For many people the fireplace, as well as the Christmas tree, plays a crucial role in Christmas celebrations. After all, both go back to the earlier pagan Yuletide festival when a large log or, in some cases, a whole tree was burnt in an open hearth over a number of days. Today, whether we have a real fire or not, the mantel is often a focal point for festive decoration and adornment. Here we feature five such mantels, each beautifully decorated for Christmas in unique, innovative ways.
Cool & Contemporary
As a floral artist and international floral art judge, Debbie Burville knows it’s important not to overdecorate because less is always more. Every year she changes her mantel but always has some greenery, usually Christmas tree branches or boxwood from a bush in her garden.
She also knows she cannot use red since it doesn’t go with the colour palette of her house. And so her tree, living room and dining room are all decorated in silver, gold and white, with touches of turquoise and green in other parts of the house. “I have a small mantel but very high ceilings so I try to get height and that is why I include sticks that I spray paint white then spray with glue and sprinkle with glitter (I save them from year to year).” On the mantel she places glass candleholders of different heights, fitted with silver candles, to give visual interest. She has decorated the candles with wire and pearls, and with silver beads glued on to the lower half of the candle.
“Years ago,” she explains “I made little rings that fit over the candles from decorative Christmas items I found in a craft store, but anyone can make them with wire or glue-on beads, cones, leaves and some glitz. And you can paint them gold or silver.” But, she warns, “Just don’t glue anything near to the burning part of the candle.” A simple silver wreath takes centre stage above the mantel and matches the sticks and candles. The effect is eye-catching, simple and elegant.
Blending Old with New
Keil Gunther is not into clutter and decoration. However, after seeing one in a London silver shop, over the years she has collected Victorian spoon warmers, silver shells, from the late nineteenth century. What, you might ask, are spoon warmers? What are they for? Well, in Victorian times it was thought food served with cold spoons could become too cool. So decorative containers, often shell shapes crafted in silver, were filled with hot water to keep spoons and ladles warm. Today, spoon warmers are not functional anymore, but in her Christmas decorations they are a major component.
“It was [floral designer] Suzan Sickling’s idea to put flowers and berries in there for a Christmas mantel as I’ve done before for dinner parties,” she explains. “I think it’s a fun way to use and feature the shells – things we already have in the house, giving a “recycle what you have” message. Plus it’s a good way to add flowers to our holiday decor without much chance of the kids knocking them over.” She describes her house as “pretty modern with clean lines. So I have tried to make a mantel that matches the house and the way we live with kids running around and people in and out.”
The effect is simple but dramatic – the red of the berries goes beautifully with the silver shells framed by a tall glass pillar at each end of the fireplace. And a large, white shell between two more warmers inside the fireplace completes the theme.
A Take on Tradition
Beth Miller’s gorgeous cedar mantel and surround make her fireplace even more Bermudian. She accentuates the warmth of the wood by using Christmas tree branches as the basis of her theme. Artificial red hypericum berries, gold pinecones and lime green glass balls in matte and shiny finishes add Christmas colour to the branches, while votive candles and small wired lights give more illumination. “Every year,” she says, “I use a variation on this theme based on the colours of the decor in my living room. I mostly use things that I already have in my Christmas decorating box, unless I see something in the shops that strikes me as being the perfect thing to add.”
This year she has aimed for a more dramatic touch by adding six mercury glass pillar candleholders of different heights graced with white candles and placed in groups of three at each end of the mantel. She also has added artificial gilded and frosted grapes that fit beautifully with the gold pinecones. The overall arrangement is traditional but also stylish and pleasing to the eye.
A Modern Twist
Sue Conyers is a very active member of the Garden Club of Bermuda and is known for her beautiful and unusual flower arrangements. But lately she has started experimenting with different decorative balls or spheres. “We are always looking at new ideas and techniques so from making the spheres we just progressed into making the trees as well.”
As she says, she has an old cottage, complete with a traditional Bermudian fireplace topped with a white mantel, and she likes to mix the traditional with the modern. Consequently, her cone-shaped trees, some topped with crafted stars and spheres, give a contemporary twist to the Christmas tree theme. To create these tactile shapes, she uses natural materials such as rope, dried moss and angel hair, as well as decorative flower arranging wires of different gauges and colours and decorative pins. The silver, green and coppery tones of the decorations effectively pick up the earth-toned brick work of the fireplace. And the different heights of the cones add visual interest.
Committed to conserving Bermudian craft and culture, Ronnie Chameau has long been famous for her traditional Bermuda dolls and Christmas angels, crafted out of palmetto and banana leaves. “Our home in Bermuda dates back to the seventeenth century so my crafts fit well in our house,” she explains. And that is especially true at Christmas when her own creations appear in her mantel decorations. “Every year I change the decor but I still use all natural material.” That means, of course, dried palmetto leaves, sometimes plaited, dried banana and magnolia leaves and berries or tiny cones from our casuarina trees.
But married to Frenchman Michel Chameau, she also includes in her mantel decorations pinecones they found together many years ago in the forest of Fontainebleau in France. “I have never seen cones as large as the ones we found in Fontainebleau,” she says. This year the mantelpiece arrangement echoes the rich colours of the fireplace surround and the picture of dancing figures above. One of her angels, sprayed gold, dominates each end of the mantel (“Angels are always welcome,” she laughs) while the coppery folds and turns of magnolia leaves make an interesting backdrop to the piled gold cones and berries. The whole effect is charming, taking you back to a time when electric lights, tinsel and other synthetic materials were unheard of – to a Bermuda in time past.