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!


Peter writes:


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…?



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?

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

    1. 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. 🙂

        1. Jay says:

          If ever I am snowbound for days, I will have to catch up on past posts prior to discovering this site. This really made me laugh! Both my parents were born below the Mason Dixon line. ’nuff said!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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)

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

    1. 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?

      1. 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.

  9. 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.

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