Mantel, Lighting, Shelving, Oh My!

Mantel AccessoriesQuestion:

We recently moved out of our cozy condominium into a 1920’s colonial. My Ballard Designs wish list is now 10+ pages long!

My first project to tackle is the living room since the entrance to the house brings your right smack into it. At first, I loved the built-ins around the fireplace. I now despise them. Everything I put on the shelves just seems to look messy, not pulled together. The previous owners painted the bricks red, and with my beige colors scheme, all you really see is the RED.

I’ve contemplated painting them white, but now I think there will be too much white flanking the one side of the room. I’ve always thought I would place a beautiful mirror above my fireplace. I now realize that the mantel is a tinche too high and the mirror only reflects the ceiling and the ghastly ceiling fan that we need to replace. Overall I need HELP HELP HELP with redesigning the room’s main focal point. From the sconces, to the shelving, to the art above the mantel….what to do?



Dear Stephanie,

Thank you for your Design Dilemma regarding your Mantel issue. We have a few suggestions that can help you solve your issues. First of all, try removing all the accessories in the bookcases and on the top of the mantel. Try painting the bricks the same white as your trim color. Next, paint the interior back and side walls of your bookcases 3 shades darker than your beige wall color. This will help unify the colors and make the space more cohesive.

Although we are not sure what the height above the mantel is, we will try and give you some suggestions on accessories. In the center above the fireplace, we think the Flowers by the Sea Print would be a nice size. Changing the sconces will truly give new life to the mantel. Our thought is to use the Tonnerre Sconces. On the far left facing the mantel place the Large Metal Architectural Finial, with the Small Metal Architectural Finial to the left of the firebox. On the right side of the mantel close to the corner place two Angel Vine Topiaries – one large and one small. Although it seems like there is a lot going on, it should look uncluttered and simple.

As for the bookcases, we have drawn a visual so that you can see how we edited what goes in them. In order to keep them from looking too cluttered, we chose repetitive items (dishes, pitchers, books and demijohns). All are within the beige and white color palette, which keeps that uncluttered look.

Please let us know if you think we are on the right track with your dilemma. We truly appreciate feedback. And let us know if you need any additional information.

The Style Studio Team

1 – Flowers by the Sea Print * 2 – Tonnerre Sconces * 3 & 4 – Architectural Finial * 5 – Angel Vine Topiaries

Mantel Accessories

Posted 2/10/10

How to Decorate Team

We enjoy spending days interacting with How to Decorate readers. From answering Design Dilemmas to writing How To articles and working with guest designers, our passion is to provide informative and accurate resources to help people solve their design problems.


  1. Reply


    September 6, 2010

    I just happen to land to this blog and it is a nicely written article, a tad bit on the short side, but a fairly sufficient one.
    I very much like the layout too, it is altogether very easy to navigate.

  2. Reply


    May 13, 2010

    Great suggestions. So be sure to follow the guidance to paint the bookshelves interiors three shades darker than the wall color. I was cheap and just painted my interiors the same color and it looks bad – way too light!

  3. Reply


    March 19, 2010

    I think the biggest improvement to the space is the suggestion to paint the inside of the bookcases a darker shade of the wall color. We’d love to see how it turns out if you can post your finished look.

  4. Reply


    February 16, 2010

    The idea for your fireplace would be beautiful! Love the idea of keeping everything in the same tones. Painting the inside of your bookcases would look great ~ I know how intimidating this can be!

    We had a new mantle w/bookcases on each side built, and replaced the builder’s tile around the fireplace and hearth w/slate. Love what we did until we purchased a flat screen tv… now all I see is the tv. I’ve read that I should put shelves on each side of the screen, but I believe it would just be too much.

    I would also appreciate your help ~ I believe alot of people have the same issues w/these new tv’s.

    Thanks so much!

    Sincerely ~
    BJ Day

    • Reply

      Ballard Designs

      February 17, 2010

      Dear BJ: We receive a few questions about flat screen TVs. They seem to pose problems for most people, especially if they are placed on a mantel above the fireplace. It seems to take away the look and feel of the fireplace. There are some interesting options available to cover the screen when not in use. We like the solutions on We suggest you go online to this website to look at the solutions. You can also add a decorative frame to the flat screen which lessens the “technical look” or you can install a mirror which hides the screen when not in use. All of these solutions are available online. We do hope that these suggestions will give you a place to start looking to solve your dilemma.
      The Style Studio Team

  5. Reply

    Pauline W

    February 11, 2010

    The Flowers by the Sea Print is really nice, I will be looking at that one for my guest room.
    Stephanie, I bookmarked this company which offers a fireplace paint that seems to create a nice effect. They might be worth a look for you?