This week, a very nice gentleman came in to the gallery on a mission. He said he needed a painting to go over his mantel but that he and his wife couldn’t agree on what it should be (stay tuned for another blog on that topic!). He had measured the space carefully and asked to see everything we had in a 30 x 40 horizontal. He had clearly been looking for a long time and was tired of having a big, blank space over his mantel.
We asked him a couple of questions about what he liked and didn’t like, and then suggested he take a quick spin around the gallery to see if anything reached out and grabbed him. He did see quite a few things he liked, but they didn’t fit the size requirement, and so he was a little frustrated. We’ve been down this path so many times with so many different clients that we decided to address the issue head on.
Does the space over the mantel really have to dictate the size of the painting?
We don’t think so. In fact sometimes it’s much more interesting if it doesn’t. We don’t believe any space should dictate the size of the painting. Only your heart.
There are lots of creative ways to handle the mantel, even if you don’t have to have the “perfect” painting – or even if you do. We’ve pulled together some fun examples from designers around the country, many of whom were recently featured in House Beautiful. You’ll see examples of making the painting look bigger, by adding sconces or three dimensional elements, or making it look smaller, by dwarfing it with other objects. Sometimes you’ll see groupings of several paintings instead of just one, or paintings layered behind each other, to give a sculptural effect. And you’ll see lots of examples with other solutions for the mantel, such as sculpture, mirrors, driftwood, and other objects. And sometimes you’ll see that a blank wall is actually the most powerful. The key is to take the pressure of the mantel in terms of “trophy” art work, and always buy the art that speaks to your heart.
If you have a small painting, add other elements to fill in the space. If you do this, keep form and scale in mind, as Mona Hajj has done here. The pitcher on the right here balances nicely with the vase on the left and they’re both big enough to sustain the length of the mantel. And their forms are attractive.
In this living room from Cristine Gillespie, the scale of the painting may seem large and a little too vertical for the mantel, but it is nicely balanced with sculptural elements, such as the Eiffel towers, that bring it down. We love the drama created by this painting, and the fact that it clearly was not bought for the space.
Isn’t this fun? This image, of a design by photographer Victoria Pearson in the pages of House Beautiful, shows that you can totally break with conventional wisdom and create something dramatic and impactful next to the mantel. Painting by Katie Van Horne.
Who needs to be a slave to the mantel? Here the designer, Eldon Wong, obviously had some fun with his three dimensional “Bulls-Eye” art work over the mantel that creates a great focal point and complements that beautiful 19th century marine painting in the formal gold frame.
In the same vein, we love this room by Cheryl Womack for the 2008 Atlanta Symphony Show House. Notice how she used the round mirror over the mantel to break up the lines, and then put the gorgeous painting (by our artist, Pascal Bouterin) on the side behind the chair, where it could be viewed just as well, but in a less predictable and more interesting way than over the mantel. Who says that the prize needs to go over the mantel?
And then sometimes it will happen that your prized possession, like this gorgeous luminous landscape, will fit perfectly over the mantel, as it does in this lovely Tuscan inspired home decorated by Fern Santini. Was the mantel designed for the painting? We wonder. That’s the kind of cart we love putting before the horse.
Here we love to see Tom Scheerer, in House Beautiful, breaking all the rules. Didn’t we all think, for a second, “But why didn’t you put the larger boat paintings over the mantel?” And yet look how much more interesting his vignettes are, and how this collection on the mantel enhances every element.
In this tiny space designed by Chantal Dussouchaud, there wasn’t enough room for a mantel. We think she chose a graphic element instead of a painting to keep the space from protruding too much in to the room. It works.
We love this dramatic room from the Atlanta Symphony Show House and featured in Traditional Home magazine, with its bold use of sculpture over the mantel. Sometimes less is definitely more.
Look at this nice break from tradition in a room by Annie Selke. We love the grouping on the left as well as the fun grouping over the mantel. And did you see what the coffee table is made out of? Surfer cool!
We often tell people who are stymied by the mantel predicament to find a beautiful old mirror, or a frame that can be mirrored, and prop it just as it is in this lovely interior by Christina Rottman.
We love the juxtaposition here of the Victorian style mantel, the Louis chairs and settee, and the marvelous abstract painting over the mantel in this interior designed by Dana Lyon in the May 2009 issue of HB.
Here’s another way to make a smaller painting fit the space, by layering it against another painting or a mirror, and giving the whole effect a sculptural quality. With everything else so symmetrical in this lovely interior by Mary McDonald, it’s nice to see the artwork on the mantel shake it up a little.
Finally, we end on a formal note with a gorgeous 18th or 19th century painting beautifully framed and wonderfully centered over a French limestone mantel in this home by Ginger Barber. Sometimes, the prized possession over the perfect mantel just plain works.
And as for our nice gentleman who came in looking for the painting over the mantel? Well, he loved a lot of paintings but thought his wife might need a little convincing that the mantel shouldn’t dictate the size of the painting. So we told him we’d help him out by writing a blog about it. Now, let’s hope that his wife will read it!