Decorating a mid-century fireplace – help!

Here is a tricky design question. Susan writes:
Hi Pam,
After two years, I still cannot figure out what to put on these shelves that are built into my fireplace!  They are 10.5″ wide and 5.75″ deep, and they are spaced about 11.5″ apart (vertically, from the top of one shelf to the top of the next, if that makes sense).  I thought I’d pose the question to you (and possibly your readers), since I can’t be the only one struggling with this…
Susan, aka Kitty Mommy
Readers — what do you think? How can Susan decorate this space?

  1. Travis says:

    I know I’m about two years late in responding to this, but my answer is I think it would look cheesy to put something on every shelf. It’s already quite predictable. Imagine how much more inspiring it would be to have only one item on the lowest shelf. That item should be a simple bud vase that showcases the latest season in your garden- be it a slender graceful sprig of flowering crab apple, or some long tufts of ornamental grass- whatever is available. Even in winter, a well chosen leafless twig can look amazing. Also, you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace that can accommodate a wide range of proper insets. Look at a matte black Jotul, eg.

  2. I have this same fireplace only more massive if you can imagine that. I am going to put very simple, clean lined pottery vases on my shelves. They will all be the same color – either cream or that off green. USA, Frankoma or something along those lines.

  3. suzanne sheldon says:

    I definitely think those shelves need three different vintage or non vintage (that compliment the style) glass vases. You can find true vintage on ebay, etsy, or at vintage shops and flea markets. You can sometimes even find interesting bottles/vases at tjmaxx. Ok taking another look, some ceramic pots, one on each shelf, would also be a nice look. I might pick an earthier neutral glaze, because I love earth tones. However, you could choose an accent color(s) that are repeated in your living room. If you can find these things very inexpensively you could change them out with the seasons or when you need a change of scenery. You’re lucky they came in three-aestheticly pleasing.

  4. DW says:

    The small bonsai idea is nice. For a tight budget (and greater color impact) try using medium sized canvases from local craft store (9×12, 11×14, etc.) paint three different flat colors from the SW retro color pallet using those that fit your decor. Colors should be impactful choices — ones that will draw in the eye.

  5. Zoe says:

    We have basically the same thing on our fireplace in our 1955 ranch (we have 4 shelves and they aren’t quite in a line like yours). During Christmas, I hang wreaths from the shelves, which works well. The rest of the year, I have three small oil paintings that just fit on each shelf. They are kind of tricky because anything too small will look out of proportion with the rest of the fireplace – so finding something with enough visual weight is key. A lot of little things can look cluttered – I think a few larger pieces in a color that contrasts with the stone looks better.

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