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Home & Garden

A D Home Design Challenge

One mantel. Six takes by six different designers.
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You’ve spent scores of dollars to get the living room just so. You’ve recovered chairs, papered the walls, and changed out the floors. Everything is nearly done. But that mantel above the fireplace—it’s a headache that won’t go away. Leave it too spare, and it looks like you forgot all about it. Junk it up with every keepsake you’ve ever bought, and you look crazy. We challenged six designers to create a beautiful mantel arrangement in about an hour and tell us their tips for creating an elegant display. (Warning: Your family photos are not welcome here.)

Janet Gridley

Pet peeves:

Wrong scale—too many little things that aren’t corralled together; fake seasonal greenery; big outlets in the mantel that require covering up

A good start:

Go with something dimensional above a fireplace.


Janet says her house is pretty pale, but she uses color in the accessories or “by accident.” 

Rosenthal vase: Nest; box: West Elm; sculptural artwork by Samantha McCurdy:; plinth: Nest; incense holder: TenOverSix; bowls: designer’s own; acrylic block: designer’s own; pyramid: West Elm; small artwork: Janet’s son; X object: West Elm. Paint: Sherwin-Williams SW 6582 Impatiens Petal

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Martensen Jones Interiors

Lisa Martensen & Jan Jones

Pet peeves:

Cheap frames on good art (if you’re in a pinch, they advise getting a plain white frame at Pottery Barn); televisions; “decorator” art

A good start:

Books; a small light feature like a picture light or a lamp. The designers suggest  hanging an interesting mirror if you can’t afford good art.


When it comes to arranging, Lisa says she’s very drawn to arrangements comprised of components of threes and fives. 

Thomas Pheasant vase: Baker; “Wild Flower in the Wind” collage: Valley House; Thom Jackson photograph: Craighead Green, frame by Debra Stevens; picture light: Circa Lighting; artist model head: Nick Brock Antiques; books: designers’ own; Kelly Wearstler object: Forty Five Ten; star: Arteriors; vase: Global Views; flowers: Jan’s mom’s garden; L’Object Byzantium bowl: Neiman Marcus; lamp: Circa Lighting. Paint: Benjamin Moore OC-45 Swiss Coffee

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SWOON, The Studio

Joslyn Taylor and Samantha Reitmayer

Pet peeves:

Family photos; televisions above the mantel

A good start:

A piece of art that you love; natural elements like wood and greenery 


Neither Joslyn nor Samantha have mantels at home, but they say the hearth is just as handy when it comes to showcasing treasures.

Flowers: Central Market; vintage ceramic vase: Vieux; wood block: Wood World; Kelly Wearstler marble canister: Forty Five Ten; glass vase: designer’s own; glass and travertine risers: Wisteria; Linnea Glatt artwork: Barry Whistler Gallery; Alma Allen bronze bowl: Heath Ceramics; crystals: Rock Barrell; photograph: 20×200; frame: Vieux; Fort Standard candle holder: TenOverSix; mirror: Anthropologie; wood slice: Wood World. Paint: Benjamin Moore OC-45 Swiss Coffee 

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Carrie Hatfield

Pet peeves:

Anything fake; when the space is used as a shelf for random accessories

A good start:

Select a wall sculpture, great piece of art, or beautiful mirror. The composition should complement the mantel itself.  

On her mantels:

“I have a mirror above one and art above the other.”

Sconces: Duo Antiques at Debris; Harry Bertoia musical sculpture: 20cdesign; mirror: John Gregory; box: Nick Brock Antiques; vase: Cebolla; flowers: Corner Market; marble cubes: designer’s own. Paint: Farrow & Ball Off-Black

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Kate Murphy

Pet peeve:

Family photos

A good start:

An original piece of art—something not mass produced 

On her own mantel:

A giant wooden mermaid and an original piece of art by Leonard Baskin

Animal statues: Big Mango Trading Co.; obelisks and sconces: Arteriors; wood object: Uncommon Objects; hay bale hook: M’Antiques; beads: Bliss Studio; painting by Dagne Hanson:; skull: designer’s own; plant and pot: designer’s own; horse: estate sale; white crystal: Bliss Studio; geode: Big Mango Trading Co. Paint: Benjamin Moore OC-45 Swiss Coffee

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John Marrs

Pet peeve:

Family portraits

Where to start:

A great mirror or painting. He recommends looking at Craighead Green. “They introduce new artists, up-and-coming young artists, and have a good stable of artists that they deal with. Carolyn Brown is a wonderful artist. I love her sense of color.”

John’s (lack of) mantel:

“I gave up my fireplace for a high-rise view.”

Glove molds: designer’s own; photograph by Carolyn Brown: Craighead Green; flowers: Tom Thumb. Paint: Sherwin-Williams SW 6069 French Roast

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The Mantel:

Our model was a French 19th-century marble beauty, $9,700/Pittet Architecturals


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