All About ReDecorating
MANTEL piece de resistance


MANTEL piece de resistance

Written by Anita Rafael

With or without flickering flames and a cozy flow from the hearth, mantelpieces are the focal point of every room with a fireplace.

“Use the things you love the most,” says interior designer Jan Creamer Girouard, of All About ReDecorating in Newport. It’s the golden rule of decorating anything, in any room, but sometimes arranging your treasures on that narrow little shelf above the fireplace can pose problems when you’re confronted with too much stuff and too little space.

Victorian-era fireplaces are meant to primarily be a decorative focal point in a room. Why? Because, once furnaces and stoves had been invented, hearths were no longer the site of heating and cooking.

A mantel such as the one from this Kay-Catherine neighborhood bedroom dating to the 1880’s, all but begs for an elaborate mantel cloth. Cloths like these, whether authentically old for reproduced anew, add layers of richness and another element of color and texture.

Girouard, whose design practice specializes in one-day redecorating of homes and businesses utilizing a client’s own furnishings and accessories, has sound advice: “Start with pairs of things, such as a pair of candlesticks, or a pair of plates. This gives the mantelpiece balance, and you can fill in from there, balancing combinations of things with similar height.”

“The mistake people make is letting the mantel display become a mishmash of things that have no meaning. ”
—Jan Girouard
interior designer

“The mistake people make is letting the mantel display become a mishmash of things that have no meaning,” warns Girouard. In a contemporary residence architects and designers are eager to let the hearth area take on a ceremonial proportions. In the living room of a house on Ocean Drive, the focus is squarely on the beauty of the natural materials and a treasured find or two.

“A minimal mantel arrangement works,” says Girouard, “because using a single object heightens the significance of it, drawing your attention right to it.” In her opinion, adding more would only take away the impact of the spectacular stones, which were used for the mantelshelf and around the hearth area.

Eighteenth-century houses often have a shallow niche or cabinet above the mantel that was called the “dry spot,” a practical place for gunpowder, flints, the tinderbox, important papers or an account book. The tiny cupboard and narrow ledge above this bedroom fireplace in a 1725 house on the Point are arranged with thoughtful assortment of things old and new. To the owner, the silver, porcelains, ivories and needlepoint are like a scrapbook of meaningful memories.

“You see a similarity, without sameness,” Girouard explains. “Things in a collection don’t have to be identical, as long as they relate in some way. It’s a way to make clutter charming.” Like mirrors, the polished silver plates reflect light, and, in the absence of any other type of lighting, brighten the dark navy-blue recess in the dark paneled wall.

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