Published on December 13, 2019

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Photography by Jonathan Adler

Jonathan Adler loves a good mantel—so much so that he basically made it the focus of his sold-out H&M Home collaboration by filling it with brass sculptures and his signature ceramic vases. With the help of a few sentimental items in the mix, the designer has turned over-the-hearth decor into a veritable art form. While Adler may not follow strict rules, the rest of us mere mortals could use a little help putting together a vignette—so we asked the designer for his best advice.

It’s not always a quick process. “Collecting items over time is the only way to ensure that you love every single piece,” says Adler. “My philosophy has always been: If you love it, it will work.” For example, in his New York apartment, vintage Italian glass figurines with faces line the mantel. But even Adler admits that he wasn’t obsessed with them; at least not right away. “My husband, Simon, introduced me to them, and at first I wasn’t sold,” he says. “I look back and don’t know what I was thinking! Now they serve as a little reminder that my husband is always right—but don’t tell him that.”

Whether you’re zhuzhing up yours for the holidays or starting from scratch in a new space, here are some Adler-approved ways to make the most of your mantelpiece:

Start With a Defined Palette

Adler’s philosophy on color is pretty straightforward: Start with a neutral base, add a secondary one, then go bananas with color. His pick of the moment? “Blue on blue on blue,” he says. “It’s a miracle color that’s finally getting its due as Pantone’s color of the year [for 2020]. Every decorator’s favorite workhorse is at last being recognized as a show pony, and I couldn’t be happier.” 

Map Out a Silhouette

“It doesn’t matter if you’re designing a living room, an office, or a mantel—scale is the only thing that matters,” he points out. This means incorporating items in varied heights and taking into account an object’s surroundings before delegating it to the center of the mantel. 

Play With Numbers

“When in doubt, group things in odd numbers,” he suggests. Adler’s go-to is staggering pieces in little collections of three or five for a visually pleasing treat. 

Hit the Flea Market

Displays always get an added dose of character and charm from vintage finds. And you don’t have to shell out a ton of cash on appraised goods—literally anything goes. “A $20 bust I found at a flea market in Florida years ago is still one of my most treasured possessions to this day,” he says. 

Ditch Cheesy Holiday Decor

Around Christmas, think beyond traditional winter wreaths and candles to create something a little more deconstructed. “One of my tricks is to take a ceramic bowl and fill it with silver baubles—it’s less expected than a floral arrangement,” explains Adler. Or instead of garland, fill a chic vase with sprigs of greenery. 

Get a head start on your own mantel masterpiece with these picks:

See more ways to tackle the mantel:
This French Girl–Approved Trend Is Actually Super-Affordable
Fireplace Tiles Are the Unsung Heroes of the Living Room
If You’ve Always Wanted a Chic Parisian Mantel, This DIY Is Your Chance

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