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Mantel Styling Tricks

I’m in upstate New York on a trip with Target and I’ll be back here in 3 days for a HGTV speaking engagement so I’m busy and was like What are we going to post tomorrow???Β We could post my bedroom today (then I thought, no, that is a Monday post for sure) or my bathroom (which will come later next week), and we definitely can’t do any roundups since we already did one this week (thanks for all the support on that one BTW). I also have a big post about breastfeeding in public which I’m too chicken to push publish on although it has been written for months (what are your thoughts on that?!) But, after some scrolling I DID find this in the drafts which I had forgotten about and thought was super fun. It’s a styled out mantel that we shot for the book at the home of SchoolHouse Electric founder Brian Faherty. (It’s an INSANE home, by the way, in all the right ways). So let’s do a little before and after, shall we?




Now, let’s take it step by step on how we got here and chat about what makes it work.

1. Start with something large to ground the mantle. In our case we chose a vintage map. It not only filled the space but was our jumping off point for our color palette for the mantle. Which brings me to my next point.

2. Stick to a consistent color palette. People constantly ask me what the number one design mistake is, and 9 times out of 10 your room may not be working because you have not stuck to a consistent color palette. We have a big post coming up on this soon, but my number one piece of advice for any room is to pick a color palette and stick to it. Buy within that palette and it will allow you to work new pieces in without your space feeling too hodge-podge or disjointed. In this case the map set the color palette for us which consisted of; blues, greens, and muted reds.

3. Once you have your color palette you are ready to start playing with accessories. My rule of thumb for mantels is to create a hierarchy of spaces. In our case we had 4 different levels which allows the eye to easily move around the vignette. The map makes up the highest point, then the stack of books which is just to the left of the map makes up the second, the third is made with the collection of candlesticks and the 4th is the long basket. By creating different heights it not only creates interest, but allows you to create collections in the space without it feeling too full or cluttered.

4. Last but not least, add something organic to help it feel personal and break up the structure. The little clipping of ivy did just that in our case.

Did I lose you, or has my Friday morning message with a few quick tips on how to pull together your mantel inspired you to get out there andΒ finally create that mantel that your space has been begging for?

What other areas are you running into style paralysis with? Let us know below, and we just might break it down for you on the blog; in the meantime, if you are craving more styling tips and tricks grab a copy of STYLED which I am very proud to say is in it’s 7th printing! TGIF folks.


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89 thoughts on “Mantel Styling Tricks

  1. I started to comment yesterday (after reading your response to the round-up naysayers) that I so appreciate your class, gracuousness and positive attitude. That is part of what always brings me back. I should also tell you that ive picked up enough around here to conclude that we are pretty different when it comes to the topics of politics and religion. I’m NOT telling you that bc I think it’s a bad thing. I’m telling you that to affirm what you’re doing! Even on the “Big Controversials” you are VERY good at stating your thoughts in a kind, non-threatening manner. I appreciate that! And I thought it would be helpful/encouraging to you to know that you have diversity in your fan-base….does that make sense? Just figured it’d be nice for you to know. :). Also, welcome to the eastern time zone…enjoy your time here!

    1. I must have missed the round-up backlash….haha, people complain about everything! As someone who is working on their house I find the round-ups VERY helpful-saves me from trolling on the internet for hours. I recently bought lighting and tile from two of the suggestions (side note: was awesome for tile; I believe that was from the kitchen round-up). I also like the posts on design tips-like the right size rug, hanging curtains correctly etc.

      1. Oh no! I missed the roundup backlash too! Don’t let them ruin it for all of us, I love those posts πŸ™‚

    2. I just have to add that I, too, am a political ‘divergent’ from your blog & (seemingly) most followers. But, I’ve been a loyal fan for literally years & years! I hope you know that there are some of us out there who love you & your blog, but are not the same as the louder voices. (But, really, no one should expect everyone to be the same, right?! πŸ™‚ )

      Oh, and to stay on topic, I’d so LOVE to have a mantel & fireplace!! Mantel decorating is so very much fun—and so easy to change out for the seasons!

      1. I agree with Jess and Sara – I’m another one who appreciates Emily’s grace and point of view, though I find my political beliefs different. Huge fan of Emily’s communication style as well as, obviously, “style.” Love you, Emily!

  2. There isn’t a fireplace nor a mantle at my house, but FYI I have been using your tips yo create vignettes throughout my little apartment and also to style a bookcase. Which looks 100 times better now that it’s not buried under junk mail

  3. This just makes me sad that I don’t have a mantle to style. πŸ™‚ However, I have used these basic premises (learned from your book, of course) to style a console table.

  4. This is the kind of fireplace I envision in your new old home. Clean and white.

    I’m very pro breastfeeding in public. Cover only as mom and baby prefer no one elses opinions matter. For me personally it would be no cover, whatever my shirt and the baby’s head naturally provide. If you are staring and get a peek of nipple, bully for you.

    1. I want to share a heartwarming experience from my long ago breastfeeding days.

      I live in Indiana and my family lives in PA. I had my baby shower in PA at my mom’s house a month or so after my son was born. I drove the trip just me and the baby. It took forever because he’d fuss or get hungry and I’d have to pull over at nearly every rest stop to attend to him. So I was stopped at a rest stop and was sitting in the car nursing him. I heard a tap on my window and rolled it down and a man was standing there and handed me a can of diet coke. He said he thought I might like that and wished me a good trip and then he was off again. It remains one of the sweetest most caring moments of my life. I love diet coke too. How’d he know…what a guy

      1. That’s a wonderful story, and reminded me of two positive experiences I’ve had like that.

        The first happened after I made it through the supermarket with my baby and toddler in tow. The baby was getting fussy as we checked out, so I grabbed the groceries and plopped down on the nearest bench to nurse her. After a few minutes (I can’t remember why but I think because of the noise) we moved into the vestibule to finish up the nosh. A female worker started walking over, which raised my defenses a bit, but then to my surprise she asked if anyone had said something to make me move. She was about to knock some heads together if I told her yes πŸ™‚

        The other one happened last week, also at Meijer (sigh). I was reading labels while my kids (now slightly older) were monkeying around by the cart. The next thing I knew, there was a big crash and they were both pinned underneath the cart and screaming at the top of their lungs. It must have scared them to death. I scooped the little rascals up and was squatting on the floor trying to calm them down and could feel the stress swelling up inside me when a man walked by and said, “Hang in there, mama.” He didn’t stop, but that was enough to prompt me to take a deep breath and feel not so alone right then.

        I hope every mom (and dad) has some similar kindness shown to them. Those tiny gestures really make a difference.

        1. That was meant, for EMily, but after reading Happy Days Are Here, that is meant for you, too. That is so lovely. Fine, I’ll post it (but maybe on a weekend for fear of all those ‘HEY YOU ARE A DESIGN BLOG WHY ARE YOU POSTING ABOUT YOUR BOOBS’ readers out there). I’m actually not worried about my stance, I’m more worried people will be like – eh, stick to design (which they aren’t necessarily wrong about). xx

          1. Yay! I look forward to reading it. I think what makes my favorite blogs stand out from the pack is that they aren’t one-dimensional. Even people who come here strictly for the design stuff can probably appreciate that those other posts color in the background and connect us readers with an actual real-life person who has trials and triumphs just like the rest of us. And for as much as people complain, they are under no obligations to click on those posts.

            Thank you, Emily, for all the time, energy and consideration you put into your work!

          2. Please post it, Emily. Don’t chicken out! I’m reading your blog while nursing the baby to sleep right now. πŸ™‚

  5. Beautiful, as always!

    I’m totally interested in hearing your thoughts on breastfeeding in public. I agree with Jess… I realize I might not agree with you (I don’t always)… and I still really love how you present things, and like *you* more when you have those types of honest conversations. I know that doesn’t mean you won’t get angry feedback, but there are lots of us here and reading who feel like you’re a friend of sorts, and we aren’t going to change our minds just because of something you believe on a very personal topic.

    Random mostly-unrelated suggestion: as a reader who LOVED your “ask the audience” post from Wednesday, I would have also loved if you started off Thursday’s post with a bit of a nod to that. Not expecting you to address all the comments, but just something like, “The response yesterday was overwhelming. Thanks!” (Sorry if that’s putting words in your mouth! πŸ˜‰ I like when it feels like we’re on a journey with you. So, even though we have to take big breaks between updates on this new house, it would feel good to know that it’s moving along behind the scenes, by giving us another indication that you’re bringing us along with you for the ride. Does that make sense? I thought of it because of your comment today referencing the roundup yesterday. I just love it when we actually hear you thinking through the postings for the week, and musing about how it impacts us/you.

    Mostly… Your blog is hands down my favourite. Looking forward to seeing your bedroom and bathroom next week, and to watching you renovate this new house. Thanks for being so good to all of us as you chose what/how to share!

    1. I totally agree with you re bringing up wednesdays post on thursday. the amount of comments was INSANE and I have only gotten to like 200 right now but I will finish them. THey have been so helpful. I love your suggestions/advice. Thank you!

      1. I can’t fathom how you have time to get through all the “ask the audience” comments, but that’s fantastic. You’re wonderful!

        And, FYI, I didn’t read any of the feedback on the round up post, so don’t know what the backlash was about. … Just so you know my comment wasn’t related to that at all (in my mind).

        Love that you are always appreciative of positive feedback, and that you keep making this blog better and better. Thanks! It’s such a fun part of each day for me. πŸ™‚

  6. this is a great post (i yearn to have a fireplace again!) but PLEASE put up your breastfeeding post! it’s so important that we, as women, hear from others about their experiences (positive and negative) in order to normalize it AND make the decision about what’s best for each of us, not just what society/celebrity/mommy blogs say we should do.

  7. I’d love to see a post on breastfeeding in public!! Your blog would raise awareness with people who don’t normally seek out breastfeeding/mommy blog stuff! As a mother who breastfed in public for about a year I can say that I largely had positive experiences, and found it essential for my freedom and sanity to be able to breastfeed whenever and wherever necessary.

  8. now, how would you do it if you have a tv about your fireplace. same techniques? I wish I could attach a picture to show you. ive tried to decorate around it but have no idea if its right or not.

  9. Spent Monday night struggling with the very prominent mantle in our new tiny apartment, copy of Styled in hand! This is perfect. I also listened to you on young house love talking sponsored posts, which I am now embarrassed to say I used to feel fine to eh about. I understand so much more about them, and I really appreciate and can see them as relevant and clear messaging powering the blog/empowering your team and appreciating you guys’s worth/talent!

    1. oOH yeah!! I was just talking about that today and how it still makes me uncomfortable to talk about. but i’m so glad that it helps people understand. xx

      1. I want to add that I also feel much more supportive of the sponsored posts after listening to the YHL Podcast. I had no idea they paid so much (and am very glad that they do). You and your team deserve it! And I imagine it also helps give you a bit more freedom to sometimes work on projects that don’t pay as well but are fun and/or for a good cause.

  10. Thank you for your work! It is inspiring. I have always been stumped when it comes to decorating above my master bed. Any ideas you have might help me out of the slump.

    1. I am currently struggling with over the bed art as well!! One for a daybed/trundle and one for a queen master.

  11. I’m not a mom, but I would still be interested to read your breastfeeding post. I think it’s important to open up the conversation about this as much as possible (so by the time I am a mom, hopefully it will be less taboo πŸ˜‰

    And am I crazy, or did you already publish a post about styling this mantel? I still appreciate the advice, but maybe if you feel like you’re scrambling to publish something you don’t feel great about, just do a quick post saying that you’re taking some ‘me’ time and leave it at that (or don’t post at all–you definitely don’t ‘owe’ your audience anything with the crazy amount of helpful, original posts you create every other day of the week!)

    Enjoy your trip!

    1. I kind of thought that I had seen a post on how to style this mantel already too! But then, I thought, maybe because I have Styled the book and perhaps had seen the mantel on instagram as well possibly (??), that I was imagining it.

        1. Yes! I thought this too! I was going to post something saying this but then thought I must have just seen it in the book. I still don’t know!

          1. I’m now wondering if we have posted it, which would be a first (ironically) if that’s the case. HA. I hope not. xx

  12. Push “publish” on the breastfeeding post! You seem like such a wonderful mother and I’d love to hear your perspective on this. My husband and I are trying for our first child and I very much look forward the nursing experience!

  13. I live in SF so breastfeeding in public is really no big whoop and like a blog post you may not like, just look away if it bugs you. I just read the chain from the roundup post and, I agree that that they are super handy when you are looking for something specific. I do think that more round ups organized in the style themes of your book would be helpful, like the one you did about the dining room tables and chairs (I think I have that right). Also, the “pairing rugs” post was incredibly helpful – a round up with a “how to implement” is incredibly useful.

  14. Hmm, what am I NOT struggling with styling? Well, how about picking a chandelier for dining room table? Or how much does art work need to tie into a room with color? Or style?

  15. Your point #2 resonates big time. Keeping the colors consistent is a challenge. It’s one of the main reasons I created Keep the great tips coming!

  16. Breastfeeding didn’t work out great for me (I pumped for what felt like forever!), but I always love reading about it. Yes, please!

    Beautiful mantel! I love the built-in log nook.

  17. Styling a round coffee table that still incorporates the necessities (remotes, kindle, etc.)

    Also since you love doing kids rooms so much can we see more living rooms that incorporate the space as a play room as well. Not everyone has space for a separate playroom so the living room often has to function for children during the day and adults in the evening. I’d love to see some realistic (baby proofed) living room ideas!

    One quick request – is there a way to slow down your GIFs? I always feel like the EHD GIFs roll so fast you can appreciate the transformations of them and it’s hard to take in each step.

  18. As far as the breastfeeding post, I’d LOVE to read it!

    BTW, I loved hearing about your sleep training methods and we even implemented them in our house after reading up on it more. (It failed sadly but that’s mostly because I was a push over and too tired at the time to deal with it all. My husband and I are getting on the same page now and gearing up to try it again *fingers crossed that everyone is ready*). I read so many books on pregnancy, birth and parenting but thought the one book on sleep I read would be enough. That method didn’t work so well for us so when it came to actually sleep training I was a little lost.

    I hope this doesn’t start another comment saga but I thought that just mentioning this might let you know that when you’re brave you have the potential to help other people. I really appreciated the sleep training post and most of the others that tend to be controversial. Sometimes the scariest things are the ones we need to do the most.

  19. I’m currently struggling with styling a bench in our entryway. I would love to see a similar post on bench styling/tying benches into the space they’re in.

  20. Love this! Schoolhouse Electric is such a great brand, too! Great options and made in the USA.

    Any tips on how to style a mantle with a TV over it? We can’t realistically hide our TV and only have one large living space so we have to work around it.

  21. Re: what to post.

    I am DYING to get perspective/rules for matching furniture. I am in the market for all new bedroom decor (except a bed frame) but deciding on new bedroom furniture is throwing me into an existential design crisis.

    Should I try to match my new dresser to my existing bed? If so, what attributes should “match”? Size, color, finish, style — all of the above, none of the above?!

    I get it .. bedroom sets = bad. But ..can I still purchase two items from the same line/collection? E.g. is it tacky to match nightstands with a dresser?

    And how does the size of a room impact how much furniture can/should match? Is it OK to match pieces in smaller room because there is less stuff/opportunity to tie the room together?

    1. I think this is a great question. Two things can match, for sure. Obviously the nightstands can match. And I do think that a dresser and the nightstands can match (get rid of the mirror attached to the dresser if it comes with it – that is dated). But then get your bed in a different finish (upholstered? iron?). I know that mixing woods can be super tricky, so I say the easiest thing to do is have them match or have them be completely different colors (i.e. painted white and wood, etc). Make sense?

  22. I’d love to hear your input on breastfeeding in public! I am just started weening my 11 month old and have struggled with being my brave feminist self vs. The very private person I can be. I say more power to women who can and do.

  23. What about if your mantel is ridiculously long? Do you pack in the vignettes, space them out, or let the ends breathe? I’ve got all those boxes you mentioned checked (except the organic one because our cats eat/destroy everything), but something still feels not quite right. Actually, now that I’m staring at it, I think a plant would make it look divine. Jerk cats.

  24. Hi Emily. You leaned the map against the wall. How would it have looked if you had hung it so that there were about 6 inches of wall space between the mantle and the bottom of the map? I have a picture of water flowing over rocks above my mantle. I love the picture, but the 6 inches of wall space really bugs me. Nothing I do seems to help. I have small children and my mantle isn’t that high, so leaning it is not an option. Should I just hang the painting lower? But then objects will block it, and I am not sure I will like that. Do you have a rule of thumb for this?

    1. I think it may have looked even better hung, BUT I think we couldn’t put nails in the wall πŸ™‚ I think you should hang the painting lower. xx

  25. What do you do if you mantel is the entire length of the room? And it is a rental so there is not a lot you can do except work with it? Oh- and it is lava rocks and two tones of wood?

  26. I would LOVE a post on staircase wall.
    And, kitchen lighting- sizing, style ideas, how to coordinate kitchen table light with island lights.

  27. Yeah, hit publish on that breastfeeding post! We need more breastfeeding awareness, we need to normalise discussing it, let along doing it in public.

  28. Please oh please oh please share your posthoughts on breastfeeding in public. I’m breastfeeding my first child now and it would be so relevant for me to hear your thoughts on it.

    And the mantle inspo is lovely, good pick for a busy Friday!!

    1. Just in case this helps even a little bit, here’s what my daughter’s wise, sorely missed pediatrician told me: Feed your baby when he or she is hungry. If someone stares at you or, worse, makes a comment, look them in the eye and ask “Do you eat when you’re hungry? Then what’s the problem?” It’s 100% their problem, not yours.

      Congrats on the new little one!

  29. Please slow the GIFs down. They go so fast it feels like Clockwork Orange, I have no idea what I’m looking at and now have an aversion to colored tapers.

  30. I think this post is going to be helpful. Don’t have a mantle but I do have an upright piano that serves as one. My woodstove could use some style advice! It is black and has a long stove pipe up to the vaulted ceiling. Nice brass trim on door and prefab neutral hearth.
    I would be interested in your breastfeeding post. I nursed my 3 kids, they are grown and out on their own, and feel like it is natural and shouldn’t have the raised eyebrows that it does sometimes.

  31. Go ahead and breastfeed in public!!! It’s a natural thing. Most people can’t tell what you’re doing unless they come up close to check out the baby.

  32. Please publish the breastfeeding post!! I’m a new mother, I just had my first baby three weeks ago. I do breastfeed in public, under a muslin swaddle blanket, but I’m so conflicted about going uncovered.

    I think the desexualization and normalization of breastfeeding is such an important thing, and I admire so much the women who just whip it out and go for it. I would love to do that, but at this point I prioritize my own privacy over taking a stand, even though it’s one I very much believe in. I think that maybe at some point down the road that might change for me, but my priority right now is my own comfort. I would love to hear your thoughts!

  33. Please publish the breastfeeding post! I’m nursing my three month old as I read this post & recently got my first dirty look while discreetly nursing in public. I could use a post like that right about now!

  34. So helpful! I’d love to see how you style kitchen shelves. We have a corner hutch built in to our dining room and I can’t figure out what to do with it!

  35. Thank you for the mantle tips, Emily! I’ve been struggling with mine and this info is so helpful. I loved the bed styling tips, too. FYI I found your blog via your Instagram account, just today, and will continue to follow…so many great tips here! And please do share the breastfeeding post, when you feel ready – I think about that stuff all the time (and plan to breastfeed when I am a parent, I’m not yet!) and I think the only we can move past the stigma around it is by talking about it. Just my two cents πŸ™‚ thanks for your awesome blog!

  36. I am just going to answer the breastfeeding in public–it’s a “do.” For goodness sakes, you are feeding your CHILD. I did have one of those handy breastfeeding smocks though. I think by the end of second child, I didn’t care if I used it or not, I just whipped it out for my husband’s modesty if he was around.

    So my most promiscuous, wildest pre-kid friend, post kid breast fed. She was always the most modest about it. She plain won’t do it. She pumps milk before and brings a bottle to feed the kid while out and about.

    I hate pumping. I hate it. After kid two, it wasn’t even possible. How would I let my crazy, two year old boy roam free for the 10-15 minutes of pumping time while I was literally hooked up to a pump? And where would that new infant be while I hooked myself up to pump? Second child was actually colicky and always attached to me in some sort of baby wearing device. She fell asleep ON me, so how could I successfully pump with a sleeping baby on me? If she was awake, how could I care for her, a crazy two year old boy and be hooked up to a pump? If I managed it, how could I be relaxed enough to let milk flow?

    I take the path of least resistance and just nursed the second child everywhere and anywhere. Because of the above scenarios, she didn’t get used to a bottle (I do NOT recommend this) and actually wouldn’t take one after three months. So I ended up becoming tethered to her until she was a year and drinking cow milk out of a sippy cup and eating solid foods. I literally couldn’t escape for more than four hours.

    So to answer your question–am I going to breast feed in public? HELL YES. Necessity demands it. I didn’t have the freedom to get wishy washy about it without never leaving my home for a basic errand of grocery shopping, let alone holding down a job and seeing the sun shine.

    Whatever you have to say about breast feeding in public I am sure will be interesting. I support you whatever your stance is. My friend who does NOT do it, has a nanny 30 hours a week while not working and a devoted husband. She can swing pumping the bottles and handling the older child. Now that she’s gone back to work, she’s weaned and has the nanny full time. The more help you can afford and choose to pay for, the more options you have and the choosier you can be if it’s “Right” or “acceptable” or even “comfortable” to nurse in public.

    Or you can take possibly the most feminist stance and use formula. It’s awesome. How wonderful is it that we live in a day in age where we have a nutritious alternative that our children can THRIVE on if breastfeeding is NOT the path of least resistance or even possible for the multitude of scenarios presented?

    All I have to say is ROCK ON parents of infants. No choice is easy. You are the parents; you have the choices. Everyone do what’s right for their families with no judgements (or fewer judgements with an awareness surrounding it). Babies are wonderful but hard and darn it, we have to feed them some how.

    Good luck on your post Emily. I hope you post it. You are awesome and constantly take chances. I am one of your loyal readers and look forward to it.

  37. I would love to see styling tips for a mantel that includes a flat screen tv. Haha! Ours is mounted just above the fireplace mantel in our family room (the only wall possible given the shape of the room) and I think I’m stumped on whether I include it as one of those 4 different levels or not.


  38. I vote yes to a breastfeeding post! I love your style, but your voice and opinions are the most interesting part of this blog. And breastfeeding is so close to my heart. I didn’t go through any public BF controversy during my year of nursing, but I went through 8 cases of mastitis, an abyss (still wincing at the thought), and a VERY heated conversation with upper management at my very corporate office about the requirement to provide me with a space to pump. Please post!

    Oh and P.S. so happy for the mantel advice, I have one in my bedroom in major need of styling πŸ™‚

  39. good ideas… I am having major mantel issues! we have a a giant timber fireplace with a shelf above, a built in mirror above that with another shelf above the mirror, all the timber is too much for me and i would like to paint it white like the walls but we live in a 1916 weatherboard cottage and the fireplace has a lot of pretty hand carved details and the timber is original to the house… stare at it all the time because it bothers me so I am going to try and implement some of your tips…
    as for breastfeeding in public- well have a fed in a lot of places and sometimes felt uncomfortable… but not enough to stop me going where i need to go and feeding my little ones when they need it! Also mine both hated being covered past 2months old so the covered never got much use! xx

  40. Here’s a link you please Must watch… . It is by Independent Films and it is called ‘Embarassed’ and it is about breastfeeding in public. It is also The most spot-on perfect expression of this issue said in the most straightforward and gently amusing way. If for some reason my link doesn’t work, cause I am still not able to figure out this simple task…please look it up on Facebook. I believe it will give you a feeling of support and camaraderie that might help in choosing to publish your viewpoint on this, i think, very important issue. Thanks Emily. And Yes, I think your posts about non-design topics are important too – you are a Whole individual and I (we) mostly love to hear about You.

  41. Sorry for Not reading other comments before I posted My own comment…but now that I have (read one entry) I MUST say… any feminist I know, or know of, does Not support ‘formula’. They do support firstly, choice, and secondly, support for those choices (paid leave for women and parents, workplace support for breastfeeding/pumping, child friendly work arrangements).

  42. Thank you for this post! My mantle is a little overcrowded with personal photos, and these are such great tips for keeping it visually interesting. I love those sweet little candlesticks so much I went over to SE and bought a set today!

  43. Thanks Emily! Question: should the color palette stay consistent just within that room, or throughout the entire house? We just bought our first home and as I decorate room by room i’m starting to feel like the whole house doesn’t go together. Is the color palette my problem?
    Also, yes please post on breastfeeding in public!

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