Expert rules and tricks for decorating with mirrors

Expert rules and tricks for decorating with mirrors

Usually a final stop to check your appearance before you head out the door, mirrors serve an important function in most homes. They can be simple and subdued pieces, artful or ornate. We asked some experts for advice on making the most of it.

To maximize the effect of the mirror and create a focal point on the wall, consider a large mirror. “I would go a size larger than you originally expected,” says Andrea West, a Utah-based interior designer and owner of Andrea West Design. “When you go a little larger in scale, it makes it look more dramatic, continues the line of sight and visually expands the space.”

To open up a small, narrow bathroom, West installed floor-to-ceiling mirrors, drawing the eye upward to create the illusion of high ceilings. However, when placing a mirror over a piece of furniture, West recommends extending upward but not outward: The mirror should be no wider than the piece hanging above it.

If a large mirror is not suitable, small mirrors can be beautiful and eye-catching. “It’s a great choice,” says Tricia Huntley, founder of Huntley & Co. Washington, D.C.-based Interior Designer, A single small mirror on the wall can make a powerful impact and create an intimate experience. If that’s the effect you’re after, she cautions against crowding the surrounding wall space with other items. “Multiples don’t make a small space feel larger,” she says.

Mirrors can help make spaces appear larger because light reflects off the glass and returns into the space. Huntley likes to hang mirrors in front of windows to take advantage of natural lighting, but if you don’t have a window in your room, placing a mirror near a light fixture will achieve a similar effect.

West recommends placing mirrors in front of the room’s entrance. This “welcome technique” is commonly deployed to make small, narrow doorways and hallways appear more spacious. Make sure to hang the mirror opposite the object you want to see reflected. “Put it up against a reflection of something that would normally make you really happy,” says Kim Fargo, co-founder of the blog Yellow Brick Home. “You probably wouldn’t want it bouncing off your closet doors if you only have bi-fold doors.”

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Although you may want to draw the eye upward to make the ceilings appear higher, you don’t want people craning their necks to look in the mirror. “When it’s too loud, it makes the room feel more separate,” West says. “When you lower it a little bit, the space feels more intimate.” She says it’s the size of the mirror, not its height, that makes a room appear taller. Scott Fargo, co-founder of Yellow Brick Home, hangs mirrors at about eye level, with the center of the frame about 48 or 50 inches off the floor.

To create a cohesive look, Jackie Harris, who runs Puckhaber Antiques in London with her son Martin Fowler, advises against cluttering and leaving large gaps between the piece of furniture and the mirror.

There are no unbreakable rules when it comes to decorating mirrors. To achieve a personal and collected look, West takes into account the furnishings in the room. She tends to go for opposites: in spaces with extreme angles, she opts for round mirrors. “When you have a lot of clean lines in your furniture, I would bring in a more ornate mirror that adds more character and detail,” she says.

If you can’t find a mirror you like in stores, try selling it at a yard sale. Picking up interesting frames and pairing them with newer glass is a relatively cheap DIY project that the Vargos family has used to create several custom mirrors in their home. If you find a great antique frame, Harris recommends an antique mirror plate to complete the look. (Check antique stores, garage sales, and call glass shops.)

Don’t be afraid to mix materials either. Huntley mixes metals in many projects for a coordinated look, and suggests getting metals that “have a patina rather than very plain finishes.” The West also encourages mixing materials such as metal and wood. You can ground seemingly disparate pieces by looking for the same tones.

Multiple simple mirrors in a room can look elegant. Scott Fargo warns to vary sizes and shapes, but don’t allow them to mirror each other. This creates an unsettling funhouse effect.

Although hanging and selecting mirrors can be a daunting task, keeping them clean and usable doesn’t have to be. “They are very low maintenance and are best left alone,” says Fowler. If the mirror becomes dusty, Harris recommends cleaning it with a feather duster or using a small amount of window cleaning solution on the plate.

And if you’ve purchased a very heavy or valuable piece, experts say, you may want to hire a professional to help hang your mirror. If hanging is not possible, consider placing a large, heavy mirror on the wall. Just make sure it’s safe and not in a high traffic area where you could fall.

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