By Stephanie Cavanaugh
HERE’S ONE NICE thing about growing old(er): Unless you’ve downsized to a little flat or Marie Kondo’d your home into an ascetic void, all neatly rolled socks, and a single frying pan that brings you joy, you’ve probably amassed all of the materials you need to create a showstopping holiday fireplace mantel.
If you have any of the following—candles and candlesticks, crystals, silvery cups, assorted small vases, figurines, ribbons, scarves and tassels—and can scavenge branches of magnolia, ivy, and pine (try a garden center that tosses out Christmas tree clippings—ask and ye shall receive), you have everything you need for an extravagant display.
If you must spend money, a line of paperwhite narcissus would be delightful, or a lineup of flaming red amaryllis, a blizzard of baby’s breath, pops of hydrangea, or maybe translucent slices of dried fruit to catch the lights. Oh, right, lights.
Fresh flowers are lovely, poked into little water holders—but you have to keep filling the holders.
The centerpiece for my personal production is a fabulous peacock feather boa Baby gave me several years ago, after we saw one in New Orleans (really, where else?). Peeking out from the feathers is a collection of glittery birds, a small brass birdhouse, a few other baubles. Wrapping it up, a twinkle of white lights and a gorgeous length of ribbon, turquoise and gold with peacocks, another Baby gift.
Having a feather boa makes it all so easy—perhaps you have one from a Mardi Gras party that’s gathering dust?—but nearly as simple was the ivy I used to use, wrapping strands together with floral wire, twisting the rope across the mantel, then adding the other bits and bobs. The key is anchoring it so it doesn’t fall into the fireplace. Three little nails, one at each end and one in the center, should take care of that; just loop a bit of the wire around boa or garland and wrap it around the nail. If you’re a fancy sort with a marble mantel, try those sticky-backed picture hangers; they’ll do just fine.
I’m not showing how-to pictures because it’s easier than it looks. Three nails. Floral wire. Shove and poke. Done. I’ve looked at photos for you and decided that those stylists in their little smocks and perfectly done nails and makeup doing extremely neat and picky things with more equipment than you’ll need (oh, you’ll want a scissor or snips, for the wire) are really intimidating. If such pictures were all I had to go by, I’d throw up my hands, pour some wine, sit on the sofa, and rewatch Call My Agent.
Anyway, the only purchase I’ve made this year is a $7.98 spool of floral wire, which was probably unnecessary. If I had really looked, I’d probably have unearthed three or four rolls that were put away in what I had assumed would be an obvious spot.
Flower Magazine has a collection of beautiful mantels—some are elaborate, some elegantly simple—and a few what-to-do’s when your fireplace has no mantel, and instructions, if you must. There are no instructions for what to do if you have no fireplace. But, you have my condolences.