First of all, thank you SO much to everyone for weighing in on the mantel painting issue. Pretty much unanimous for painting that sucker black. Can't wait to get on that project. Until then, I've turned my energy toward styling the mantel. It turns out that having a young puppy who requires you to stick close to home for hours on end + kids who want to OD on technology while on fall break = mantel styling antics galore. Don't worry lots of potty breaks (for the puppy) and technology breaks (for the kiddos) were taken during this process. First, a reminder of what it looked like sans styling . . .
As I may have alluded to before, I was honestly just lazy about styling the mantel because I didn't like it. But with all your fabulous suggestions, I was inspired to get on it. So, here's where I started. 
Now, don't judge too quickly. This is a process, remember? I basically just started moving art and accessories around my room. I decided I needed some natural element, so I grabbed my shears and cut the closest oak branch I could reach. Then, I stole this bowl from here:
And this brass and stone tree from here:
But, I wasn't quite feeling it. The bowl was too small unless paired with some other pieces. So, I kept on moving stuff around.
Another attempt. This time, I moved the small ikat bowl and tree off completely and put this faux bois bowl I recently bought from Homegoods in the center. I liked the scale of this bowl a lot better, and thought if I filled it with some pomegranates or something kind of pink-ish/red that would add more color. Of course, I didn't have any pomegranates just lying around. Does anyone? Except maybe photo stylists? Those people seem to have everything.

Then while taking a break from styling I read some blogs. While looking at Nelya's blog, inspiration struck. Nelya's blog often has that effect. If you're not already reading it, you should be. Because guess what I saw . . . 

books! On the mantel. Why had I not thought of that? Of course, I loved a lot of the other stuff going on here too, but don't have any of it. Except the books. Books I have. Aha!

Since books wouldn't fit under my TV upright, I turned them on their side . . .
Better, right? We interrupt this styling session for a gratuitous puppy shot:
So, after adding some more books and scavenging some apples from the kitchen (who needs stinking pomegranates anyway?), this is what I ended up with . . . 
Granted, it might undergo some slight tweaking later on (as I've been known to move stuff around), but for now I'm happy with it and think it looks a whole lot better than it did. 
Have you re-styled areas of your home that make you happy?

Postscript: During the writing of this post, my wily puppy peed on my cowhide rug for what is now the 10th time I believe. She loves that thing. You lose sight of her for 2 seconds, and sure enough, there's a yellow puddle on the white hide. Luckily, it's amazingly easy to clean.