Modern Ideas for a Victorian Fireplace

A reader named Kristi wrote in with a question that I thought would be fun to answer on the blog.

“I have been an avid reader of your blog over the years especially since our youngest kids were born around the same time and my husband and I own a Victorian home built in the 1890s. Anyway, after three years of living in our home, I’m still struggling with how to decorate our original mantel. What I find most challenging is the two levels of shelves. I would appreciate any styling suggestions you might have.”

The fireplace is a huge design statement, but it’s also just plain huge at 60″ wide and 78″ tall. The ledges are relatively shallow (the top shelf is 9″ deep, the bottom is 10″), but the ceilings are nearly 9′ high so the fireplace is taking up a good portion of the wall. So how do you decorate a double tiered fireplace?

Here’s how people did things back in the day.

Double Tiered Victorian Fireplaces

A bit fussy, with many small, beautiful things. A mantel clock, if you’re feeling fancy. It’s not really my thing.

There are plenty of us, myself included, living in Victorian homes and appreciating the architectural details while simultaneously not wanting to live in a time capsule. These huge fireplaces are beautiful, but they can be tricky! In Kristi’s case, she has those double ledges to contend with, and the fact that they’re shallow is limiting.

The first thing to think about is an overall approach to arrangement. Do you like things to be perfectly symmetrical, entirely asymmetrical, or somewhere in between?

Decorating the Modern Victorian Fireplace | Making it Lovely

I like a few pairs of items to anchor the look with additional pieces layered in (the “near symmetrical” option above), so that’s the approach I’ll take.

Krisi sent a photo of her fireplace the way it’s usually decorated. There’s a speaker, candles, a framed wedding photo, and a long, low bowl. I say she relocates the speaker to a less prominent spot, but let’s work with the rest!

Ideas for Decorating a Modern Victorian Fireplace Mantel | Making it Lovely

I’m drawn to ceramic vases and jars, so of course some of the options I put together feature those heavily. Any grouping of similar objects can have the same effect though, provided they’re a good size for the space. Framed prints or paintings layered and leaning work well too. What do you have already? What do you love to collect and display? Start there, then layer in any missing pieces to fill the gaps.


Here are the items I used throughout the post! I’ve used affiliate links when possible and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.
Sources: Decorating a Fireplace

  1. Charcoal Ginger Jar Urn, Williams-Sonoma
  2. Celadon Crackle Wine Vessel, Pagoda Red
  3. Bronze Oblong Footed Bowl, Frontgate
  4. White Oval Serving Bowl, World Market
  5. Palm Leaf Print, Schoolhouse Electric
  6. AERIN Brass Floral Sculpture, Violet, Williams-Sonoma
  7. Blue Swirl Planter, Furbish
  8. Olea Wreath, McGee and Co.
  9. Olive Branch Statue, McGee and Co.
  10. Barry Dixon for Arteriors Jensen Magnifying Object, Wayfair
  11. Black and White Striped Hexagonal Box, West Elm
  12. Cast Links Bookends, Restoration Hardware
  13. Black and White Earthenware Camel Figuring, Nate Berkus, Target
  14. Bone and Wood Striped Frame, Wisteria
  15. ‘Bikes in Paris’ by Sivan Askayo, Artfully WallsAERIN Gold Scalloped Gallery Frame, Williams-Sonoma
  16. Large White Foo Dogs, Enchanted Home
  17. Omaggio Black and White Striped Mini Vases, Unison
  18. Minna Short Vase, Crate & Barrel
  19. Indigo Reactive Glaze Vase, Williams-Sonoma
  20. Barlow Clear Glass Pillar Candle Holders, Crate & Barrel
  21. Arlington Wall Mount Hurricane Candle Sconce, Pottery Barn
  22. Bust of Apollo, Frontgate
  23. ‘Storm Over Little House’ by Harry Stooshinoff, Artfully Walls
  24. 12.5″ Totem Vase, West Elm
  25. 16.5″ Totem Vase, West Elm
  26. Bunny Williams Rouleau Vase, Ballard Designs
  27. Bunny Williams Flaring Vase, Ballard Designs
  28. Ming Pagoda, Ballard Designs
Sources & Paint ColorsNeed design help? Let's work together.

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  • Susie
    April 6, 2017 at 8:59 am

    This is amazing. Thank you! I have a really traditional fireplace and I get stuck trying to figure out how to decorate it.

    • Making it Lovely
      April 6, 2017 at 10:24 am

      Glad it’s helpful! Any of these ideas would translate well to a fireplace with the much more common single mantel, just isolate either the top or bottom ledge.

  • Mary Rose
    April 6, 2017 at 10:05 am

    Lucky Kristi! That fireplace is so cool.

    • Making it Lovely
      April 6, 2017 at 10:23 am

      Right? I wish mine had more of that detailing.

  • thirtyyearhouse
    April 6, 2017 at 10:16 am

    This is such a fun post!! I love problem solving unusual home features. My first thought about decorating the mantle was that I would love to see an option that involves an off centre drape effect, like you would find with a flower garland, but HOW TO DO THAT using permanent items?? I feel like the mantle makes such a strong symmetrical statement that’s impossible to not want to challenge the symmetry with some off-centre styling. hahahahahahhh so fun so fun so fun

    • Making it Lovely
      April 6, 2017 at 10:22 am

      Ooh, that would be good! You can do it with tassels, maybe? There are a bunch of tassel garlands out there (some more playful, some more subdued) that would be fun to use.

      • thirtyyearhouse
        April 6, 2017 at 10:54 am

        YES to tassel garlands, I love that. Maybe also plants that drape, like string of pearls, or donkey tails, or rosary vine? So you could find an pot with some style, and have the plants grow and drape down one side of the mantle. That could soften up all the hard horizontal lines of the mantle.

  • jenw
    April 6, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    I don’t have a Victorian mantle…but still REALLY liked this post. If you had only given one or two looks it wouldn’t have been that great for me. But you showed how one can make small changes or swap out a couple things and have a whole new look.

  • Mary
    April 6, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    I have a double ledge mantel also. It’s not Victorian but it’s presented the same dilemmas.
    I keep the top ledge empty but the bottom ledge displays an abstract art piece, a horizontal planter with ivy & a vase for my Billy Buttons.

  • KatS
    April 6, 2017 at 2:14 pm

    Hi Neighbor! I love this! Thanks for the inspiration, I’ve been stuck with dealing with my fireplace forEver. I actually was considering changing out the tile but just trying to tackle 2 large staircases for 5 years is making my head spin. I so far have added the Napoleon Mirror from Home Decorators to my fireplace with candle sticks (so far)
    After diving into finally painting the room a french blue, it doesnt look half bad.
    I appreciate your style!

  • Claire Priestas
    April 14, 2017 at 7:50 am

    We have TWO Victorian double mantles, so this post is on point for my home! I do often have to curb myself so that I don’t go into a time capsule with Victorian styling. That said, I really appreciate your including the historic photos, just to get a sense of what the Victorians thought worked for the space. I love the tassel garland idea from the comments.

  • Jennifer
    November 27, 2020 at 6:39 am

    This post is great – however, I live in a similar victorian where our double parlor is mostly painted woodwork except the fireplace. The adjacent dining room is natural.

    Would you suggest I paint the mantle?