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Birch, aspen and gum all have lovely white bark. A symmetrical stack of logs is a design element and a nod toward coziness.
A custom-cut mirror adds dimension and design cred.
A vertical stack of books is linear and design savvy. You can also pile books in willy-nilly for a more eclectic, natural look. But no book burning allowed.
A screen serves as a piece of art and also covers the cavernous black hole of an empty fireplace.
You can fill a fireplace with knickknacks. Here they used shells, but there is no reason this couldn't be a display spot for all sorts of collections. A vintage typewriter lived in ours for a while.
And you can always just block off the fireplace with wood or sheetrock, keeping the mantel as a focal point and design element.
Make Your Fireplace the Focal Point
Mantel Mania: Sprucing the Space Above Your Fireplace