27 Chic, Budget-Friendly Mantel Ideas

Design experts share ideas for how to make an ordinary mantel look like a million bucks.

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July 06, 2016

Photo By: Haven Design Works

Photo By: Christopher Oquendo

Photo By: Christopher Oquendo

Photo By: Wake + Loom Design

Photo By: Christopher Oquendo

Photo By: Cruickshank Remodeling

Photo By: Druid Hills Tour of Homes/JJ Ortega

Photo By: Christopher Oquendo

Photo By: Rachel Greathouse Design/Robert Smith

Photo By: The Home Depot

Photo By: Miles Design Group

Photo By: Miles Design Group

Photo By: Acadia Homes and Neighborhoods

Photo By: Thomas S. England/Dwell With Dignity Atlanta

Photo By: Christopher Oquendo

Photo By: Christopher Oquendo

Photo By: Christopher Oquendo

Photo By: Waterfall Club

Photo By: Christopher Oquendo

Photo By: Ashton Woods

Photo By: Cruickshank Remodeling

Photo By: POP Custom Homes

Photo By: Pop Custom Homes

Photo By: Alice Cramer

Photo By: Timberland Cabinets

Photo By: Janna Allbritton

Photo By: Janna Allbritton

Use Unexpected Artwork

Found objects are an eye-catching alternative to artwork above a mantel. You can replicate this look by layering discs, made of wood or metal, that you find new at discount home decor stores or while rummaging through items at thrift stops, says Donna Mathis with Haven Design Works. Look for items with different sizes, which also can save money, instead of buying three large discs.

Create a Collection

"Mercury glass is pretty inexpensive. A collection on a mantel looks just as well as doing pairs," says Atlanta interior designer Lance Jackson, co-founder and creative director of Parker Kennedy Living. Mercury glass can be displayed year-round and fits nicely with holiday decor, whether your palette is red and green, or another choice. For your collection, combine mercury glass from antique stores, estate sales and yard sales with new pieces from home discount stores.

Reuse and Enjoy

When designers Lance Jackson and David Ecton saw this French mirror in their client's master bedroom, they knew it had to fill the expansive space above the fireplace and wood mantel. "We moved it because the ceilings were so high. I wanted it to be a statement piece in that room," says Jackson, co-founder of Parker Kennedy Living. Both the mirror and the framed art, previously used elsewhere in the home, are excellent examples of how to reuse existing items in new ways. Consider using an oversized mirror with a small painting or photo.

Layer Again and Again

The key to a well-dressed mantel is layering, and you can use items you already own for a completely free update. Gabriela Eisenhart and Holly Conlan with WAKE + LOOM Design suggest centering wall art above the fireplace, and using favorite photos and accessories on the mantel to create dimension. Feel free to steal items from other rooms for this fireplace focal point, which you can freshen up throughout the year.

Add Greenery

To save green on greenery, Atlanta designer Devon Garner says artificial palm stems are a great choice on a mantel because of their height. You only need a couple of palms to make an impact. She pulled together a painting from a discount home decor store and urns on sale half price at a furniture store to enhance this rustic fireplace decor.

Choose a Bold Hue

For a quick, easy update in a room that already has wood paneling and extensive beams, paint your mantel. This green mantel fits with the wall color and accessories such as a lamp and decorative pillow. The room is designed by Atlanta-based Cruickshank Remodeling.

Work With White

Using three different objects in the same color—in this case white—saves you time and money instead of trying to find a matching set. Display moss in a bowl for an inexpensive, long-lasting and elegant update.

Go Geometric

Designers with Parker Kennedy Living say a mirror with an interesting design can give you more bang for your buck. This one is an aged square mirror with an octagon design, which you can look for at antique markets. If it doesn't have the patina you want, you can antique the mirror. If you find a square mirror with an aged look, you could add thin molding to create an inlay shape or even etch the mirror.

Layer Your Mirrors

The next time you go to a yard sale or thrift shop, look for a mirror that you can clean up and use as your budget-friendly focal point above the fireplace. Keep your eye out for unexpected accessories, such as a horse or animal sculpture. You also can layer the mantel with another smaller mirror, like designer Rachel Greathouse did in this Atlanta home.

Make Your Own Wall Art

Wall art comes in all shapes and sizes, especially if it's a DIY project. This black-and-white piece is inspired by the pattern of an Ikea pillow and uses plywood and paint, by Allison Fannin of Two Thirty-Five Designs. Another affordable idea for a holiday mantel is to place extra ornaments in a glass jar. She also repainted the chair (an estate sale find) in front of the fireplace and recovered the cushion.

Go With Greenery

When you have a TV above a mantel, your decor space is limited. But you can warm up the spot with greenery. Use preserved boxwood globes, which are sold by many retailers for $50-$75, for a lush look that's long-lasting. The size of the boxwood topiaries also provide a contrast with the tall mantel, says Michelle Mentzer, owner of Miles Design Group in metro Atlanta.

Give It Time

A clever way to decorate a mantel combines hanging a mirror, then leaning a clock with an interesting face against it, like Michelle Mentzer of Miles Design Group did in this metro Atlanta home. To get a deal on vintage mirrors and clocks, hunt through ones that are stacked up at flea markets and antique stores, or booths at local antiques stores.

Make the Background Bold

A dramatic way to bring attention to a mantel is painting the wall a deep, rich hue. Then you can leave much of the mantel blank by balancing out the ends with white sculptural accessories or candle holders, which are used in this metro Atlanta model home.

Send a Message

This asymmetrical mantel display has a lively vibe and message. You can find affordable letters at arts and crafts stores to create a word, such as "Joy," or phrase that's meaningful to you and paint the letters in an eye-catching metallic. This room was designed by Julie Montgomery of Julie Montgomery Interiors as part of home makeovers for families by the nonprofit Dwell with Dignity Atlanta. The mantel previously held a mishmash of books and frames.

Paper Your Decor

Blue-and-white ceramic pieces can give a mantel a country chic yet glam look, like this mantel decorated by Yuni Min. She centered the mantel with a tidy collection of her hardback books. When the pages face front, you don't have to worry about purchasing new books with pretty spines. The bindings bring a bit of color that ties into the pottery. Add a wreath over the mantel (Min made this one) to bring more dimension to the focal point.

Welcome a Wreath

A mantel can be a revolving spot for you to display photos, books and accessories that you own and have scattered in other rooms. Dena Stormer stacked up photos and accessories on books for her latest vintage mantel decor, and don't forget about the space underneath the mantel. You can take an existing wreath that you used during the holidays, remove any seasonal elements and weave in leaves or fake flowers.

Add Asian Elements

Designer Clinton Rice hunts at estate sales for Asian-inspired accessories and ceramic pieces, along with old books. He offers this advice for saving money: Go the first day — typically Thursday — but if you see something you like, wait for the weekend. That's when items are marked down by 25 percent or more. If it's meant to be, the item is meant for your mantel.

Showcase a Lidded Jar

If you have a lidded ceramic jar, fill it with natural reeds or branches from a nearby pond or lake. Then use the lid as part of your decor, by simply leaning it against a small stack of books. You won't have to buy another accessory to fill that space. This rustic mantel is in a home on north Georgia's Lake Burton, in the Waterfall Club community.

Bring in Beloved Notes

Make your mantel meaningful by displaying cherished letters and mementos. You won't have to buy artwork and don't need heavy, expensive frames. Designer Thea Quillian helped Atlanta homeowners Karen Goeckel and Bill Goodman use high/low decorating ideas for their home, which was built in 1911 and has seven fireplaces. The black-and-white Bride of Frankenstein photo was a gift.

Take a Pretty Picture

Instead of a fancy piece of art, enlarge a photo you've taken outside or in a favorite spot and frame it, says Leigh Spicher, Ashton Woods' national director of design studios. You can add color to the mantle, like in this Dallas home, without using accessories. Also, arrange shells or other natural elements that you saved because of their beauty (and free price tag) in a frame or shadowbox, as another layer of art for your mantel.

Consider Cast Stone

Cast stone, used here by Atlanta-based Cruickshank Remodeling, can be made to resemble limestone, granite, quartz, blue stone, marble and many other types of real stone at a more affordable price. It can even replace brick or be molded into a brick pattern that looks authentic but lasts longer than real bricks.

Reflect Your Style

To get this look, search for mirrors with scrollwork or intricate details at yard sales, estate sales or antique stores, and hang the mirror flush with the mantel. If the mirror is gold, silver, black or another color, you can paint the mirror and the mantel white, to mimic the look of this elegant fireplace by Atlanta-based Pop Custom Homes.

Bookend Your Framed Art

Designers with Pop Custom Homes, based in Atlanta, used a pair of wire candleholders on each side of this fantastic piece of colorful art that dominates the mantel. You can find new candleholders for less than $20 per pair, or if you pick up a steal at a garage sale, spray paint them to match the frame or a dominant color in the artwork.

Separate the Pair

Screened porches serve as another living room, and mantels in these spaces can be stunning as well. Simply paint your mantle a color that complements the rest of the fireplace. Then separate a pair of hurricane candleholders to help fill the space. You can find many hurricane candleholders for less than $25, and some places sell them for less than $10 each.

Do Color Blocking

This renovated ranch home by Atlanta-based Renewal Design Build sports a modern take on the conventional fireplace mantel. The mantel, custom built by Timberland Cabinets, is a splurge, but the white accessories stand out and can be copied for any budget. A single sprig in a pretty vase saves money over a full bouquet of fresh flowers.

Put a Mailbox to Work

Save your old mailbox, even if it has a bit of rust. Designer Janna Allbritton with Yellow Prairie Interiors reused a discarded mailbox and crate to fill out a mantel and to display dried flowers, a Bible and a small succulent in a pot. "Use the unexpected to create levels and keep the eye moving for a great eye-catching vignette. Old books, a chippy step-stool, an antique box, or a child's chair are great items to start with ... this will give you a great framework from which to build," she says.

Think Upside Down and Inside Out

When using old books, if the covers or spines are ugly or in bad condition, open them up and use the pages to soften up the mantel decor. Designer Janna Allbritton also loves bringing in wire, wood and metal pieces, which can be snagged for just a few dollars at yard sales or thrift shops. Turning a small crate on its end provides a pedestal for a succulent.

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