Even the snappiest mantel can look a little lost when cloaked in wallflower white. Which helps explain why pros like Amy Wax, an architectural color consultant in Montclair, New Jersey, are beginning to prescribe something a little livelier. For one thing, saturated shades do a better job than white of highlighting molding details, like fluting and rosettes. Adds Wax, "You're making something that has some clout even more important. It then becomes the anchor you can decorate around."
Painting a plain mantel in an unexpected hue can reinforce its status as a focal-point feature and provide a counterpoint to otherwise white woodwork. "Mantels offer just the right amount of surface for a spark of color," says Debbie Zimmer, a paint and color expert with the Paint Quality Institute
, who painted her own mantel a taupey brown