How to decorate the fireplace in a mid century ranch house?

fireplace mantle DesignDilemmaIn today’s Retro Design Dilemma, Peter asks for our ideas and advice on how to decorate the beautiful fireplace in his 1957 ranch house. He loves the variegated stone work. How should he show it off best? No mood boards or google hangouts from Kate and me today — but tomorrow, we’ll activate the uploader, so you can share your fireplace decor. We might even make some mood boards — based on your ideas. Meanwhile — what are your ideas for Peter? Read on for his question — and more photos. Oh, and P. to the S..: Another pink bathroom saved, cha-ching!

fireplace-mantle-2

Peter writes:

Hi,

We have a 1957  ranch with a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace with a wood mantel running the length of it above the hearth. We’ve considered things like a Jeré starburst or a mirror to go above the mantel, but we love the rust, salmon and brick red stone that makes up the fireplace so much we can’t bear to cover it up. I would love to see what some of your other readers have done with their mantels (it is after all the focal point of the living room). Wall art, vases, lamps, pictures? There must be things we can put up there other than our phone chargers…?

Thanks,

Peter

Beautiful room, Peter. Those windows are just like the ones in my house — Anderson Windowalls. I need to do a story on them sometime.

In follow up emails, Peter sent me some more photos of his house, which had just one owner before he and his wife moved in. He wrote:

ranch housebirch kitchenpink bathroom

… Here is a shot of the kitchen and pink bathroom with its banjoesque built in, which you can take full credit for saving.  My wife wanted white subway tile until she saw your website.

Golly, I’m sure glad that this pink bathroom was saved — it’s a really beauty. That pink and black liner tile is delicious!

fireplace mantle

Okay, readers, what should Peter do with the mantle?
Will a big starburst or Jeré outshine the stone?
If so, what’s the answer?

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Comments

  1. tony says

    Right now your sofa and coffee table are making the windows the focal point and hiding the fireplace. Move the sofa and table to float in the room and face the fireplace. If you can remove the mantle do so and leave the stone wall blank making it the focal point of the room. If you can put 3 reostat controlled pin lights in the ceiling as close to the fireplace as possible to give light and shadow on the textured stone fireplace wall. Move the leather chair and ottoman where the Danish modern chair is to give some weight infront of the windows. Move the Danish chair infront of the book case. Get ride of all the little plants and table in the window corner and get a tall statement plant (fig tree)for the corner infront of the windows to blend the indoors with the outside or hand 3 good size hanging plants (spider plants) one below the other from the corner ceiling to again give transition from the inside to the outside.

    • says

      I totally agree about lighting the fireplace stone, but was going to suggest a Solatube in the ceiling. They bring in lots of great light, and the round circle is a modern “atomic” shape. The same size starburst mirror or clock could be used to echo the lens of the Solabtube.

      I’ve thought about putting “atomic” rays coming out from one on the cieling, but maybe that’s too much. You could certainly have a couple of them in a living room.

      If they had been invented in the 50′s, you know they would have been used. I added one to each of my mid-century bathrooms over the sink. You can’t beat the light.

  2. Mike says

    Don’t put up something that will compete with the beautiful stone of that fireplace. Just put a few framed pictures of family on the mantle.

    • Passerby says

      Agreed. The stone itself is beautiful!

      My grandmother kept a few prized photos on the mantle of her fireplace which was somewhat similar to yours. She also had a tall, rectangular mantle clock with a pendulum sitting there that helped to balance the look. Sometimes she had pottery pieces on it as well. Another thing she had that I loved was a gorgeous, mid-century modern copper fireplace set and screen that gave some balance on the bottom half.

  3. Gracie says

    My grandmother’s home in the country was completely made out of Alabama sandstone that looked like your fireplace… she had a frameless mirror over her fireplace, with really cool pieces of driftwood and cypress knees… I remember it looking fabulous… especially at Christmas when she added little elf figurines amongst it!

  4. Scott says

    As it appears you are more or less color-keying the room to the fireplace, how about bringing in more of that same color family except with a sparkly element, perhaps a very edited collection of Blenko Bottles in those same rich, earthy tones accented with some beautiful ambers and oranges.

    An informally balanced arrangement might be quite nice, with a few larger bottles on one side, and a bigger grouping of smaller bottles on the opposite end. You could even play off the fireplace idea by incorporating bottles with “flame” stoppers.

    • Scott says

      PS A friend of mine has a very edited bottle collection (various makers) all in the exact same shade of orange. It’s quite spectacular and something like that would also add a pop of color to your fireplace without straying too far away from your current color scheme.

  5. oh Holland says

    Lusting after that fireplace … I’d remove the shelf-mantel altogether to clear its view. No need for the mantel (which looks a bit puny and tacked on) with all those shelves to one side.

    Consider carefully a Jere style wall sculpture — it and the fireplace may both be diminished by such adornment. Please forget any thoughts of starburst mirrors or clocks in its vicinity — they are too commonplace.

  6. Rebecca Kalinowski says

    I would totally remove the mantel/shelf. It breaks up that gorgeous wall of stone and takes away from it. I would consider making the fireplace wall of stone itself the focal point by installing a couple of coved or cannister ceiling lights that shine subdued downlight on it. If you still feel like you need something up there I would keep it very simple, such as a monochromatic 50s metal artpiece.(Something organic like a tree branch.) But I would not ever put framed art or mirrors on that wall.Ever.Good luck! I love that wall of stone!

  7. Jacki Anderson says

    I would not cover up the stone. If you want to keep the mantle, I would put a tall, bold color vase (an amber color or a metallic gold if you to pick up on the colors of the stone, OR go for a really vibrant accent color like turquoise or orange like the blanket throw?) on one side of the mantle, and then something across the rest of the mantle like a really interesting branch or piece of driftwood. If you don’t like the branch idea, what about a low flat interesting-looking box to hold fireplace matches or something? Set it beside the vase and keep the rest of the mantel clean. I wouldn’t do the family pictures thing – it would detract from the stone and the photos. – I know some suggested taking the mantle down but then I think it would be too flat (no interest at the actual fireplace opening either) so I’d keep the mantle on.

  8. says

    No clock, no family framed pictures (put these in the bookcase or on an occasional table), and definitely no wreath!

    I wish Peter could remove EVERYTHING from the mantel and post a photo of the unadorned fireplace.

    Bookcase: try removing the “heavy” from the top shelves, and place just a few decorative pottery or glass pieces on the top with the heavier books only on bottom 2/3rd’s. On top shelf just one piece in the center would be quite enough. Peter you must be going crazy with all these suggestions!

    • Tom says

      Beautiful house! So great that it is so un-”remuddled”.

      I agree that the bookcase needs “lightening up”. It looks somewhat off balance compared to the relatively unadorned window on the other side of the fireplace. I strongly suggest not having anything on the very top; stuff up there breaks up the continuity with the open line running above the windows. Suggestions above for moving furniture around are worth a try as well. As for all the folks suggesting ditching the little mantle, that might be easier said than done. How is it attached? What would have to be patched if it were gone? My inclination would be to leave it if it has always been there.

  9. says

    I love the four black squares and would love to see something else black on the stone as an accent (some kind of light weight looking sculpture). I agree with others about the couch placement – turn it to face the fireplace.

    I also like the idea of either removing the smallish shelf. Love the stone. Celebrate the stone – and the black accents in the stone :)

  10. Janice says

    I think I’m going to take a picture of every room in my house and solicit suggestions. After following this string all day, I’m starting to second guess every decoratign decision I’ve made. We have some true interior designers amongst us!

  11. Sooz says

    I agree with Tony. I think changing the furniture around to make the fireplace the focal point, and losing the mantel, is great. I’d love to see a pic of the furniture arrangement as per Tony’s suggestion. I also agree with Dianne about the bookcase and removing the heavy items from the higher shelves. It’s distracting.

    Great suggestions guys!

  12. Jim says

    For some fun mid-century flavor… some mid-century flying ducks with the copper wings. I don’t know how you would attach them; absolutely DO NOT drill into the stone. DON’T remove the mantle; you need it for the holidays. The house is mid-century not minimalist.

    • Scott says

      Yes, YES! Love the Ducks with little brass collars and wings. Would be so appropriate to wide-open view and airy feel of the room too.

      And why are so many folks dissing the starburst clocks? Maybe not over the mantel as that wall would probably get warm enough to make the clock unhappy, plus the clock would get lost against the colored stone, but my Lux key wind Starburst is one of my favorite Living Room features. Oh, and yes, the flying ducks too. :-)

  13. says

    Wow, I love your house! I am quite taken with that stone wall, and your
    pink and black bathroom is AMAZING! The previous owner must have taken extremely good care of this house for the bathroom tile to be in such great shape. So glad you didn’t do (YAWN) white subway tile. You’ve saved yourselves a boatload of cash, and we’re all swooning over the rockin’ bathroom. I would agree with the folks who suggest removal of the mantel, because the stone is a very strong element. Thanks for posting the pictures, you are SO lucky.

  14. Peter G says

    Beautiful room!, First timer here. I myself would leave the mantel, I feel the biggest problem is the area rug matches the Stone too well, The stone fireplace gets a little lost. As for the original question of decorating tips agree agree with Jacki Anderson word for word, I think it would be best to use vibrant accent colors vase / object , interesting driftwood or perhaps some sort of mid century abstract art sculpture or something.

  15. says

    we have a 1957 home, white-grey brick fireplace. We hung a curtis jere brass birds piece on our fireplace. I don’t think it covers up the fireplace at all, just makes it look a bit more finished. (ps we don’t have a mantle)

  16. Mindy says

    Gorgeous kitchen cabinets!!! I am so jealous! They look like ours would have if someone didn’t paint over them-hinges and all!! Do you know what kind they are? We are trying to figure out what wood and color so we can refinish ours to original glory. Your home is beautiful!

  17. says

    I will upload and show ours tomorrow. We had that same problem kind of sort of. Went with pictures above it, didn’t have the stone on top. Also, different layout, square coffee table pulled away from the fireplace. I keep very few things on the mantle deliberately. It doesn’t look good with the stuff.

  18. Carol says

    Peter. Hello from way out west. Thank you for telling us more about your wonderful house & its site: of course you want to sit on your sofa looking out on Long Island Sound, not to face into a black firebox that may only occasionally be lighted. On top of everything, you have a screened porch. Life doesn’t get any better. Yours is not a flashy Atomic house, it has reserve. The muscular rusticity of the living room fireplace is actually at odds with the refined brick exterior of your home–& (as you’ve described) with a brick fireplace on the ground floor, but as I see it, this dilemma is its own solution: the builders gave you a built-in wall of bold art when they mortared that stone. Its contrast with the house is like that of any important artwork’s contrast in a room. Don’t put anything at all on that mantel unless perhaps, to one side, a single natural object or abstract sculpture. No doodads, no candlesticks, no discordant materials–except for holidays & parties. I can’t tell from the photo, but the mantel seems mortared-in, which is ultra-cool, & its thinness isn’t wrong but essential for the house.

    P.S.–If I were your decorator I’d suggest a similar ruthlessness for your bookcase: to fill it tight with books, from top to bottom–not a single doodad or treasure, just books. Suddenly your already pretty room wth its fresh, light furnishings & watery views becomes handsome & fascinating. I’d roll up the rug for the beautiful floor & substitute a smaller, crisp rug if wanted, perhaps a softly toned durrie with a thin black stripe. Honestly I’d love to move the Thrive sofa to the window wall & the chair to the other side with the books, but you want to see that view.

    So in essence, for your fireplace: subtract, don’t add. –Easy for me to say! One writer suggested a firescreen & that would be a good idea if it can be the standing sort, tailored, without shine, maybe iron.

    Many happy years in your home.

    • pam kueber says

      I can “see” what you’re suggesting. Sounds good – including all books for the bookcase, and especially the dhurrie with black in it. I do love that shag, though — perhaps it can go in a bedroom?

      • Carol says

        Pam, thank you for picturing my thought. You’re right of course, the big rug has its own appeal. I hope Peter has enjoyed the conversation about his house half as much as all of us have! A footnote: on closer scrutiny I see there is a firescreen or perhaps an insert in the firebox.

  19. Jay says

    This is a good example of a mid century modest home with a nice wow factor – the fireplace wall. The builder had a good eye, the spaces on either side of FP are equal – the left a window, the right a built in book case. Room is balanced.
    To those advocating removal or lowering of mantel shelf, this is easier said then done. If it isn’t surface mounted then it will be tied into either the stonework itself or the wall behind the stone. Structural issues then arise – maintaining the integrety of the stone work, even if is only cut stone pieces, they can start to shift.
    Also, the couch appears to be long and placing it across the room will create a barrier and I suspect that there are also several openings into the room behind the black leather chair, that leaves the window wall and who wants to block that?
    Please leave the stone chimney front unadorned. I like starburst clocks but I don’t think this is the place for one.

  20. says

    i like it just the way it is. and if you find something meaningful, gritty & amazing on your journey through life – that’s also aesthetically pleasing to the room’s soul – then it will find it’s way there.

  21. Mary Jo says

    We have built in stone mantles and a gas fireplace and everything that is there gets HOT. So be careful if you run the fireplace alot. You don’t want to ruin a nice keepsake due to baking.

    Also, I have the same exact kitchen cupboards, including the hardware, and I don’t know how many people have suggested I change them but I love them.

    • Jay says

      Ha! The r.e. agent representing the seller of my house was quite a diva. I would have liked to hear her comments about the “datedness” of kitchen but knowing the thrifty seller, she probably said “it is what it is”.

  22. Elaine says

    I love that stone, too. Definitely leave the mantel, you will want for the holiday decorations if nothing else. I have a stone fireplace and love it, and did not want to cover it or put holes in it to hang things. I put some things I like on the mantel, nature related, and used paper clip hooks to hand some flying geese across the chimney. They cover very little and go with the stone. A shiny starburst can have plenty of space between the rays to show the stone, so that could work for you. Since it is not a high ceiling, you don’t want it to be too big. You will want some kind of lighting to show off the fireplace. Maybe look into wiring some LED lights for under and above the mantel to shine up and down on the stone.

  23. Mike S says

    When addressing the need to improve performance by removing weight, Formula One car builders say, “Add lightness”. So, what do do with what you have?

    Put some color on the window wall. For openness, consider sun-blocking film rather than curtains. But if you must have curtains, go with the pinched-pleat variety.

    Keep your mantel, and put one item–or a group of three items–on it at any one time. Swap them for others as the seasons change.

    Add lightness to your bookcase by keeping only the items you use often. For those items you use only occasionally, consider colorful containers in which to put them.

    Place your furniture facing the fireplace. Resist the urge to place any item of furniture against your window wall.

    Add colorful throw pillows of solid or mixed geometric patterns on your sofa and chairs. For your style of Mid-Mod-Colonial home, resist the urge to mix Provincial- or Persian-styled patterns with it.

    Your room is large enough for two separate seating areas. An additional floor lamp will suffice, as would a floor-to-ceiling pole lamp, in keeping with the Mid-Mod theme. A black one would be awesome, as would either an orange, or lime green, or avocado.

    As for an item above the mantel, that’s a toughie. Would reserve that for some must-have piece, whatever it may be.

  24. Marjie says

    It would be nice if the mantle were beefier, more to the scale of the bigger stones in the fireplace…4 inches or so thick….( You might also consider putting, some wood trim at top where the stones meet the ceiling also to scale w/ the bricks).After that, almost anything would look nice..keep it simple, a nice clock on one side and beefy candle sticks on the other….or a favorite contemporary sculpture or painting…and decorate as you like for the holidaze and the seasons…the little items currently on it might look nicer on your book case. w/ larger scale items against the large stones making up the fireplace.Think more in terms of enjoying the negative space and the nice bricks…don’t fill it up w/ stuff….. I’d be tempted to arrange sofa at an angle instead of along the wall.Paint a light hue on the wall to complement the wood around the super nice windows…..a soft,soft grey …..rust,charcoal grey,and yellow throw pillows for sofa,some retro print in the upholstered chair (you can duck tape the fabric on the chair from underneath until you get around to doing a proper slip cover)….nice room, not every one is so lucky!

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