will want to place a few items to be sure it is sturdy and secure. For those planning to put exceptionally heavy items on their mantel, you may want to add an additional shelf bracket for support.
Step 5: Paint and Decorate!
Now that your mantel shelf is attached, it’s time to decorate it the way you want it to look! You can paint it to blend in with your wall or leave it the natural wood color. You can also paint it to stand out, after all, it’s your mantel! Do whatever you would like with it!
What is a Floating Fireplace Mantel?
A floating fireplace mantel is a mantel shelf that is made out of a single piece of wood that doesn’t show any visible signs of being attached to the wall. Floating mantels are made out of multiple pieces of strong wood, typically oak.
To create a floating mantel, you will need to cut a hole in the wall slightly smaller than the size of the piece of wood you want to use for the floating mantel. Then you will need to hollow out a piece of wood to create the shelf. This can be difficult to do, and it is recommended that you have a professional help you if this is the type of mantel you desire.
What Type of Wood is Used for Mantels?
As you are shopping for wood to create your mantel, you should know that you can make a mantel out of almost any type of hardwood you would like. Hardwood is durable and will last as a place to set your décor for years to come. Below is a list of all the hardwood varieties.
Types of Hardwood:
- Antique Pine
How to Measure for a Fireplace Mantel Shelf
Installing your own mantel may seem like a breeze, and it can be, as long as you take the time to measure the space properly. You will need to take multiple measurements in order to select the right size wood for your mantel shelf.
Step 1: Measure the Width
First, measure how wide your fireplace is, and decide how much you want the mantel shelf to extend in either direction. It is recommended to have at least 3 to 6 inches. Be sure to add these to your final width measurement.
Step 2: Measure the Depth
How far do you want your shelf to protrude? Although 7 inches is recommended, you may want your shelf to come out a bit further, or be slightly less deep if your home is small. Use a measuring tape to see what this would look like.
Keep in mind that fire codes may also dictate how deep your shelf can be, and you’ll want to check these before you buy wood.
Step 3: Measure the Height
Your fireplace mantel shelf will need to be at least 12” above the top of your fireplace. Double check your above two measurements work at this height above your fireplace.
Step 4: Measure the Total Height
Want a more traditional looking mantel with the sides in addition to the top shelf? Then you also need to take a measurement of your shelf to the floor. This way you can buy wood for the sides of the mantel. This step is not needed when using a basic shelf design as a mantel.
Still not sure you need a mantel to accent your fireplace? Keep reading to see some awesome ways to decorate your fireplace mantel shelf that may just change your mind!
Top Tips for Decorating Your Fireplace Mantel Shelf
1. Live Edge Mantel Shelf
Just take a minute to swoon over that live edge mantel shelf. It would be the easiest thing to install and give you a reason to splurge on that live edge wood piece that you’ve been eyeing. (via Houzz)
2. Wood Mantel for Your Fireplace
You’ve probably seen the project for faux wood beams floating around Pinterest. Use the same method to create a lovely wood mantel for your fireplace. Such a classic look will match with any style your living room could possibly have. (via Addicted 2 Decorating)
3. Install a Shelf Above a Fireplace Inside the Wall
Is your fireplace inside the wall? Don’t believe that scenario leaves you out of the mantel shelf game. Build one from pretty molding pieces and it will complete the fireplace picture. (via Designer Trapped)
4. Use Large Vintage Brackets
Putting up a mantel shelf really only requires the shelf and the brackets. Find yourself some lovely large vintage brackets that show a little wear and tear to bring some life into your fireplace mantel shelf. (via @magnolia)
5. Stain Your Fireplace Mantel Shelf for a New Look
Maybe you’re looking at your mantel in disdain but you’re without the funds to do a big mantel shelf makeover. With a simple can of stain in your favorite shade, you can give your mantel shelf a whole different vibe. Go dark or go light, either way, go the opposite of what you have for a new look. (via Sarah Sherman Samuel)
6. A Black and Bulky Shelf
Looking for a big mantel change? You can’t go wrong with something that’s black and bulky. Find the biggest brackets you can and add trim to the bottom for interest. (via Home Bunch)
7. A Long Fireplace Shelf
Some fireplaces possess the awkward orientation of having a set of shelves on one side instead of both. What do you do with that?
You install a mantel shelf that spans across the fireplace as well as the shelves to the side. Suddenly the whole wall is brought together in perfect harmony. (via HGTV)
8. A Shelf Above a Stove
Just because you have a stove instead of a fireplace doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a mantel too. Place one in the corner behind the stove and you’ll find that having that shelf helps you fill an otherwise awkward space. (via The Painted Hinge)
9. Hang a Large Piece of Art
Large art is one of the best things ever created. With one simple piece hanging above your mantel shelf or even just leaning against the wall, you can give your space a makeover and with something that makes you smile each time you look at it. (via Unskinny Boppy)
10. A Large Mirror to Add More Light
Of course, a large mirror is also a great way to fill your mantel without making it seem cluttered and super decorated. Plus, it will bounce light around the room and make your space feel bigger so it’s basically a win win for everyone. (via Rachel Bishop Designs)
11. A Minimal and Chic Mantel Shelf
If you aren’t into the decorated mantel movement, that’s okay. Add a pinch of greenery and a photo of your favorite place or your family for a minimal yet chic mantel shelf look. (via Centsational Girl)
12. Hang a Poster Above Your Fireplace
Many people say posters should always be framed. We say different. Using whatever method you see fit, hang it above your mantel shelf and no one will think the worse of you or your fireplace for using twine. (via HGTV)
13. Use Layering to Create Depth
Even on a mantel shelf, it’s pretty easy to create the feel of depth. Layering framed photos or artwork, stacks of books in different sizes, small trinkets with sentiment in the front of it all, the different layers will help you give interest to your mantel in a snap. (via Emily Henderson)
14. A Simple Empty Windowpane
Are you in love with the chipping paint and weathered look of vintage pieces? Use your mantel shelf to display a simple empty windowpane for a fun and minimal farmhouse feel. (via The Lettered Cottage)
15. Update Your Mantel Shelf Each Season
As you change your decor with the seasons and the holidays, don’t forget to include your mantel shelf. Display your favorite flowers in the spring, a chalkboard quote in the summer, bright leaves in the fall, and mini evergreens in the winter. (via Duke Manor Farm)
16. Display Houseplants
Mantels are usually great places to display houseplants too. If you’re a collector of leaves and cacti, place your very best pots with plants at different heights along your mantle shelf for a greenhouse look. (via @shophesby)
17. Install Lamps
Some fireplaces are in desperate need of extra lighting but don’t have the mantel space to accommodate lamps. Now is the chance for you to install your favorite sconces to provide that light without taking up any mantel space. (via House of Jade)
18. Frame Your Television Screen
Television screens are a rather ugly yet necessary element of the living room. Many times that means mounting it above your fireplace. But you can help improve your mantel view by framing your screen so it looks like a black canvas instead of an unsightly screen. (via Remodelaholic)
19. Base Your Decorations on Your Room’s Theme
While you’re picking and choosing what your mantel shelf should display, make sure you’re making your decisions based on the theme of your living room. Pink flowers won’t work if there isn’t any other pink in the space. (via A Pretty Life In The Suburbs)
20. Hang a Banner
Don’t have the money for a mantel shelf makeover? That’s okay. Hang a banner that you’ve bought or even made yourself to distract your eyes from the mantel you don’t like. (via Dining Delight)
21. Install a Shelf Above Your Sofa
You know that you don’t even need a fireplace to have a mantel shelf? Install one above your sofa or above your piano or above your TV, wherever you have a blank wall that would just look better with a mantel shelf. (via @angelascozyhome)
22. A Simple White Shelf
By adding minimal decoration to the area, you’ll have a sleek and stylish addition to any home. Often, homeowners choose to put far too many decorations in this space, which can then leave it looking disorganized and messy.
23. A Rustic Fireplace Shelf
Apartment Therapy shares this beautiful New Orleans living room, which has a rustic look and feel. This simple wooden shelf nicely frames the fireplace, reaching all the way down to the floor.
When you have a shelf as beautiful as this one, make sure you keep things simple to attract attention to its design. The three candles add the perfect finishing touch and a little color to the area without making it look cluttered or untidy.
24. Add Succulents
If you don’t like to keep large houseplants in your home, succulents are a great alternative. For anyone who struggles to keep bigger plants alive, you’ll find they require less attention and care. However, they still add some much-needed greenery to your home and liven up what would otherwise be an empty mantel shelf.
Sugar and Cloth offers us this stunning white mantel shelf that is beautifully decorated in keeping with the rest of the room. We also think the mirror hanging overhead helps to add more light into any living room.
25. Candles or a Candelabra
Candles look great in any part of your home, and the living room is no exception to this. A House in the Hills shares this fun mantel shelf which uses candle holders to add decoration to the room.
You can either opt for just a couple of small pillar candles or something more extravagant, as shown in this photo. Even if you don’t use the candles, it’s a fun way to add a unique touch to your empty mantel shelf.
26. A Simple Vase
If you aspire to create a minimalistic look in your living room, you’ll enjoy taking inspiration from Rip & Tan. This white mantel shelf is almost empty, apart from two small additions at the end of the shelf.
One vase and one pillar candle are placed on the end, and they add a subtle touch of decoration without detracting from the fireplace. When you have a fireplace that is as stunning as this one, you want to keep the focus on that area instead.
27. A Colored Shelf
While the majority of the shelves on this list are wooden or white, there’s no reason you can’t add a splash of color into your living room. This green shelf from The Spruce makes a bold statement, but it still blends in with the décor.
Green is the ideal shade for anyone looking to add plants to their mantel shelf, and we love how this shelf features lots of unique items to show the character and personality of the homeowners. Whenever you have a spare space in your home, make sure you add items that you love looking at each day, as they will bring so much joy to your life.
28. A Plant Filled Mantel Shelf
If you live in an apartment or a home without a garden, you are probably always looking for ways to add more plants and nature into your home. Apartment Therapy shares this stunning Toronto apartment which packs plenty of plants onto the mantel shelf.
You don’t need to stick to just one or two plants on your shelf and can add a whole row on like in this photo. Plants look great alongside a white shelf, as you don’t have to worry about the pots clashing with the color of the shelf.
29. Add Antiques to Your Mantel Shelf
For anyone that collects antiques or unique collectibles, this is a fantastic space in your home to add extra items. If you are struggling to find areas to display your purchases, you’ll love having the additional space in your living room.
Country Living shows us how to create this living room mantel shelf that puts together a beautiful collection of antiques on the shelf.
30. Colorful Vases
Even if you don’t plan to add flowers to your vases, you’ll love adding them to your mantel shelf for a splash of color. Completely Coastal shares this fun mantel shelf makeover which adds a bright and beachy look to any room.
Many living rooms stick to neutral colors, but in a beach house or apartment, it can be fun to add some color to the space.
Fireplace Mantel Shelf FAQ
Can You Put a Shelf Above a Fireplace?
Yes! Putting a shelf above a fireplace is one of the easiest ways to add a fireplace mantel to your home. Just be sure this shelf is high enough about your fireplace to satisfy fire codes.
Can You Use a Floating Shelf as a Fireplace Mantel?
A floating shelf makes a great fireplace mantel, but these can be difficult to install, so you may want to hire help if the home you live in doesn’t already have one installed.
How Far Does a Fireplace Stick Out?
How far a fireplace sticks out will generally depend on your home and the model of your fireplace. But you can expect the average fireplace to require a clearance of 26”-28” for the door to be able to be opened fully.
Does Pine Make a Good Mantel?
Pine may look beautiful as a mantel, but should be avoided when you want the mantel to last a long time. Pine wood is known to crack over time.
Can You Use Timber for a Fireplace Mantel?
Using timber as a fireplace mantel is a great way to get that rustic look in your home! You will want to make sure whatever timber you use is of good quality, and is sanded down to avoid breakage and possible injury.
Is Cedar Good for a Fireplace Mantel?
Cedar is a durable wood that is easy to work with and is therefore perfect for using in your fireplace mantel.
Mantel shelves are so often overlooked during home makeovers, but they provide additional storage and shelving. If you are short of space in your home or apartment, you’ll find it’s a great place to display your favorite items or pieces of art. However, it’s important to remember you don’t want to make your mantel shelf look too cluttered.
Curate a matching selection of items that work well together to create a fun addition to your home. When you decorate your fireplace mantel shelf, you don’t have to worry about it being a permanent addition. For more seasonal fun in your home, switch out the items each season to create a new theme and look.