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Style: Put a bit of spring on your fireplace mantels

Mary Carol Garrity
Tribune News Service

What happens when you take two talented visual designers, present them with wide-open fireplace mantels just begging to be decorated and arm them with gorgeous spring greens and other fun decorating tools? A tornado of creativity that results in four fabulous spring mantel treatments. Bruce, our director of visual displays at Nell Hill’s Briarcliff, and Bev, our seasonal designer, crafted four ideas to inspire you as you decorate your own mantel for spring.

Secret garden: This fanciful mantel display tells a story of the kiss of the sun on your cheek, the sounds of birds chirping, the smell of aromatic spring blossoms. Layer upon layer, Bruce and Bev take us on a journey to a secret garden.

They started the tableau with a white-washed, distressed mirror that resembles a window, a great metaphor for going out to the garden. The show-stealing layer came next: an old rusty iron gate, delightful with its chipped paint and aged patina.

A common thread in this mantel, and all the displays to come, is the fabulous greens. They give the displays fresh energy, softness, whimsy and wonder. Take them out, and the mantels fall flat.

Bev and Bruce thought the garden gate was just calling out for adornment, so they dressed it up with a delightful boxwood wreath, which Bev finished out with a spray of branches.

As soon as they finished styling this display, a customer bought it for her outdoor fireplace. So many have outdoor fireplaces now, and a rustic display like this one is ideal because a little dust will only add to its charm.

Phalanx of flowers: Tulips are one of the happiest flowers of spring. And this stunning-but-simple mantel display shows them off in all their glory. Bruce and Bev transported us to Amsterdam in the spring, simply by dotting the mantel with a line of unique glass vessels holding a mix of colorful tulips.

This look is crazy-easy to construct. Even if you don’t consider yourself a decorating pro, you can style it with success on your own mantel. All you need is a collection of vases, faux or fresh flowers and a few spring branch picks.

Small glass vases are one of my must-have decorating tools and I use them year-round in my seasonal displays. Stick in any flower and cluster them on your mantel, at the center of your table, on your kitchen windowsill, on your kitchen island … they are perfect anywhere and everywhere.

Artful aviary: Sometimes the best mantel designs happen by accident. Bruce and Bev intended to remove the mirror that was hanging over this mantel so they could hang a wreath, but the mirror was firmly wired into place. So they got creative and hung the wreath over the mirror, then were thrilled by how the lines of the mirror framed the wreath.

I’m gaga over birds, especially in spring, when they return to the Midwest and fill the air with music. To celebrate birds in this playful mantel treatment, Bruce and Bev picked aviaries as their focal points. The display’s matching sides are anchored in the center with a stone planter, then finished off by a pair of boxwood topiaries.

The little birds inside the cages make the look, I think. They add that bit of humor that makes a display personal. The spray of spring branches that Bev rested across the mantel and twisted into the cages is the glue that pulls all the elements together.

A touch of green: Anyone out there have a super thin mantel to work with? They can be tough to decorate, can’t they? Here’s some inspiration just for you mini mantel friends. A mantel at Nell Hill’s Briarcliff is only 6 inches wide, so Bruce and Bev had to find accents with big, bold personality, but tiny bases.

Dewy green grasses are my favorites right now for spring decorating. They look like they were ripped out of a meadow — you can almost smell the pungent aroma. Nested into this long and thin cast iron planter, they are a great focal point for this moody mantel.

We like to include a mix of surfaces and textures when we design mantels. The vases, with their clean lines and bold color, are a nice contrast to these organic topiaries, made from real, preserved boxwoods.

This column was adapted from Mary Carol Garrity’s blog at She can be reached at