Mirror, mirror on the wall

If you’ve recently found yourself reflecting on some of the rooms in your house that need sprucing up, try looking in a mirror — make that, shopping for mirrors.

Mirrors, of course, are most utilitarian in the bath, master bedroom or entry of a home. But in recent years they have reinforced their decorative status as a hot go-to furnishings accessory. Their reflective quality visually expands spaces as it also plays with light. A wide range of shapes, scale, finishes and texture offers a myriad of design possibilities, which can be strengthened in multiples. And beyond standard conventions, there now are graphically arresting assemblages of mirrors that work as art or wall decor.

Why mirrors are shining in decor is both a testament to their design as well as to their value.

“They are an easy style commitment, compared to artwork and wall art,” says Tiffany Gelinas, product manager for Crate and Barrel. “Art commits you to colour and a style. It can become overwhelming and often expensive, while mirrors provide nice wall filler — can be decorative as well as functional. They also can add nice light to a room.”

Plus, the matched mindset of marrying mirror frame with furniture has all but dissolved. There’s such a wide range of materials — woods in a host of finishes from light to dark, painted or metal-leafed, matte to glossy, some carved, fluted or chipped, reminiscent of vintage Tramp Art pieces; metals including brass, wrought iron, stainless steel and zinc, with unusual styles such as a fetching chain link; frames wrapped in fabric or leather or embellished with mosaic, shells, stone and bone inlays and mirror.

“People like to mix a bit more rather than buy a mirror to match their bedroom or dining room set,” says Gelinas. “You can personalize your room with things you love and make it your own. Mirrors are a great way to do this and get a lot of look.”

Although some modernists prefer a clean-lined, simple frame (say, in a dark wood or light reclaimed woods that are uber popular today), designers often like to juxtapose styles, e.g., antique with streamlined pieces, for an edgier look.

While design rules have relaxed, one caveat is to be respectful of looks that are clearly disparate. A rustic, weathered painted mirror frame, for example, will never get cosy with a French polished cherry console.

One of the less orthodox ways for using a mirror is to lean it instead of hang it. This idea especially got traction on a mega-scale with high-end decorators, who often custom design giant frames with several-inches-wide picture moulding, mitred at the corners, and filled out with mirror. Leaned against a wall, the mirror spells drama.

Manufacturers eventually caught on and now there are plenty of styles that reflect the Big Lean trend.

“With the rise of McMansions and a trend of cathedral and vaulted ceilings, floor mirrors are a great option for filling larger spaces with style.”

Even floor mirrors can be doubled up or tripled up for a striking look, as in a small dining room. At Crate and Barrel, bold black leather frames punctuate black chairs and accessories in a room appointed with waxed white oak furnishings.

Perhaps taking a cue from collectors of antique mirrors, who like to group them together for a strong visual effect, another engaging display is teaming several of the same mirrors to create an artistic composition.

One of Crate and Barrel’s best-selling mirrors is the 20-inch-square Dubois, composed of an antiqued, mitred mirror frame around the mirror, which adds depth. A grouping of nine (three rows across, three columns down) on one wall, fashions a focal point as it reflects the bed and other furnishings, as well as a spirited raspberry and cream palette.

At the recent spring furniture market in High Point, N.C., one standout was a composition of mirrors in three different colours by Global Views. The company configured 16 (four across, four down) 17-inch squares whose almost tile-shaped pieces weave over and above one another around a square mirror. The result of teaming aqua, citronella and white frames is eye-catching, and the resulting dimensional look has an almost tic-tac-toe whimsy to it.

Some companies have already connected the dots, joining several frames for impact. One example brings together 15 frames for one large mirror that can balance a doorway or hold its own in a two-story space.

Another “assemblage” is composed of interlocking gold-finished wood-framed circles in a collage like design. Still another features gold-framed ovals of different sizes butted against one another, with some of the spaces not mirrored, for a fetching positive-negative play.

With mirrors as wall art, the mirror sometimes is secondary to the pattern. A diamond-shaped mirror, punctuated at the tips with black dots continues a diamond pattern with golden frames that crisscross the mirror.

Architectural elements serve as inspiration for some designs, with Moroccan tracery in wood or metal creating patterns as an overlay on mirror. One design by San Marino, Calif.-based manufacturer Made Goods features a composition of four gold frames, whose mirrored surfaces feature a chinoiserie-style tree whose branches extend across four framed panels, like puzzle parts completing an image. The branches, accented with butterflies, are carried out in a gold “eglomise,” a reverse paint process.

Windows have especially drawn attention with the new darling of trendy home design style: Belgian modern, prevalent in Restoration Hardware’s au courant look, with its wire brushed light woods, creamy linen upholstery and silvery metal accents.

Arched Gothic or peaked tops like building pediments, some with muntins, are some examples, as well as scrolled mirrors of zinc or wood inspired by 19th-century French mansard windows. Such mirrors are especially effective in a room devoid of architectural details, even richer in the presence of appointments such as cove mouldings.

Textural frames also are intriguing with options that include shells, coral (usually faux, to avoid harvesting this natural resource), beads, mosaic and tiny mirrored panels that create a prism effect. Some of the elements are applied layer by layer, to resemble the kinds of appliqués that are being employed in couture fashion, as in Valentino’s iconic rose handbags. One mirror by Made Goods takes an Indian technique of assembling slightly domed circles of mirror in a range of sizes in an all over pattern within a whitewashed teak frame.

As a purely decorative feature, mirrors can transform. If you go for baroque, a heavily carved silver or gold leafed mirror can lend a palatial air to an otherwise modest space. But for even more sheen and jewel-like effects, there are mirrors that incorporate beads, crystals, mosaic like applications, whose faceting (think tiny mirrors laid end to end) further reflect light for dazzling effect. A shot of spicy colour — red, perhaps — may take a cue from a striped chair in a living space, setting a vibrant tone for other accessories such as pillows or flowers.

The space above the fireplace mantel or a console in a foyer is a welcoming spot for a mirror. Just like the trend in bathrooms to upsize mirrors, so that they practically fill out the whole space above a 6-foot double vanity, this approach can be useful in other parts of the house where you want to stretch the space. Mirrors that do double duty, such as one that teams hooks for hats, scarves and keys with a spot for a quick fluffing before you head out the door, are perfect for mudroom entries.

Other mirrors, which can be built into traditional frames, cleverly camouflage flat-screen televisions when the LCD is powered off.