Mantel Magic!

November 30, 2013

WHAT’S MY FAVORITE DECEMBER CHORE? Decorating the fireplaces in this 19th century house. For a Victorian look, I cloak the mantels with evergreen boughs and lots of fresh, colorful fruit. The procedure, which could also work for a dining table or a bookcase, goes something like this:
First, grab some evergreen boughs. These can be branches of cedar, pine, hemlock, yew, or long stems of boxwood — whatever you like, or whatever you have in your garden. And if you don’t have access to evergreens, just visit your local florist. He or she will have all kinds of fresh greenery on hand throughout December.

In any event, be sure to candy-coat the works with “Wilt-Pruf.”  Wilt-Pruf , an anti-transpirant, will insure the boughs stay fresh and green for weeks.

Next, arrange a focal point of some kind. A pineapple is a good idea.

A pineapple is the ancient symbol for “Welcome.”

To give the pineapple extra height, I place it atop a small urn.

No urn for you?

Set the pineapple atop an upside-down bowl.

Place matching candlesticks at each end of the mantel.  If you use silver candlesticks, and they are horribly tarnished, like mine, you’ll want to polish them first. Tarnished candlesticks are not welcome in a Victorian setting, even when they are flanking a pineapple.

So grab your blue rubber gloves…

And a couple of cloths…

And a bottle of pink silver cleaner.

Squirt some silver polish on one rag, and then give the candlesticks a good rub-down.

Buff to a shine with the other rag.

Return the polished candlesticks to the mantel, and top each one with a tall, tapered candle.

We now have a nice, balanced arrangement.

But there’s more fun to come!

Take some oranges, and place them near the candlestick on the right.

Arrange more oranges around the candlestick on the left.

And by the way, as much as I hate the color orange, I feel it is essential in a mantel display. Orange makes the arrangement “pop.”

Now head to fridge, and grab some  ‘Golden Delicious’ apples. Arrange them somewhere near the oranges.

If you have a Bosc pear, position it between the apples and the oranges.

A pine cone would make a good substitute for a Bosc pear. We’re merely trying to add a touch of brown to the mantel-picture.

I arranged one  pear at one side of the mantel, and a pair of pears at the other end.

Pomegranates look terrific on a holiday mantel. I placed one near my pineapple…

While the other pomegranate chose to sit beside a candlestick.

Grapes look luxurious on a mantel. I placed green grapes near the Golden Delicious bounty…

And also near each candlestick.

Should you find yourself holding an enormous bunch of red grapes…

You can always cut the bunch into smaller bunches.

Arrange the red grapes here and there along the mantel.  They look well among oranges, apples, and pears.

They also look  dashing between a pomegranate and a cluster of green grapes.

Frankly, grapes steal the show.

Think of Margo Channing as a pineapple, and Eve Harrington as a cluster of grapes.

That last sentence will make no sense to you unless you’ve seen this Bette Davis film.

Well, that’s one way to achieve a merry mantel.

Oh — I should probably mention that in a cool room (maximum temperature in my house is 65°F), the fruit can last for weeks. If a cluster of grapes or an apple should “turn,” I simply remove them, and replace with them with fresh.  And when the show is over, I toss all of the fruit onto my compost pile. There they decompose, and turn into the rich soil that feeds my garden.

In the comments field below, let me know how your own holiday decorations are coming along. Or, just say “howdy.” As always, I love hearing from you.

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  1. Robin says:

    Happy holidays! We’ve got a few twinkle lights, wreathes and gold sparkle garlands up above the windows, but we’re waiting to do the tree. Maybe this week…..gotta figure out where to put it this year.

  2. Susan L. Espersen says:

    Well, my Black Friday wedding was a wonderful event! All went well, even though I had a miserable case of LARYNGITIS! I even asked a couple at the airport (I was there to pick up my son who was walking me down the aisle) how to sign, “I do!”, just in case nothing came out! The silver shined, the linens were fresh and crisp, the flowers I did were lovely, and the groom was amazing! I’m a lucky lady! However, today we begin to undecorate the house from the wedding reception and Thanksgiving and attend to the season at hand! Christmas, our first and Mr. & Mrs. Golden! Wait until he sees how many totes of decorations I have! I love things from the 40s to 70s, as that was what I saw as I grew up. I have lighted Santas, space age ornaments, color wheels to shine on the foil tree, chenille wreathes, series lights, and every version of The Night Before Christmas I can find! Oh, it will be wonderful! Have a wonderful December everyone!!! :-)

  3. Susan L. (Espersen) Golden says:

    I forgot to change my name on my post! At 61, it is a little hard to leave a name I’ve had for so long behind, but my son has promised to carry it on with pride and dignity! So, I am now Susan L. Golden for the rest of my days! :-)

  4. Susan L. Golden says:

    Ta hah! :-)

  5. Linda DeVona says:

    Your mantel piece looks stunning, but how do you keep the mice away from such a tempting buffet?

  6. Barbara says:

    Kevin, I plan to make your beautiful mantel arrangement for my dining table. Two questions (1) should I place a runner or felt underneath and (2) do I also spray the fruit with ” wilt pruf”. How long can I expect this to last? Guess that’s three questions. Barbara

  7. Jeanio says:

    I love the look but I’m worried about critters. Any advice?

  8. Susan Golden – Congratulations!

    Linda – Thanks to Camille the Cat, there are no mice in this house!

    Barbara – For a dining table, I’d place a colorful runner beneath the arrangement. Spray the evergreens with Wilt-Pruf, but not the fruit. In a cool room (like my parlor) the fruit will last for weeks. Should your apples of grapes “turn,” just replace them before company arrives.

    Jeanio – You might want to skip this arrangement if you have high-jumping critters in your house! (Or use fake fruit.)

  9. Adele says:

    Ahh! So beautiful. You are so creative.

  10. paula K says:

    Gorgeous! hmm, new grandbaby pictures off the mantel to make this….tempting!
    loved the outdoor wreaths in Williamsburg with the colorful fruit…it was also enjoyable to watch the squirrels ripping them apart….enjoyable because they were not mine to repair!
    Next weekend we collect greens from our various trees/shrubs to make grave blankets…with adding some for senior friends who can no longer makes ones for their family graves, we are up to possibly 15 this year. Will be scavenging the trees for extra branches!

  11. Susie says:


  12. Molly says:

    Beautiful mantle and appropriate for all winter holidays!
    Happy birthday to you and why make it only a birthday week of celebrating, go for a birthday month. Why not!

  13. Morgan says:

    So elegant, Kevin. Lovely! I had planned to macrame a version of Gillian’s Christmas tree from the movie Bell Book and Candle using red and green hula hoops, only found my macrame skills inadequate for the task. Made a wreath from the hoops instead, with a big rred rope bow. Looks cute and quirky on the front porch. Am now going to use the 6′ stepladder draped in red and green saris for a tree this year.

  14. Jennifer says:

    Just Beautiful!

  15. You are so very creative! The joy you take in creating such a warm and welcoming home is so very evident. How lucky is the guest in your home!

  16. Donna Besst says:

    I know it’s late but I wanted to thank you for all the yummy, sexy sides you posted for Thanksgiving. I made two tarts, the spinach, mushroom, and bacon and also a blueberry and pecan with carmel…just delicious! The dough was very simple to make and the taste was divine! So divine in fact that the next morning I made a bacon, egg, cheese and rosemary breakfast tart…yummy! I also made the turkey brine and the fennel spinach, white bean casserole. I am so in love with your posts, my husband is referring you to as my other man…lol Anyway, I adore you and your page. Your mantel looks lovely!

    Warm Wishes,

  17. Debra says:

    Hey Kevin-
    I hope in the new year you will share photos before and after of the kitchen/butler pantry!
    Love looking at your beautiful victorian and all of the restoration you have accomplished!

  18. Theresa says:

    As always, it’s a delight to read your weekly posts. My daughter and I just decorated our tree, before she had to head back to her place for. It’s always fun to share that task, and share the memories that each ornament brings up. I’m still trying to figure out how to decorate my mantle this year. Yours looks lovely!

  19. Claudia S says:

    Kevin, your mantel is beautiful and inspiring me to decorate mine! Thanks for the how to!

  20. Arlene Bice says:

    You send me a Happy Holiday all year long with your unusual and interesting posts.

    Today I took a Broccoli & Cheese Timbale (your recipe & what is the correct pronunciation for Timbale?) made in the Charlotte mold I won from your blog. It was easy to make, delicious and impressed everyone at the early holiday party today.
    Thank you for being you. and Happy Holidays…….your mantel looks beautiful.

  21. Meg says:

    Your mantel is gorgeous, but I only have a small apartment, so that’s it. Anyway I will be at my son and daughter-in-law’s home. Gail decorates and cooks and everything, she is great!!!, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours.

  22. Dee S says:

    That is gorgeous! And I love the color orange, btw!

  23. Nikki G says:

    Lovely! You have a rare gift for a man! A true artistic touch! Thanks for sharing!

  24. badger gardener says:

    Very pretty! I’d be tempted to munch on those grapes every time I walked by.

    Thanks for the reminder that it is time to polish the silver.

  25. Amanda says:

    Looks great, but these fresh grapes might not make it til Christmas. lol

  26. Donna Besst – So glad you tried some of my recipes for your Thanksgiving party. Music to my ears!

  27. Martha says:

    Your posts make my day, and I share them often. You may have no idea how much you brighten many people’s lives. Thank you, Kevin

  28. Casey Cavasher says:

    Lovely, lovely mantle arrangement! I always tie a bunch of cinnamon sticks (the longer ones, the better, if you can find them!) and place them in the mélange of mantle fruits — also I spray the pine cones I gather outdoors starting in November with cinnamon-scented oil to keep the room filled with the Christmas aromas if I don’t happen to be baking cookies or pies.
    Love your blog, recipes, sense of humor and classic movie references! We would be grand friends, I suspect, if we didn’t live on opposite sides of the country!

  29. Casey Cavasher says:

    oops, sorry, used the wrong spelling version of “mantel” above!

  30. Karin Gateless says:

    Beautiful but don’t the grapes and mangos look sad and yucky by Christmas, or do you have to take it apart and put it back together every day?

  31. Kate says:

    Looks fabulous!

  32. Martha says:


  33. Karin Gateless – In a cool location (such as my parlor), most of the fruit stays fresh-looking for weeks. Should grapes or the odd apple start to “turn,” I simply replace them with their fresh equivalent. (You mentioned mangoes, but I did not use them for the above arrangement.)

    Martha – Wilt-Pruf is available at most garden centers. You can also order the product from The ready-to-use version comes in a one-quart spray bottle — it costs about $11.

  34. Oriane says:

    Absolutely beautiful and so refined.

    I use your decorating method on big old travel trunks I have around the house and create smaller versions on bookshelves and an old desk.
    Our orange trees are covered this year so there is no shortage of fruit for display, some neighbors grow pomegranates and we trade fruits for our respective displays.
    I particularly like your (so easy to follow) step by step instructions, with a sprinkle of your humour it is so enjoyable.

    Comme toujours, merci.

  35. Cristy says:

    I can’t begin to tell you how much I look forward to opening my emails on Sundays and it is because I look forward to your latest newsletter! I never know what new idea you will share with all of us. I must say, you always make me smile and even laugh. What a great sense of humor mixed in with pure talent!(I was going to say, raw talent but thought better of it) Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and the Happiest of New Years. I am honored to start my new year with a weekly newsletter from you! You really do make a difference in todays crazy world and I thank you for that!

  36. Mary Nichols says:

    I am involved in a project restoring our city’s historic cemetery and would love to know more about the grave blankets one of your readers mentioned. What a wonderful idea! Thank you, in advance!

  37. Tina says:

    Will Wilt-Pruf keep the transpirance of Christmas tree smell from perfuming the whole house?

  38. Hi Tina – My mantel swag is coated with Wilt-Pruf, but it still has the wonderful, strong scent of cedar and pine.

  39. paula K says:

    For Mary Nichols–grave blankets are very easy to make. We gather all sorts of evergreens branches– starting with two larger ones for “bases” about 2 to 2 1/2 ft long and sturdy, Those go on the bottom end to end overlapping. then layer on various greens in smaller lengths..we use 6 to 8 branches again end to end overlapping 6″ or so in the middle. Then take wire or the covered floral wire and go under and come up and twist in two places about 4″ from the center to keep the branches together. From there we “stuff” in smaller accents,under the two wires, boxwood, cedar, juniper in shorter lengths to cover the wire and fluff up the center and finish with outdoor ribbon tied at the center. I hunt down spruce and fir with branch tips that curl upward so when wired on the tips curl up. The only expense is the ribbon and wire if you can find enough evergreens. Since our snow, we have fallen white pine limbs so going to add to the ones made sunday still in the garage…about 5″ of snow on the ground and our cemetery has flat markers—so here they stay for now.

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