Merry and bright

Create a striking holiday mantel with tips from Michigan talent.
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courtesy Sarah macklem mantels
Courtesy Sarah Macklem Mantels

As decorating coordinator for Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Sarah Schlegel is surrounded by dazzling holiday décor year-round. 

Though local holiday décor may be more conventional than in some parts of the country, folks definitely get festive in the Midwest, and fireplace mantels set the stage for seasonal displays.

If you decide to cover your mantel with a village vignette, such as those offered by Department 56, Schlegel suggests adding seasonal accents for a visual break, such as a candle or some greenery. 

Bronner’s tends to attract those looking for traditional garlands and wreaths adorned with ribbons or flowers, as well as pinecones, ornaments and ornamental figures. 

Reindeer in twig form lend texture and height to mantel displays. 

“It’s more of a refined look,” says Schlegel, who recommends snowmen to take the fireplace vignette beyond the holidays. “A lot of people go away for the winter, so they really don’t want to put up a tree, but they want to do something.” 

Stocking holders have become popular, along with personalized stockings that come in a variety of styles. 

Terrariums and lanterns also enhance a fireplace mantel or hearth. Schlegel suggests filling them with a nativity scene, a nutcracker figure, or battery-operated candles for a holiday glow.  

Courtesy Bronners
Courtesy Bronners
Seasonal flair

One tip Sarah Macklem likes to share for holiday mantels, regardless of the color scheme, is to mix fresh greens with faux. 

“With faux you get longevity and with fresh you get more texture,” says the Grand Blanc-based home stylist and owner of The Yellow Cape Cod. 

A simple way to get started is by layering what you already have. 

“Hang a wreath over a mirror or a piece of art. You can really go all out for Christmas,” she says. “Or, switch things out by replacing a mirror with a painted monogram that you can use for different seasons.”

Macklem personalizes her own mantel with silhouettes of children and pets and a painted family monogram. “It’s something really special,” she says. 

The home stylist also likes to add natural elements, like deer antlers or oversized pinecones. “They bring the Christmas magic to the mantel, but it still looks tasteful,” she says. 

She notes that ornaments come in an assortment of colors, letting you pick a palette besides the traditional green and red. 

“Coordinate more with your décor to give it that sparkle. It’s fun to experiment with different colors, like orange and purple,” Macklem says. 

One way to switch up a look from year to year is with ribbon, suggests Macklem, who ties a big bow on each stocking. 

“It’s a fun way to experiment with trends — stripes are really big right now,” she says. 

Oversized elements add drama, and high impact also comes from high contrast, like the white stocking holders on Macklem’s black mantel. 

“The black against the white really makes a striking focal point,” she says. 

Scour thrift shops year-round for vintage ornaments to fill a glass hurricane, and mix flat bulbs, shiny bulbs and glitter bulbs for visual depth and interest. 

Lastly, Macklem adds, “You can always install shelves on the wall if you don’t have a mantel. You can still get the look even if you don’t have a fireplace.”

courtesy Deborah silver and co
Courtesy Deborah Silver and Co.
A fresh start

As a landscape designer, Deborah Silver, owner of Deborah Silver & Co. in Pontiac and Detroit Garden Works in Sylvan Lake, puts a lot of emphasis on natural materials for holiday mantels and décor, like preserved and dyed eucalyptus or red-flocked branches. 

Silver recommends taking photos of your holiday mantel displays each year for future reference. 

“Sometimes people want to repeat something they really like and sometimes they want to change it. Just adding one element can change the look,” says Silver, who often adds dried materials like seed pods and fruit slices.

She begins with a sturdy base that will stay put. Silver attaches the branches to a bamboo pole with zip ties, starting at the center and working her way out to either side. Wire holds additional materials in place for a layered statement.

Silver, who also owns The Branch Studio that creates handmade pieces, has seen an increased demand for more sophisticated color schemes in recent years. 

“People are much more willing to experiment with different color combinations,” she says. For example, they may opt for a twist on the traditional with dark maroon and chartreuse instead of the standard red and green. 

Her clients’ requests go from glitzy and glam to downright simple.

For a stone fireplace in a reserved and elegant house, Silver chose a horizontal plane for the mantel in keeping with the more contemporary setting. On an outdoor fireplace for another client, she dressed the mantel with fresh magnolia and big sugar cones for a more traditional look. 

She might add glass urns filled with white sand and branches at the base of a fireplace for a special touch.

As Silver explains, a mantel’s defined space allows for creativity. 

“One of the best parts of decorating a holiday mantel is that the given space is really small, so you can do it fresh and different every year as opposed to doing something the same every time,” she says.

Jeanine Matlow is a freelance writer who lives in the Detroit area.


Some like it hot
Make your fireplace a focal point throughout the year

Fireplace Stonework courtesy buechel stone
Courtesy Buechel Stone

A fireplace should be considered a piece of art, says Rhonda Belden, marketing manager for Belden Brick & Supply, with showrooms in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Saginaw. 

“It’s typically the first thing you see when you walk in the room,” she says.   

Fireplaces are making their way around the house, appearing in dining spaces and lower levels, and even bathrooms. A surround that goes to the ceiling makes the room look larger. Natural stone is a popular material, and one of the most popular choices for Belden is Michigan-made stone. 

As for color, gray holds the top spot. 

“We are seeing all shades of gray: dark gray to almost black, light gray and buff to white,” says Belden. “From a style standpoint, things are more linear — either a tailored ledgestone or an ashlar style, rectangles and squares.” 

While some prefer to forgo a mantel for the sleek look of unadorned stone, those who want one have plenty of options, from an old barn beam to a custom wood piece, a natural stone piece cut to fit, or a cast stone design. Whatever you choose, you’ll have the perfect perch for seasonal décor. 

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