Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pumpkin Week: Decorating Your Mantel


The pumpkin mantel.  It is so stunning and seems so simple.  How can you possibly mess this one up?  Just get a bunch of small pumpkins and line them up along your mantel - right?  WRONG.  Like most things that are very beautiful in their simplicity, there's more going on here than immediately meets the eye.

Let's take a closer look at this brilliant pumpkin mantel found on In The Fields and learn why it works so well by using design elements and principles to explain it:

1) Contrast:

In this space, we have a white fireplace, white furniture, and white walls, with warm, natural accents (wood floor, wheat wreath, wicker basket, etc).  The only real colour to be found in this space is the brilliant orange of the fire and the pumpkins on the mantel.  This draws a huge amount of attention and focus to these colourful accents.  They literally pop out at you like dobs of orange paint on a blank canvas.  It's a lovely and effective use of contrast (ie: colour vs no colour) in a space.

2) Placement & Proportion:

Note where the pumpkins are placed along the mantel.  They do not extend the entire length of the mantel - they stay within the boundaries of the sconces and line up with the brick of the fireplace.  Keeping your decor centralized on your mantel will keep it focused and increase it's impact.

Note how the pumpkins are placed along the mantel. This is not just a row of small pumpkins - we have a variety of sizes. Starting from left to right, we go from the smallest to the largest, gradually descend to small pumpkins again, then gradually ascend back up to a big one and finish off again with a small pumpkin.  It's a lovely rhythmic, peak and valley arrangement with enough variety to keep things interesting, but also enough repetition and unity to keep things together.

It's also important to note that the size and form of the pumpkins used on this mantel is fabulous.  They are not too big so as to over-power and crowd the mantel, but not too small either which would diminish the effect. These are not the typical mini-pumpkins commonly sold in grocery stores this time of year, they look more like small sugar pumpkins.  This is important, because small sugar pumpkins and typical mini-pumpkins have totally different shapes.  You can not replicate this look using mini-pumpkins.

3) Shape & Line:

Again we find an excellent use of contrast in the form of shapes and lines.  We have a lot of squares and rectangles most of which are permanent fixtures in the room, which contrast delightfully with the imported circular accents:

(I've just highlighted 2, but keep looking and you'll see several more) 
(Again, I've only high-lighted the most obvious circles, but keep looking and you'll see more at every level)

The same factor is at play with the many permanent straight lines of the space contrasting with some imported curved lines:

Note also that each pumpkin in this arrangement has a really great stem.  The stems form vertical lines which help to lead the eyes upward towards the wreath.  Never under-estimate how much a stem adds to a pumpkin.  When I shop for pumpkins, a great stem is now part of my buying criteria.

4) Symmetry:

Another design principle well employed here is symmetry.  If I were to cut a line directly down the center of this mantel, I would find that the left side is a mirror-image of the right side.  Symmetry is naturally appealing to human beings.  It's what we're familiar with.  Our faces, our bodies have been designed symmetrically and it's how we design most of our world.  Using symmetry is a sure-fire way to make things look good.  The only exception to the perfect symmetry found in this space is located around the hearth.  On the left we have the instruments for the fire, on the right we have the basket.  The left is not a mirror-image of the right in this case, but it's still balanced - a good example of A-symmetry.  Adding just a little bit of A-symmetry to this otherwise perfectly symmetrical arrangement throws in just a little more variety, but keeps everything together in a harmonious balance.

Generally speaking, whenever you are designing or decorating anything, achieving harmony is your ultimate goal.  Harmony is the balance that is struck between variety and unity.  Too much variety (ie: too many elements that are different) and your composition will seem chaotic.  Too much unity (ie: too many elements that are the same) and your composition will feel boring and monotonous.  Getting just the right balance between the 2 will fill you with glee and satisfaction!

This example is not just a bunch of small pumpkins placed along a mantel (so don't be disappointed if that's what you try to do and it's just not the same!).  This is a masterfully composed, harmonious arrangement.

To learn more about how and why things look good - visit my post on the Elements and Principles of Design.

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