Mantel Things

There are real problems, and then there are fancy problems. Real problems are things like meth addictions and getting hit by buses. Those might be bad examples because yeah, maybe you did do the meth in the first place and yeah, maybe you did walk in front of a bus, but still. Nobody’s about to say you have it easy.

Fancy problems are arguably more terrible than real problems because nobody will ever pity you. It’s not okay to complain about them, because nobody—literally nobody—wants to hear about how you can just never find pants in your size because you’re a 2 or how the maps app on your iPhone sucks now. Guess what? Some people have real problems. Some people don’t even have iPhones.

Think about that. Go sit with your shame.

My fanciest problem, I would say, is that I actually struggle with what to do about the old, pretty, non-functional fireplace in my old, pretty, semi-functional apartment. Like, I actively think and agonize over this issue, because it’s weird to have a fireplace with no practical purpose other than looking cool, and it’s also weird to have a mantle where I’m expected to put stuff. Mantles are super intimidating things, I’ve discovered, because there is just no downplaying that thing. If your room has a fireplace, that fireplace is going to be the star of the show—all the time, every time.

Here’s a fun and flirty mash-up of all the mantle-fails this fireplace has endured through its time under my care. Original indifference (with the red paint) led to continued indifference (with the white paint) led to a real conscious effort which isn’t 100% terrible or anything but let’s be real. It’s still sad. I only show these to you because, oh, I don’t know why. To further solidify my flaws and shortcomings as a human being, I guess. Sounds about right.

The thing is, the mantle itself is really high, so actually hanging anything above it is kind of awkward height-wise, especially with the wall moldings to contend with. Maybe that’s my second most-fancy problem: fancy wall moldings totally confusing how and if I can hang art.

Seriously, try walking a mile in these shoes and you too will understand how hard it is to have beautiful architectural details that you apparently can’t handle. STRUGGLES.

I’ll definitely admit that one of my weaknesses is styling. Like, I understand a couple basic principles about grouping things, triangles, sets of three, whatever, but I don’t know. I hate when things feel super forced and over-styled, but I also appreciate when things like nice and put together? When I try to style up surfaces like mantles or bookshelves, I tend to get all self-conscious and defeated because these activities seem so pointless and petty, particularly with my decidedly un-fancy possessions. But mostly because maybe I’m just bad at it. Mantles, particularly, carry a lot of pressure to be personally representative and whatever, so that makes the task doubly intimidating.

Things are looking up though, especially after I found this big old mirror at Salvation Army for $20 a couple weeks ago. It’s not super old, I’m guessing 1940s or so, but I like the simple lines and the glass has some nice age to it in real life. It isn’t, like, my dream mirror or anything, but the price was right and the size was right, which is a combination that has thus far been entirely elusive in the great mirror hunt that lasted roughly 16 months prior. So I’m happy to have it.

Somehow, I haven’t destroyed that Pencil Cactus thing yet. I bought it a while ago, too, so maybe the tides are changing with my plant killing. Knock on wood.

Of course things already look different, but when this photo was taken a few days ago:

1. the Aalto vase in the back was our splurge from Finland because check the amber glass! Pretty, and we’re used to seeing it in clear.

2. The little raw wood hand-carved Dala horse from Sweden ended up here. Scandi-city up in here.

3. Little junky piece of studio pottery I bought at Salvation Army for a couple of dollars. It’s signed ZONDEK on the bottom which makes me think this was made by one very sassy experimental potter, accounting for the boundary-pushing glaze patterns and irregular shape. The plant I snipped from the tree outside our window because why not.

On the other side is this cute little iittala tea light holder. I saw a bunch of this stuff in fleas and thrifts in Scandinavia but didn’t buy any of it (I only had eyes for Ultima Thule), but stumbled upon this little guy for a dollar at AmVets this summer. In Rochester. I’ll take it.

Also some homo photo strip action to spice up your Friday morning?

Since the fireplace doesn’t function, I’ve always been kind of at a loss about what to put inside it. Nothing and it looks kind of empty, but assortments of candles always seemed messy and objects seemed cluttered and logs just seemed stupid. So I finally had the good sense to pick up this clever IKEA PS Tealight Holder which I just think is the cat’s pajamas and looks very pretty when it’s all lit up at night when people come over and whatnot.

So the fireplace. I don’t know. Liking it, not loving it. The mirror has some strange old varnish on it that makes the wood look kind of sad, and I feel like someday I might paint it? But to what? And I don’t know, I think I’m over the black paint. But then I go look at the first picture and the white doesn’t make me feel better. But maybe it’s the red walls’ fault? And I know I should appreciate and embrace those very old original tiles, but I don’t like them. The colors are gross and I try to be into them but I’m not. That said, I need to respect that they’re original, so they definitely aren’t getting ripped out or painted. I don’t know. I give up.

See? AGONY. The fanciest agony.

About Daniel Kanter

Hi, I'm Daniel, and I love houses! I'm a serial renovator, DIY-er, and dog-cuddler based in Kingston, New York. Follow along as I bring my 1865 Greek Revival back to life and tackle my 30s to varying degrees of success. Welcome!

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  1. 10.19.12
    Krysta said:

    I had this very same problem in my house. I could figure out what to put on or in my non-working fireplace that isn’t nearly as cute as yours is. I do love that mirror you put on the mantle!

  2. 10.19.12
    Lisa said:

    The mirror is quite beautiful. I think it might be my dream mirror. The detail on the inside of the fireplace is extremely lovely as well. I’ve seen people put pretty stacks of old books inside non-working fireplaces too which has always seemed like an attractive idea.

  3. 10.19.12
    Kari said:

    I like it a lot (then again, I don’t look at it every day so it’s all new to me). I think if you painted the mantle white, the interior of the fireplace might stick out too much and make it look like a black hole?

    What if you painted the front and side portions of the fireplace exterior, but left the top mantle shelf-part black, or a different color?

    As far as inside the actual fireplace part, what about stacked books, a collection of vases, or even a plant? Just some ideas :)

    Love that old mirror!

    • 10.19.12
      Daniel said:

      Oh, I was thinking I’d paint both the inside part and the mantle white, but I don’t know! The brown/red checkered tile on the floor bums me out.

    • 10.19.12

      I second this. A stack of books or a miniature bookshelf. And then you can refer to them as “the kindling.”

  4. 10.19.12
    Cassie said:

    Hmmm. I think it’d be pretty neat to see a giant candelabra in there. Depending on the shape and style, that could bring in some drama. Either that or bring the pretty tealight holder a bit higher by stacking it on top of something? (Don’t ask me what. A tiny table? Stacked crates? No really, don’t ask me what.)

    But currently, it does seem a little vast in there. You could go with more greenery, something oversized, but I do love the idea of candles in an otherwise non-functioning fireplace. This is a good problem to have, for sure. :)

  5. 10.19.12
    Sara said:

    I’d leave the mantle/fireplace black, and rub-and-buff (or gold leaf pen!) the frame in gold to work with the facing tiles. Make them pop in a not-sad-and-old way? I also think hanging the mirror would make a huge difference in balancing the proportion of the fireplace on the wall; it’s a great scale, but since the frame is so thin it kind of fades straight into the mantle, losing some of the effect. Or is that crazy? If you don’t want to hang it, you could also stack books horizontally on the mantle to give the mirror a little extra boost and separation.

    • 10.19.12
      Daniel said:

      The complication with hanging the mirror is the wall moldings…I think it would look weird if it wasn’t centered in the moldings, and would look equally weird if it were suspended that high. Also, the shape just isn’t really great for that…it was originally attached to a dresser so the bottom of the frame is completely flat with 90 degree bottom corners.

  6. 10.19.12
    anne mcd said:

    If that mirror were mine, I would spray paint the frame in Krylon metallic gold. I’m just saying, GOD.

    • 10.19.12
      anne mcd said:

      And you might dislike the tiles less if you put something cool-toned in the fireplace, like a plant (as Cassie suggests) or something else green or blue or silver. Ooh a mirror?

  7. 10.19.12
    mijk said:

    It isn’t your style at all but it gives an idea on how good the books can work…

  8. 10.19.12
    Ashley said:

    We have an old, non-functional fireplace in our old, semi-functional house too! We put the dog’s bed in there. He LOVES it. It’s like a little cave for him. Plus he still gets to see everyone in the room, not shushed off in some corner. Plus it opens up tons of floorspace since his bed isn’t taking up valuable space where a chair could be. Our friends do laugh at us, and some think it’s kind of weird, but we promise we’ll never roast him there. Perfect use. As for the mantle, right now its a terrible jumble of all our crap mail and wallets and keys, because we use it like a console table as its immediately next to our front door.

  9. 10.19.12
    Marti said:

    You could hide the tile with a thin sheet of plywood cut to fit – a removable facade that could be painted, tiled or upholstered.

    • 10.19.12
      elin said:

      That’s what I was going to say – maybe you could cover the (pretty awful) tile with something removable to make it more to your tastes.

    • 10.19.12
      Daniel said:

      I’ve been considering something like that, actually. Maybe down the line! It might be fun and I like the idea of something I could change.

    • 10.19.12
      Dusa said:

      Ohhh, add me to the list of disguising the tile, but the weirdo in me was thinking something like a matte black rubber. Mmmmkay, I’ll just sneak out the way I came.

  10. 10.19.12
    Ann said:

    I love you and your fancy problems.I’ve said it before and saying it again you are such a good writer! I like the plants and the mirror- I have no clue about the inside though.

  11. 10.19.12
    Molly said:

    I had this issue once upon a time, and we wound up with something very like this sitting in our fireplace.

    We had the luck of finding it at a Thrift store, maybe there is a lovely modern-ish one our there for you.

  12. 10.19.12
    el said:

    My Brooklyn mantel is still in the state of ‘indifferent’ – in a moment of panic two days before friends from out of town were due to descend upon my new apartment, I took home a giant abstract art poster from work, stuck it in an Ikea poster frame and left it on top of the mantel in a bid to make it look presentable. Okay, yes, I also left my blackout emergency candles and a spool of blank dvds on the mantel too, but I only had so much effort to give.

    I think if you’re up to a little woodworking, making some kind of cover for the fireplace tiles might be a good idea.

  13. 10.19.12
    Lauren said:

    Oh, I love the original tile. I can see how it’s not your cup of tea, design-wise, but it’s really beautiful. I’m glad you’re not going to rip it out or paint over it! Someone painted over the fireplace tiles of one of my former houses – and they did a TERRIBLE job. Like, tried to paint in ~brick lines~ and just fucked the whole thing up. Later, I saw a neighbor’s fireplace and she had the original tile & they looked like they had been tie-dyed. Different shades of pink and blue and yellow & green, swirled on a white background. My jealousy, it cannot be contained.

    Anyway, I don’t know what I’m rambling about but fireplaces are hard to style and I like the black paint. If you were going to do anything about the color, my vote would be to strip it to the original wood, but I really don’t want to think about what a pain in the ass that would be.

    • 10.19.12
      Daniel said:

      That’s such a shame about your tile! Yeah…I appreciate the tile…I even actually kind of like it…but I just don’t like it for me, for this room. Does that make sense? That said, I like to preserve original stuff and I don’t want any future tenant (or my landlord) to curse me for irreparably altering something like this! Some of the other units in our building have similar “fixes” to what you’re describing, and I just can’t imagine it’s better than whatever they were trying to replace!

      Stripping the wood is just…not going to happen. There are probably several layers of paint and I don’t know what I’d find underneath! I actually like painted wood moldings and things…the floor is enough wood for me! I don’t even want most of my wood furniture.

  14. 10.19.12
    Liz said:

    I LOVE the mirror — I think the scale and shape and finish of it are amazing for the fireplace! I do think you need *more* inside the fireplace. More candles and/or more height, I think. I do love that Ikea PS set, though! We had those several years ago but one of the connector bits broke off and we never replaced it…. You’ve inspired a trip to Ikea, I think!!

  15. 10.19.12
    Nella said:

    Dear Daniel,

    I love your blog. It makes me happy every time I read it. I have word usage and spelling obsessions, which all those around me find very irritating. I apologize in advance. I have to tell you that “mantle” is an article of clothing, cloak-like, or a part of the earth’s crust. “Mantel” is part of a fireplace.

    • 10.19.12
      Daniel said:

      Oh my, who knew?! The dictionary app on my phone seems to think both spellings are correct, however Merriam-Webster agrees with you. I didn’t know! Now I do, but I’m not going to go through and change it because I’m lazy and I have to live with my mistakes.

    • 10.21.12
      Nella said:

      Nor should you change it. As for the fireplace itself, you made it beautiful as you did with the blue Eames chair. It would be perfect with William Morris wallpaper or maybe Arts and Crafts furniture. Since you are not that person, just rotate things you like on the mantel so it makes you happier to look at it every day.

  16. 10.19.12
    Carly said:

    I just stuck a giant television on my mantle and called it a day, (Actually, that’s a lie, I want to get a giant gold frame to prop around the TV so that it looks like ~art~.)

  17. 10.19.12
    Heather said:

    Have you tried pinterest for fireplace ideas? (Lame, I know, but everything in the world is on that site, somehow.)

    • 10.19.12
      Daniel said:

      Meh, I try to avoid Pinterest…I tend to find too much “inspiration” is just really crippling and makes me feel bad about myself.

  18. 10.19.12
    Heidi said:

    Hi Daniel. I hope you’re having a great week! How about navy on the fireplace and a walnut stain on the mirror? You’ve done a great job with you fancy “problem”. xo Heidi

  19. 10.19.12

    If you don’t stop hating that tile, your next “fancy problem” is going to be me breaking into your apartment and stealing the entire fireplace. (And maybe Linus, too.)

    • 10.19.12
      Daniel said:

      NOOOOOO. I don’t know how to like the tile. It’s weird to me that you do!! You can’t have Linus though, he’s mine!

    • 10.19.12
      Anna said:

      Well Linus LOVES that tile. He told me.

  20. 10.19.12

    I like the tiles as is! What if you filled the fireplace with round logs? It would balance with the color of the mirror frame and the tiles. You miss out on the light, but the circles seem fresh and timeless. I did it about a year ago and it’s held up nicely:

    Looking at your black fireplace, I’m wondering if I should paint mine black as well? I love yours that color! I’ve got a lot of white going on currently, and the black would be a welcome contrast.

    • 10.19.12
      Daniel said:

      Yours looks great! Sometimes I think about the log thing. I don’t know. I have so much indecision.

      Your fireplace is so cool! It think it would look good black, but definitely high impact…I think the room looks great with all the white/neutrals/wood…the black might be pushing things.

    • 10.22.12

      Thanks, Daniel! The kind words mean a lot, especially coming from you!

      I’ll take my hand off the black paint can for now. You’re right… a bit much. Why am I ready and willing to paint anything black these days? I blame blogs! :)

  21. 10.19.12
    scamel from the rocks said:

    Long-time lurker, first time commenting on this blog! I also have a non-functioning fireplace, although unlike yours mine is unbearably ugly. My solution to hide some of the ugly is a fire screen! It’s made to go in front of fireplaces, so the proportions look right, and it turns the focus from the fireplace I did not pick out to the fire screen I did. I have a very plain, 1930s single-panel wooden one, but there are of course a variety of types. So maybe that would work for you?

    • 10.19.12
      Daniel said:

      Yeah, I always keep my eyes peeled when I’m thrifting for a cool screen, but nothing yet. Maybe someday? I like the idea if I found something super awesome and unique, but I’m not in any hurry.

    • 10.21.12

      Some 1×2’s, some hinges, some screws, and some sheer fabric :)

  22. 10.19.12
    Jill said:

    “The fanciest agony” NEEDS to be a novel title. Ahahahahhaa

    • 10.19.12
      Daniel said:

      It’s the title of my first memoir.

  23. 10.19.12
    Tania said:

    1. Don’t feel bad about not liking the tiles. Not EVERYTHING from the past was beautiful. Some things were just darn ugly.

    2. You could go seventies and plant it up. I think any other painted colour would empahsise the tile colour. Here is some seventies inspiration for you:

    3. Or out and out hide it like this:

    4. But seriously, you are a better stylist than me so I feel silly even offering my genuine opinion. But I would get two plants that are fairly sculptural (ie. well defined not flippy-floppy) with big leaves and place them on the left and right of the fireplace on the tiles. It’ll make people look at plants not at the tiles. And they’ll largely hide them in a not so obvious way.

  24. 10.19.12
    Joy said:

    Good move with the mirror upgrade–the shape and scale look great. Have you thought about wall-mounting it with 1-2 inches clearance above the mantle? Seeing the white wall peek through would look really clean and pretty, I think.

    The tiles looked awful with the original red paint, but to my eye they look great now with the white walls and super white moulding against the black mantle. That said, I hope you can find something that makes you happy. Remember in your last apartment when you adhered linens to the windows of a french door? Maybe something with a textural fabric would work here?

    It’s tough when something bothers YOU in YOUR SPACE and everyone around you says it’s fine. I’m currently painting all my ceilings and baseboards white, since the landlord painted everything this oppressively creamy color. It will take months of after-work labor and painting at night, meanwhile everyone around me says it’s a pointless endeavor. It’s a lot of extra work, but worth it to me.

    Good luck figuring out your fancy problems! Please keep us posted because I love reading about it all.

    • 10.19.12

      I came by to say something similar about cloth. Perhaps if you covered the tile–or even the whole fireplace area–with a sheer cloth or tulle or other contrasting-colored cloth that didn’t quite obscure the tile, you could make it acceptable to you. While not destroying it. I’m sort of envisioning draped cloth approximately where a fireplace screen would be…

      …and that neatly takes care of the “what to put inside the fireplace” issue, too. Although I would find–or paint–a painting of a fire and fit it there, because I am whimsical that way.

      I know someone who got one of those fake fireplaces that generates heat and sort of looks like a really fake fire and put it in a non-working fireplace. They did it because a family member was really sensitive to cold and it made a nice place for him to sit. I don’t recommend either the look or the price.

  25. 10.19.12
    Kirk said:

    I like it as it is now. Also what happened to the Calder litho? Not to creep too much, but that looked great there!

    • 10.19.12
      Daniel said:

      Ha! Moved it. I’m always switching around the art…

  26. 10.19.12
    Furpants said:

    The black paint makes the tile look great in a way that white would not. This is all looking pretty good, the mirror and the amber glass are working particularly well, but it’s not quite done yet. It’s one of those situations where eventually you will find a few more pieces that pull it all together. You’ll be thrifting somewhere, and out of the corner of your eye you will spot a wood sculpture, or a super tall vase, or …? So you could look at it as an excuse to keep up your thrifting habit.

    • 10.19.12
      Daniel said:

      I need no excuses for my thrifting habits!

  27. 10.19.12
    Mariane said:

    I actually like the tiles you have, somehow manly! I also love the miror and what you did on the mantle, it’s the whitness and petitness of the white candles that looks weird to me. Maybe brown candles (wow, did I just propose brown candles!!? I’m sure there are nice brown candles out there!) on different level. I likme the stack of old books idea but nothing to hide the nice fleur de lys pattern though! Anyway, I’m sure you’ll nail this!

  28. 10.19.12
    Eva said:

    Leather. Make an mdf form, cover it in leather, prop it up against the original-but-truly-ugly tile, do the same for the floor, done.

    • 10.19.12

      Until either of the dogs develops a taste for leather :( (I can’t have ANYthing leather within reach of the Terrible Two; not wallets, not shoes, not leather handles or ID card holders on bags, not belts, nope nope nope. It’s particularly bad because I make and repair leather items.)

  29. 10.19.12
    Alex said:

    You could paint the mantle a charcoal grey, something like your sofa. Then your mirror could be either honey-colored or walnut, if you keep the tile as-is.

    As for the red tile on the bottom, you could try covering it up with faux tile; I know most are hideous, but it might be possible to find one that’s not.

  30. 10.19.12
    Steve said:

    I went through the same thing with our circa-1914 green terracotta fireplace. While I like the tile, the fireplace originally held an old iron gas heater that was removed long before we moved in. We found a small gas-burning log set that somehow burns clean enough that it requires no vent.

    While installing gas plumbing is obviously way outside what you would ever want to do for a rental, even if your landlord allowed it, have you considered buying an ethanol burning insert? While a lot of them are really modern and flashy, here are a couple that look like they’d be great in a late-1800s/early-1900s fireplace:

  31. 10.19.12
    MaryWynn said:

    This has some good thoughts:

    Perhaps this is a good place to put sconces? I lived in a place with a similar, non-functional fireplace and ceiling height, but not the moldings. We had a tallllll and skinny painting propped on it and two sconces. The art was by a roomie. You could probably make something you like for yourself.

    I like the idea of putting books in the fireplace, but that might be too cluttered for you? I put some variously sized plants in it and left it that way.

  32. 10.19.12
    Taylor said:

    Love that mirror! I live in your neighborhood and was wondering – which Salvation Army do you go to? I’ve tried the one on Atlantic near Bond St but often find their home goods to be overpriced. Is that where you found the mirror?

    • 10.19.12
      Daniel said:

      Yeah, it’s that one. I wouldn’t recommend it or anything but it’s close to me so I stop in from time to time.

  33. 10.19.12


    I feel your vignetting pain. That little photostrip bought glee to my heart.


  34. 10.19.12
    Jess said:

    I share your pain. I rent the top floor of a victorian/ georgian house in England, and the living room has a cast iron fireplace that is entirely unusable as the carpet extends underneath. It also doesn’t even have a proper mantle, just shelf above a row of fairly nice tiles and some sort of corbels underneath which make it super awkward. It’s looking a lot better since my auntie gave me an antique mirror to hang above it.
    Your mirror seems to have solved most of your problems too! I really like the surround now that you have painted it black. I think the only bad thing about your fireplace is the colour of those tiles!

  35. 10.19.12

    I feel as if the pencil plant is too big for the mantle and the cool candle thingy is too small for the fireplace. How crazy would it be to put the pot in the fireplace, thread the plant through the opening in the candle thingy so that it rings the top of the pot, assuming the circumferences are compatible?
    I really like the suggestion to cover the tile with plywood that is then done in a more YOU way!

    • 10.19.12
      Daniel said:

      I agree, but I think it’s just the pot that’s too tall. I kind of panic-bought it…I’m looking for something better! It can’t go in the fireplace because it’s toxic to animals…my dogs aren’t too interested in houseplants, but I don’t want to risk it!

  36. 10.19.12
    JC said:

    What about making it into a shadowbox of sorts to display a collection of natural curiosities?

    Or get a mesh firescreen and stick a bunch of air plants in it…if the doggies will leave it alone…

  37. 10.19.12
    Adriana said:

    God, I’ve had mantle issues for years and years. Thank goodness you’ve put our collective shame into words. I’ve scoured the internet…photo after photo…for inspiration and all I’ve learned is that maybe nobody gets it exactly right. I’ve been trying to style some of my grandmother’s vintage silver for years and only find some relief in the otherwise odious task of Christmas decorations because at least that is something preordained and involves pine branches and twinkle lights! When that comes down it’s back to fear and loathing. I’m glad to know someone with great taste and a seemingly endless capacity for reinvention has this problem too. Best of Luck!

    • 10.19.12

      One of the best mantles I’ve seen had a single mantle clock. Loved it. Of course, that house had lots and lots of space for other decor.

  38. 10.19.12
    libby said:

    i wrapped a flokati rug around a pillow and stuffed it into my non-working fireplace. my dog likes it! she is snoozing in there right now, in fact.

  39. 10.19.12
    nicolezh said:

    I like your mantle with the new mirror but I am not smitten by the candleholder to be honest. It looks to small for me, maybe several big white plain candles in different hight would looks better? Like here:
    Or is it too dated?
    Oh, and I love your fancy problems and the amber Iittala!

  40. 10.19.12
    Kristina said:

    Oh, hey exact same Charley Harper puzzle framed in exact frame on an equally awkward mantle:

    • 10.19.12
      Daniel said:

      Ha! Mine’s a poster, not a puzzle!
      (Mantle looks cute! Also, puppy!)

  41. 10.19.12
    Karen said:

    I second filling the fireplace with logs. Maybe paint a few (OR ALL?) a neon color? For something temporary and relevant to the season/holiday, you can always fill it with lit pumpkins (

  42. 10.19.12
    Lou said:

    Thank you for writing an interesting post about your mantelpiece dilemma without using the words ‘vignette’ or ‘mantlescape’. You have succeeded where many other bloggers before you have failed.

    • 10.19.12
      Daniel said:

      MANTLESCAPE?!?! ha! NEVER.

  43. 10.19.12

    Someone upthread suggested decorated plywood covers, but an even easier solution could be fabric and faux wallpaper paste…like you did on your door windows?

  44. 10.19.12
    Kamegani said:

    I hate those tiles. They really don’t match anything around them..

    Oh, and I loved the photo strip!

  45. 10.19.12
    Florian said:

    Right. I’ve said (well, written, rather) it before, I’ll say it again: you need this book – DRAPER, Dorothy: Entertaining is fun!; New York, 1941.

    Allow me to quote (p. 26) “The fireplace, in summer when you can’t possibly give yourself an excuse for having a fire, can have two or three white-birch logs laid on the well-polished andirons and some pleated white shelf paper made into a fan. […] I know a woman who put a huge Boston fern in her fireplace in summer with a small electric fan behind it to keep the leaves moving.”

    I like the black mantle much better than the white one, but I do think, you could use the space to showcase something nice. It should be light, so it shows nicely against the black background, like a plaster bust or whatever. The tea light holder is a little small, methinks. Also I really like your vignettes. They are not overdone or forced or anything. They feel really natural, as they should, especially the Friday morning homo photo strip action.

    If there were more Friday morning homo photo strip action, the world would be a much nicer place!

    • 10.19.12
      Daniel said:

      HA! I do need that book. That advice is cray-town.

  46. 10.19.12
    Michelle said:

    I’m another who thinks the mantel painted black looks good, it complements the less than ideal tile better than white did. And hey, at least your mantel is level – in my last apartment, the mantel (which looked like an uncentered afterthought shelf) was sloped as though the installers thought it needed to shed rainwater. I feared putting anything breakable on it.

  47. 10.19.12
    Kristen from MA said:

    How about a fireplace candelabra? Keeps the candles neat and orderly. (I was thinking about wrought iron, but you could drill holes into some logs and use pillars or just tea lights.)

    Also, Salvation Army, really? They are seriously homophobic!

    • 10.19.12
      Daniel said:

      Frankly, if I avoided all the homophobic businesses, I’d probably never leave the house or buy anything! I’ve never encountered outward homophobia at any Salvation Army I’ve ever shopped at. I’m only human, I like cheap thrifty shit, and at the end of the day I would make myself INSANE if I tried to avoid all businesses that weren’t in line with my personal and political beliefs.

  48. 10.19.12
    Nancy said:

    I like the mirror and the black mantle.

    Some ideas:

    Try some wood vases or figurines in various heights on the mantle, to tie in with the brown tiles and wood floor.

    I would paint the frame of the mirror gold, to make it more rich and balance with the richness of the tiles.

    I think the candle thingie in the fireplace is too small. You need something with a variety of heights. Try something in gold, that would tie in with your gold mirror.

  49. 10.19.12
    Oksana said:

    Hi Daniel, I just wanted to say Thank You! I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and you never fail to put smile on my face even on the rainiest of days like today. I’m right across the river in NJ, working from home wife and mom. Thank you for being you, for sharing your life, your talents, and your wonderful cense of humor!

  50. 10.19.12
    lynzie said:

    What color and brand of paint did you use on the fireplace?

    • 10.19.12
      Daniel said:

      Benjamin Moore Onyx in pearl finish.

  51. 10.19.12
    Susie said:

    I have no helpful advice about the mantle or the fireplace because I have the same fancy problems as you. That being said, and this is the reason I’m leaving this, my first ever comment: I think you should make and sell buttons that read, “You have fancy problems. Go sit with your shame.” I would totally buy that shit. P.S. In all honesty, I think you’ve done a great job — I like the black, I like the mirror, I like the spare styling.

    • 10.20.12
      Nancy said:

      Button idea: Too funny!

  52. 10.19.12
    georgia said:

    Hmm, I have very similar fancy problems at the moment, so I enjoyed pausing and thinking about yours for a minute:) Although I love black and white or anything in between for that matter, my current fancies are blue/teal and mustard/gold. Something “picked up” from either of your lovely art beside the fireplace. Not liking much either of the mirrors, although the new one is definitely the right scale and looks wee bit art-deco ;)

  53. 10.19.12
    Gaidig said:

    I think the black makes the tiles look much better than the white did, but they still strike me as the main problem. I’m not convinced they are original – they really have a 70’s vibe to me, whereas everything else looks much older.

    I like Cassie’s ideas about what to put in the fire place. I’m thinking of a giant brass version of the candle holder you used to have on the mantel. How hot would that be? In general, though, I feel like you should have something taller, with more presence. It should also contrast with the dark firebox. The big white log in Morgan’s fireplace is pretty effective: as is the giant shell in the Petersiks’ fireplace:

    Now, if only *my* man would let me change the horrible, horrible stuff on the mantle in our house.

  54. 10.19.12
    Rachel said:

    I think the mantle decorating looks great, the only issue is that you can’t see past that ugly tile color. How about painting the mirror red? I think it would be a fun accent color.

  55. 10.19.12
    Bethany said:

    I totally saw you and Max and the pups coming out of your building earlier today. First I thought, what a dapper young couple with their adorable dogs! After we’d well passed I realized who you were and briefly contemplated turning around and shouting “I love your blog!” but the moment had passed. Anyway, hello same-street neighbor!

    • 10.19.12
      Daniel said:


      jk, say hi next time!!

  56. 10.19.12
    Lena said:

    Have you shown us the print over the credenza yet? I think the black paint makes the tiles look a lot better than the white one! Still don’t love them though. How about laying something on top of it, a thin, painted wood sheet or something like that? And something bigger than the (lovely) Ikea candleholder. The new mirror is quite nice and the right size.

    • 10.19.12
      Daniel said:

      Hm, I don’t think I have! Another time. I’m always switching art around and I can never remember what I’ve shown and haven’t.

  57. 10.19.12
    S said:

    I never comment, but the spirit has moved and I just have to say that SOMETHING has to happen to the tile. You’re crafty, can’t you like cover it with contact paper and paint it or something? I think the tile is what really breaks the potential of your non-functioning fireplace.

    Or, maybe you could stick a flatscreen in there with a fireplace DVD…

  58. 10.19.12
    bfish said:

    The new mirror makes a huge positive difference, and its frame doesn’t bother me (though I’m not looking at it every day as you are). Mantel decorating is challenging; I tend to load on too many items (okay for holidays but not otherwise) and then get tired of them. We don’t have the beautiful molding “problem” that you do. In our 1920s house the fireplace and chimney protrude quite a bit into the room. We wrapped the chimney above the mantel on all 3 sides in glass (3 single pieces, not tacky tiles) and I still love it many years later — but I’m a mirror freak so judge accordingly.

  59. 10.19.12
    Christie said:

    Put a dog bed in it. Then, no one will care what’s in it, because they’ll just be like “doggie!!!” and then forget all about the fireplace/mantle situation.

  60. 10.19.12
    bliss said:

    would suggesting a chocolatey-brown paint for the fireplace surround be just heinous? it’s what i’m thinkin’ though…

  61. 10.19.12
    pen said:

    I like the black. I think it really makes it pop. And, I see why people are hating on the tile, but I don’t think it’s THAT bad. I mean, having a mantle like that alone is pretty damn awesome in this city full of crap-hole apartments. Sometimes first-world problems are real serious. No shame!

  62. 10.20.12
    terrie said:

    For the tiles consider some ikat or scandi subtle textured fabric; put it over with strippable fabric glue and for the tiles on the floor find another Turkish runner. Love the black interior!

  63. 10.20.12
    nicolezh said:

    Tonight I had the idea of squeezing one of these tiny Eames tables that seem too low and too small to serve as side tables into the fireplace and to top it something, maybe a Akari lamp. Not sure if this is a genius idea or just weird…

  64. 10.20.12
    dissed said:

    For the tiles: paintable wallpaper such as Lincrusta or Anaglypta, and use a copper metallic paint. Benjamin Moore has a nice metallic glaze.

  65. 10.20.12
    Thea said:

    Sweetheart, those tiles are not original. They are ugly seventies horrors that have haunted kitchens and, apparently, fireplaces all over the world for decades. No respect necessary, especially because they don’t really go with anything else in the room. If you’d have this campy 70’s thing going on, sure. But now they are an anachronism that somebody put there for no good reason at all. Just ask the landlord if you can get rid of them and put something nice instead. You can always keep the tiles somewhere.

    • 10.20.12

      The brown tiles are ABSOLUTELY original. Classic Victorian glazed cement tiles. Usually brown or green, 1870s-1890s. I’d also say with 90% certainty that the checkerboard tiles are also original.

      Not to get jerky about it, but I’ve been renovating a Victorian townhouse for 7 years in a city with a very large number of intact houses from that era, and these tiles are a signature of the time.

    • 10.20.12
      Jenn said:

      Yep. That’s original.

    • 10.26.12
      Thea said:

      Are you serious? I had no idea. I didn’t think they would have been able to make such horrors before the 1960’s.
      My main point though, is that it shouldn’t be so important if they are original or not. If you don’t like them (and they do seem very out of place here), just get rid of them, or cover them, whatever works.

  66. 10.20.12
    Beth said:

    “The fanciest agony.”

    Love it!

  67. 10.20.12
    Farah said:

    I like the idea of a whole bunch of candles in the fireplace. But you’d have to put something under it so the dripping wax doesn’t make your life a living hell.
    As for the tiles, cover them up puh-lease! With granite adhesive tiles? Or paint them a nice rich smokey gray? Something, anything but those hideous 70’s bathroom tiles.

    Also, the photostrip made my heart sing. You two are adorable.

  68. 10.20.12
    Nora said:

    That cute little Iittala tea light holder is called Stellaria, designed by Tapio Wirkkala. Nice find! :-)

  69. 10.20.12
    Thalia said:

    Hi Daniel! I have been following comments to this post and kept thinking that there is just something that does not click in this story…Well, I will try to put it in words and hope that it makes sense somehow to more people than me. I have been looking at the photos and thinking what exactly could go and feel comfortable up there and the more I looked the more one word came to my mind: nothing. At least nothing that would take the role of a centerpiece. I feel this mantle is too big and tall to have any kind of object like the mirror standing on top of it. Taking in consideration the adjacent furniture and height of framed art in the room I do believe that the only thing I could imagine standing up there without being “too much” would be a few plants. No mirror, no framed art, no big objects of any kind. For me the mantle is a sculpture per se and anything else just does not have too good reason to be hovering up there.
    I also had this crazy thought that the inside of the mantle could be painted white instead of black. I know it sounds crazy but I think it would totally give another feel to the whole thing, more airy and interesting, and I believe it would work very well with the tiles. Well, that’s it more or less, I would treat the whole mantle as a sort of architectural sculpture, not trying to embellish it with any sort of heavy ornaments on top of it. On the other hand,the tea-light holder is ok but it looks too small and too staged in my most humble opinion. I would probably place inside any objects/small furniture/dog bed or whatever has a place in this room naturally, using it as an impressive corner/frame that hosts my everyday activities/objects. Overall I would say: white inside, big things on the floor,plants (preferably climbing ones or cacti) on top. Looking forward to your new adventures, take care!

  70. 10.20.12
    Jenn said:

    The black works really well with your modern pieces. Maybe a deep chocolate?

    (unsolicited advice warning)
    I think the amber tiles work really well with your space and your art objects. I find the burgundy tone on the floor to be jarring. Since you don’t use the fireplace, why not think about making a platform/mock hearth? From what I see, it looks like you could build it to just slip into place – maybe make it one tile high on the face? And then you could paint or finish it however. An upholstered piece in there would be visually surprising and a clue to it’s non wood burning status… ???

    Also, you might like these two brave souls. 1953.

  71. 10.20.12
    Sarah W. said:

    OK, forgive me if someone has already suggested this (I couldn’t read all 100 of the previous comments), but I’m thinking that your nifty Ikea candle thingy would look great stretched out in front of the mirror on your mantle. The reflection in the mirror would look great at night. Oh, and thanks awfully for overhearing me at work complain about how I mistakenly downloaded the latest iPhone update and had my map function replaced by the new crappy Apple map app (say THAT three times fast!). Wallowing in shame now.

  72. 10.20.12
    Colin said:

    This is a tricky bitch. I don’t mind the browntown face tiles, but the hearth is fugly.

    It is a sin to hide the tile? You could experiment with rotating your seating arrangement 180-degrees so that the couch is in front of the fireplace. Out of sight, out of mind?

    P.S. I love the font on the new site! Check out that adorable dot in the middle of the zero – makes for goofy googly-eyes.


  73. 10.20.12
    carole said:

    If this idea has been suggested, I don’t have time to read all your comments. How about cutting a mock front out of plywood that covers the brick you don’t like. You could finish the plywood in several ways. You might also be able to do the same with the bottom, though that seems more dubious to me. When you leave you jsut removethe faux front an víola, you’re outta there.

  74. 10.21.12
    gardenbre said:

    What would happen IF you took everything away but the mirror and put a black painted rectangle the size of the inside of the fireplace behind the mirror and then add (a way bigger gold candle with some height – there’s something about the tiles that you might be able to work with – they’re kind of like a basket weave from a distance – maybe kinda a little

  75. 10.21.12
    Madeleine said:

    Oh god, I don’t care how original those tiles are. If it were my place, I’d paint the shit out of those putrid things.
    I like the way you styled your mantel, BTW.

  76. 10.21.12
    mary said:

    hee-hee “fancy problems” have put a name to my numerous home issues. Thank you. I have a fancy fireplace problem as well. Or at least I HAD one until my husband FINALLY agreed (gave in or gave up) to “let” me paint our hideous brick fireplace that has a pellet stove insert. I think the breaking point was when I told him my dying words were going to be, “you should have let me paint the fireplace”.

    I like YOUR fireplace and I think your mantle looks great with the plants and various textures and awesome mirror. I think (at least in the pictures) that the tiles look almost like woven material. Maybe more greenery inside a great vintage and handwoven basket for the hearth?

  77. 10.21.12
    ming said:

    The ikea ps tealight holder in your fireplace makes me think of this scene from Twin Peaks:

    I never gave it much thought but the way you’ve arranged it has me reconsidering…

  78. 10.21.12
    suzy said:

    i’ve been following your blog for a long while now, and can i just say, your writing just tickles the shit out of me–and i mean that in the least pervy sense. i mean, “homo photo strip action”? ! you are cute as a button, keep up all the good shit you turn out and yea, that’s all. boop.

  79. 10.22.12
    cat said:

    maybe i am insane but i love brass fan-shaped fireplace screens a la this one:

    i love everything that is already on your mantel though i too would probably paint the frame of the mirror gold and maybe add a small pop of color… ONE more little trinket, maybe something red?

  80. 10.22.12
    M said:

    Seriously love your blog, but please: it’s mantel (“el”, not “le”). Sorry, no useful suggestions about what to do with it though.

  81. 10.22.12
    Josh said:
  82. 10.22.12
    Francis said:

    It’s all down to personal taste in the end I suppose. I think the mantel looks fantastic, white or black, but I agree the tiles detract from the appearance. Are you sure those tiles are original? — they have a look of the 70’s to me. We had a beautiful marble fireplace in our apartment in Scotland that had similar fecal colored tiling. When we renovated We got a guy to tile over it with sheets of plain mosaic tiles and it ended up looking great. He didn’t have to remove the original tiles (so if you’re feeling reluctant to permanently alter the fireplace structurally it could always be reversed).

  83. 10.22.12
    Monica said:

    I’m with you…those tiles, i don’t care HOW original..are ghastly. Give em the boot! xo

  84. 10.22.12
    Chandler said:

    I say hunt online for a cool fire screen. The depth+height makes putting anything in there awk.

    Love you ;*

  85. 10.22.12
    Chandler said:

    Or custom build black shelves that fit in there and don’t hurt the surface?
    That would be practical…

  86. 10.22.12
    Chandler said:

    BIG-ASS FISH TANK. According to MTV cribs, this is the classiest genre of home decor. ($TATU$ $YMBOLS FTW)

  87. 10.23.12
    Kimberly said:

    ‘Fancy agony’ is a catch phrase worth sharing. Fine work.

  88. 10.23.12
    Erin said:

    Plywood? Mdf? Way too much effort for a temporary fix. Hie yourself down to the nearest art supply store and buy yourself a giant a piece of the thinnest piece of black foam core. Then, with your handy dandy exacto knife,cut your pieces to size. Need to patch pieces together? No problem. Just tape both sides together with some heavy duty packing tape, or if you are feeling super patriotic, some handy dandy duct tape. Once you have created your shape, go find some lovely and more aesthetically pleasing tile (I personally am a huge fan of carrera subway tile myself). Once you have selected your beautiful tile, glue it on to the board with gorilla glue. Now you may be feeling a little lazy at this point and say “why should I use some super fancy glue that I have to go out and purchase when I have my fix all hot glue gun right here at home?” Well, trust this interior designer who has put way too many of those boards together for school projects and while you can find varying degrees of success with different glues, gorilla glue is the way to go (I personally was a glue gun girl myself because of course I waited until the last possible minute to do my design board and needed insta results and didn’t have time to wait for gorilla glue. It usually held up just long enough for my boards to be graded and displayed (just because they were last minute didn’t mean they were crappy)). After your tile has been set, grout over if you so desire and then let it dry however long it takes to dry. During that time, hop on over to your nearest go to store and get yourself some command strips. You don’t need the hooks, just the strips. Once dried, attach to the back of the foam core and stick on tight. It might need some support while it sets but once it is fully adhered you shouldn’t have a problem if you use lots of them located in key strategic points. Depending on your tile, the whole cost should come in at $50 or less, which is exactly what the cost should be for a temporary fix (a permanent fix being that you gut those ugly tiles, who cares if their original, and replace with something better) and you spent a low amount of money, in case you did want to change it again in the future.

  89. 10.24.12
    Marissa said:

    Those tiles are ugly. Why keep them??? Yeah, yeah. They’re original, but they don’t make you happy. Why live with something that makes you unhappy just because they’re old? Change them if you have permission. It’s not like you’re spray painting penises on a Caravaggio. They’re just old crusty tiles that are not historically important or architecturally interesting. We don’t have to preserve every single old thing just because they’re old. Imagine if in 60 years, some poor well-meaning new homeowner was like, “Gee. I really hate these faux marble print ceramic tiles in the kitchen, but I guess I have to keep them because they’re old!” Remember the William Morris quote– have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. The God of Design Preservation will forgive you. Because even God knows those tiles are ugly as sin.

    Aside: Of the several thousand blogs I follow, you are the funniest, wittiest, and smartiest writer of them all.

  90. 10.24.12

    for candles inside the fireplace, at my last apartment i took some inspiration from where people light candles in old churches that I’d seen on tv. I used some scrap wood planks to make what i can only describe as a small tiny staircase, about 10cm (aussie talk, don’t ask me what that is in inches) narrower than the fireplace. it had either 3 or 4 steps. coat of black fire retardant paint, and tea light candles lined up on each one. eats up the negative space in the fireplace and gives of a great light. could work in yours!

  91. 10.26.12
    TieDye64 said:

    Yeah, I can see why the tile bugs. It’s bossy as hell, which makes it hard to incorporate into your own design aesthetic. I have a few very bossy fixtures in my house which have taken me a long time to figure out how to work with. PIA.

  92. 10.30.12
    Niamh said:

    Hi, I love your fireplace and your first world problems :) I would say paint the tiles. They may drive you crazy for the whole time you live there otherwise. I suspect the lanlord or the next tenants will be delighted with the change and if they do object get some paint stripper to them. Paint would come off super easy from tiles and get a grout pen to the grout if you struggle to get it off there. I lived with a fireplace I hated for 5 years and really regret not taking the plunge and painting it. I cursed it everyday I lived there! I’ve moved into a new rented house and I’m changing virtually everything and will reverse any changes the lanlord objects to (although he’s pretty much given me the green light to do whatever I like). I spent to long not liking things about the old house. I want to be super comfortable where I am now and as I’m a lil nuts about aesthetics I know I wont be happy until everything is just so! So anyway go for it I say and with confidence. It will be fabulous! If you dont like the look of the shiny tile paint out there try these chalk paints..They are a dream to use.. no need to undercoat and will go on tiles beautifully. The finish is matt and lovely. Look forward to seeing what you choose to do with it. I second the books stacked in there and put them on a plank of wood or something if you fear they will get dusty or damaged on the floor.. Thats my solution to my out of control interiors magazine collection.. I have stacks of them all over the place here.. but on a plinth so I can vacuum and mop without fear of damaging them. Best of luck with it :)

  93. 2.10.13
    Lynne said:

    I saw this idea recently, and it’s what I’m going to do with my fireplace.

  94. 4.14.13
    nella said:

    Three fireplace possibilities I have noticed lately. The Victorians used fireplace screens in the summer. Yvestown Blog put shelves in her kitchen fireplace. Someone online had a large grey Buddha fitting perfectly in the fireplace. (I hope these are not repeat ideas after 130 comments.)