Help Needed For Fireplace Makeover

So.... while I was blog hopping today (and looking at pics of some awesomely decorated homes), I got an idea. Maybe it won't work, but just maybe it will. I have a decorating dilemma and I need your help.

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Here is my fireplace. Now what do I do with it?

Help!

This fireplace is in our family room, which is accessible with a step down from either the living room or the dining room/kitchen area. So that means it is visible from pretty much everywhere on the main floor. Which is why I have to come up with a solution for it. It has been neglected for far too long.

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B-o-r-i-n-g

We redecorated the family room last fall (as in we painted and got new furniture). But once I got that far, I never actually "decorated" the mantle, above the fireplace or below on the hearth area. I know my bookshelves could use some work too, but that is mostly just laziness.

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See, it's visible upon to entering thru the front door.

So, it is about time for a fireplace makeover. I like the red brick, I know I could paint it, but no thanks.

So then, what color and what type of accessory works there? Everything I like just ends up blending in. Do I put pieces of pottery on either side, plants (yipes.. I kill everything), scuptures (I'm reaching here...), what?

The rusted metal Christmas trees I have there now (who says Christmas trees are only for Christmas time, especially if they are funky ones) are my favorite type of decoration, but they blend right in. That seems to be the problem with everything I like. So, please can you help me broaden my horizons and find a solution?

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View from the dining room/kitchen into the family room

If I don't come up with something above the mantle soon, my husband is going to figure out a way to get a flat screen tv up there. (Please, no).

A couple of things to consider: whatever goes above the mantle has to be easily removable so I can hang my fresh and fragrant real pine wreath up there once Thanksgiving rolls around. Yes, I decorate for Christmas the minute thanksgiving is over, but it comes down the day after Christmas.

And I should mention that I am on a really limited budget for this. Okay not really limited, but it has to be  practically priced. I am just that kind of girl.

So I am asking for your help. If you see something that might work, please send me a link. If you have a suggestion, please let me know. I need inspiration.

Much appreciated. Thanks!