Beth Vrabel lives in West Manchester Township with her daughter, Emma, 6, and son, Benny, 3.

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How to handle your mantel


No matter what time of year, the mantel shouldn’t be ignored. It says a lot about a homeowner’s style and taste. (Decor pictured available at Target.)

By BETH VRABEL for Smart

During the holidays, the fireplace mantel shines with glittering decorations and stockings that are waiting to be filled. The rest of the year, it probably houses dusty, framed photos and a couple of candlesticks.

But no matter what time of year, the mantel shouldn’t be ignored. It says a lot about a homeowner’s style and taste. “You should always make a mantel the focal point of the room. Always,” said Judy Brillhart, owner of the Strawberry Shop in North Codorus Township.

But that doesn’t mean decorating your mantel should be time intensive or expensive. Sandy Long, owner of The Sandy Woods in Hanover, said the trick is to figure out what you want, what you like, and go from there. “If you’re not comfortable with it, don’t do it,” Long said. “It’s not life or death here.”

For a magnificent mantel all year…

Evaluate the space. Draw an imaginary square around your fireplace, encompassing the mantel. Add a rectangle below it. Think of this as your mantel space, Long said. “You don’t have to confine your mantel decorations to the mantel itself.”

Think same colors, different textures.
Brillhart said she keeps two things in mind when decorating her mantel: monochromatic and monobotantical. “You want to keep it clean and simple,” she said. Keep the colors to three or fewer. “You can put a lot of things on a mantel, but they have to be related. If you put too many colors, the eye has too much to look at.” In the spring, Brillhart’s mantel has either pink or white cherry blossoms. If she goes with pink, the rest of her décor has varying shades of pink.

Keep it symmetrical. Sort of.
If you add a tall candlestick to the right of your mantel, you need to do the same to the left, right? Wrong! “This is not like when you wore a handbag and matching shoes,” Long said. “We’re not there anymore.” Instead, even out the space by adding statuary to the left of the hearth, she said.

Make it easy to freshen up.
A favorite trick is to use a suction cup that holds 25 pounds. Brillhart adheres it to a mirror propped on the mantel and hangs an illuminated wreath on it in the winter. In the spring, she drapes fresh or artificial cherry blossoms catty-corner on the mirror.


Corded lights don’t have to be restricted to the holidays. The Strawberry Shop offers different colored cords, including white, green and brown. So you could decorate a spring mantel piece with artificial grape vine, with brown corded lights running through it. In the winter, decorate with white icy garland and white corded lights, Brillhart said.

Take it easy on yourself. Long takes issue with TV programs that show designers sweeping in and leaving a stylish home in their wake an hour later. Décor isn’t so simple. Brillhart agrees. “If you’re not comfortable with experimenting and trying new things, I’d probably stick to very simple things,” she said. And, if you still don’t know what to do, ask for help.

Judy Brillhart

Occupation: owner of the Strawberry Shop, 1189 Strawberry Lane in North Codorus Township. Brillhart also offers interior design and decorates the governor’s mansion for the holidays each year. Design style: She says it’s eclectic transitional, which is “traditional but not frou-frou frumpy traditional.” www.thestrawberryshop or 792-0920

Sandy Long

Occupation: owner of The Sandy Woods, 40 Broadway in Hanover Design style: “I don’t like matchy, matchy. I like things that go well together (with a) strong sense of practicality. And I like it to be pretty, however you define pretty.” or 637-2577


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