Your Guide to Creating a Simple Layered Mantel Vignette

March 3, 2020

Collection of decor on wood mantel
Showing you the exact way to create a simple display for a mantel, entry table, or buffet with detailed explanations of the decor you'll need and pictures of what to do and what not to do!




Collection of decor on wood mantel

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I promised back in January that I was starting a new series featuring simple "recipes" to follow when creating vignettes and styling your home.  Then it got pushed back to February.  And now here we are to March and the series is finally kicking off.  I am so sorry because I know this was one that many of you mentioned you were looking forward to.


I'm excited about starting this series because I think it will really help those of you who feel lost when it comes to decorating your homes.  My goal is to break it down to where I can say that this is the basic framework behind the display and let you  go find decor that you already have to recreate it yourself.  I'll give you the basic outline, share a few examples of what's right and wrong, and then give you a way to extend it past just the basic.



Mantel filled with vases and decor



For today's post, I want to focus on making a very simple vignette for a mantel that could be replicated on other narrow surfaces like a dining room buffet, entryway table, or shelf....basically any extended flat surface with a wall behind it.  Mantels are generally not very deep and that is the width this vignette is designed for so keep that in mind when considering where else you can use the framework.


This basic mantel vignette follows one of those patterns that I often see and use myself.  It involves a large piece as a backdrop with different decor layered on both sides.  This is an example of "balanced asymmetry," where you don't have the same things on both sides of a center piece, but that the items you use still balance the visual weight of the other.  (As opposed to balanced symmetry where you would have the exact same thing on each side of the large backdrop piece.)


As you are choosing your three decor items, be sure that you keep in mind that they obviously need to coordinate with one another for your vignette to work.


And if the description of what I'm using sounds complicated, scroll down to the styled images first so that you can see how it all comes together in different vignettes.


Sketch of mantel display






THE DECOR PIECES YOU'LL NEED:





A BACKDROP



Your backdrop piece is going to vertically break up your wall space and provide a place for everything else to layer against.  It doesn't necessarily need to be the "star" of you vignette, although it can be.  It makes it statement just by being the largest piece of the three.

The size of your backdrop piece will be relative to the size of where you are displaying it.  What you use on a small shelf with be different than what you hang over a long buffet.

Items that make great statement/backdrop would be large mirrors, architectural salvage, giant clock, large flat basket, painted sign, or large artwork and photographs.



FLAT DECOR PIECE (ACCENT #1)



To layer over one side of your backdrop, you'll need a smaller, flat decor piece with some height that will not overshadow you're backdrop but also won't look dwarfed by it.

Items that can be used on one side of your vignette are smaller framed art and photographs, smaller architectural salvage, a tray, wreath or a flat woven basket.



3-DIMENSIONAL DECOR PIECE (ACCENT #2)



Your second accent should look balanced with first in terms of height and the amount of visual space it takes up on your mantel.  For example, if you chose a tall piece of artwork for one side, it can't be balanced out by one single candlestick, even it is relatively the same height.  It can be balanced by a collection of three closely placed candlesticks, however.

While I try to choose something relatively flat for Accent #1, my second accent is normally more of a dimensional decor item and is either slightly larger or slightly smaller.  It is going to pull the vignette out away from the wall and the rest of the vignette.  Examples of items you can use are a vase of flowers, potted plant, cluster of candlesticks, decorative lantern, or pitcher.





HOW TO CREATE YOUR LAYERED MANTEL VIGNETTE




Choosing three decor pieces that coordinate together in terms of style and color and that are in a proportion that will balance one another is the hard part.  Once you've got your decor, you just simply have to put the three pieces into place.

I've created a few different vignettes with different decor pieces to better explain what you can look for and how to make it all come together.

But know even I had to spend some time finding pieces that would work together to do this, so please don't get frustrated if your first or second tries don't look right.  It takes some time to find that sweet mix that leaves you feeling like you finally got it right.



Mirror, potted fern, and botanical print on mantel



EXAMPLE #1

In my first example I've used a framed botanical print on one side balanced out by a fern in my DIY stoneware planter stacked on a book.  You'll notice that the print is shorter than the mirror and is layered over the frame of the mirror without overwhelming the mirror.  You want it to overlap, but it isn't going to look right if the whole print rests in front of the mirror.


While the planter and book are not as tall as the print they do still balance it thanks to the fern.  Again, this stack of decor is overlapping the edges of the background piece.



Canvas photos and demijohn with eucalyptus



EXAMPLE #2

For this second example I chose to use two different black and white canvas prints, one horizontal and one vertical, along with a demijohn filled with eucalyptus.  And like the first example, both smaller pieces are overlapping the larger background print without distracting from it.  The way the eucalyptus is positioned extends the vignette horizontally allowing it to better balance the horizontal photograph.



Canvas photos with demijohn of green branches.



EXAMPLE #3

In this very similar vignette, the small demijohn has been replace by a larger version.  This probably pushes the boundaries of what I'm trying to teach here, but rules were made to be broken, right?  Because the branches are sparce and allow a lot of white space to show through, I think this is still okay to have something hanging over the background piece.  The larger demijohn still balances out the horizontal picture.


Sometimes you just have to play around with things, and if you find a combination you love, regardless whether it follows the rules, I say go with it.  The only important thing to remember is that you're trying to create something your eyes enjoy looking at!






WHAT NOT TO DO WHEN CREATING VIGNETTES




Now that I've shown you a few examples to explain my concept, let's look at a few vignettes highlighting what not to do:



Candlestick, botanical print, and metal art on mantel



This vignette isn't horrible, but it is is slightly imbalanced and could be better.  The dark, wider decorative piece doesn't balance out with the one single candlestick.



Collection of candlesticks, botanical print, and metal register cover.



Using a collection of three candlesticks stacked on a book does create more balanced asymmetry.  It's adding a little more width to the left side and connects the candlesticks into the rest of the display because now one of the candlesticks is layered in front of the print.



Mirror, vase, and canvas print on mantel



In this vignette, you can clearly see that the vase and picture are not large enough to go up against the large mirror.



White plaster medallion, demijohn of green branches, and mirror on mantel



And by contrast, in this vignette, the white framed medallion and demijohn of green branches are overwhelming the mirror behind it.


When choosing your trio of decor pieces, you must keep in mind how the size of each will work with the other two.  Aim for your two accent pieces to be about half the size of your backdrop.








SOME MORE TIPS TO KEEP IN MIND





  • If something needs some extra height to balance out the vignette, try placing the piece on a stack of books or a wood box.  

  • Make sure that you're choosing a mixture of finishes, colors, and/or patterns.  If everything is wood, for example, your vignette will not have anything that stands out or catches your eye.  You want to be able to see each of the three pieces individually.

  • For smaller decor pieces, you can create a mini-vignette of three separate items grouped together to better balance out your decor on the other side of the vignette.





HOW TO TAKE YOUR VIGNETTE PAST JUST THE BASIC




A vignette with just three items may be a little too simple for your decorating skills.  Once you've got your three-object framework set up, you can make it more complex by adding extra decor to both sides.


One of the basic principals of decorating relies on the rule of threes (or odd numbers).  Things in this ratio are considered more pleasing to the eye.  So as you add more pieces to your vignette, try to keep things arranged on both sides in even numbers or the illusion of even numbers.


In the vignette below, I grouped three vases on one side, but added a book underneath the wood vase to give it a little boost.  Because the book is styled with the vase, the two pieces together are still considered just one item.





Mantel filled with farmhouse style decor





And once you understand the concept of the asymmetrical balance, feel free to mix it up by choosing two of Accent #1 or #2 rather than one of each.


In this vignette, I used the small demijohn with greenery and  a vase on one side balanced out by the large demijohn on the other.  Ideally, it would be better if the glass were darker like the other side, but you get the idea.  What appears on one side is proportionate in size to what appears on the other.



Mirror and collection of vases



Obviously this is just the very basic structure of a vignette. There are many ways to design around a mirror or other large piece hanging over a mantel.  We will get more complex in the future with different styling techniques but I wanted to start this series with the basics for those of you who might need a little extra guidance.


Regardless of what your decorating style is or the decor you already have, it is possible to create this simple vignette by following these instructions.


If you found this post helpful, please let me know by leaving a comment below.  And I'd love to see the vignettes you're able to create, so be sure to tag me on Instagram or send me an email with a picture!




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