"They also tell a story," Modica said. "You can easily change your decorations out for every season and display things that you really love. It could be as simple as one or two things or as many as you want. It's your story."
Stories large and small
As staircase pictures walls and gallery-style picture hanging continue to gain popularity, the mantel is now the place for decorative items.
"Scale is an important challenge when decorating a mantel," Modica said. "Finding that perfect big item may take some time. An oil painting, a mirror or just an interesting empty antique frame are all good options."
Smaller items resting on the mantel help balance out the bigger items. But sometimes those smaller items get tricky, said Stephanie Zell of Atlanta. Her home has a double-sided fireplace, with one side facing the living room and the other her bedroom.
"The biggest challenge for me is trying to edit the items on the mantel," she said. "Sometimes I can go overboard and find too many things I want to stick on it, (and they) don't necessarily go together."
Baumgartner sticks to arranging items in groups of odd numbers, making sure the items share a similar color or shape.
"I think the biggest challenge is knowing how much is enough," she said. "Be sure to include some negative, or empty, space to make it more pleasing to the eye."
Or, you can run with that space, like Holly Browning of Down to Earth Style does. "Nothing is wrong with a very simple mantel, so if you don't think you got it right, keep it sparse," she said. "(It's) a much better choice than adding clutter."
Are you obsessed with decorating your house? Show us your skills at CNN's Open House and your photo could be featured in next week's story. Our next focus: Backyard patios and decks.