Fireplace decorations are a common sight for the mantels and hearths within our homes. Whether are conscious of it or not, our fireplace becomes the focal point of the room. We orient the furniture toward it, we use stonework or tile that draw attention, and we proudly display mementos or favorite decor on the mantle or hearth. Sadly, each year thousands of home fires originate in the fireplace. When it comes to decorating on or near the fireplace, a firefighter would probably suggest that the best fireplace decorations are no decorations! So when decorating your fireplace, keep safety (as well as good design) in mind.

Foley and Cox fireplace

How to decorate the fireplace

If your fireplace has a lot of moulding or architectural elements, you may not need a lot of decoration. But no matter what style of fireplace you have, there are many ways to bring attention to the architecture. A mantle is one of the most common design techniques and a natural place to rest framed artwork and decorative objects. Some homeowners prefer a symmetrical design, others prefer an asymmetrical design. Some fireplaces have a dedicated spot for hanging a mirror, artwork or television  (this area is sometimes called the overmantel). If your fireplace is tall, you can take advantage of this by hanging a large decorative piece over the fireplace. The hearth is another typical area of decoration. Usually the hearth is a good place for stacked firewood and fireplace tools. It can also be a good spot for large objects (like a vase) or tall decorative pieces. Because the hearth is a “busy” place, reserved for making or stoking fires, it’s not always the best place for anything but tools.

Coburn Fireplace

General fireplace decorating guidelines

There are basic safety guidelines for how far away objects should be from the fireplace. Both gas and wood burning fireplaces give off a tremendous amount of heat – which can be damaging to sensitive objects like plastic or televisions. But sparks and floating embers from wood fireplaces pose another danger: fire.  It would seem to be common sense to not display flamable objects too close to a burning fire, but every year fires occur from this very mistake.

As a general rule:

  • the mantel should be located at least 12 inches from the top of the fireplace opening (called the fire box)
  • the hearth should extend 16 – 20 inches out from the fire box
  • the hearth should overlap the sides of the fireplace opening by at least 8 inches
  • the hearth and fireplace surround should be non-combustable
  • the mantle can be made of a combustable material
  • never have decorations hang below the mantle while the fireplace is in use
  • any wobbly or unstable fireplace decorations should be affixed
  • candles should be dripless or be placed in a receptacle to catch wax
  • always use a fireplace screen when burning wood

DeForest fireplace

When you need fireplace help

Some interior designers specialize in holiday decor and can do an excellent job not only decorating the fireplace but making it safe. If you feel that your fireplace hasn’t been cleaned in awhile, make sure you hire a chimney sweep to perform a routine inspection and cleaning. This is especially important as creosote can build up inside the chimney and catch fire. A masonry expert or licensed contractor can help repair the hearth or fireplace surround.

Top image credit: Colleen Knowles Interior Design