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Mirror mirror on the wall

Jura Koncius

THE WASHINGTON POST – Nothing beats a mirror for refreshing a space or adding sparkle, which is why mirrors of all shapes and sizes are a staple of decorating. They can be a focal point of a room, up the glamour factor, or be strategically placed to make a space feel larger, brighter or more modern.

“I am always team mirror,” said New York-based designer Mikel Welch, who has appeared on the show Trading Spaces.

“In an urban dwelling with smaller spaces, we are always into mirrors to give the optical illusion of making things look larger.”

Washington, DC-area designer Marika Meyer agrees. “Changing out a mirror can be a fun way to mix up a space,” she said.

But many people – including first-time home buyers and those looking to upgrade from the cutesy piece they bought at TJ Maxx in the early 2010s – aren’t sure where to start. Here are tips from Welch, Meyer and other design pros about where to look for mirrors, where to place them and how to maximise their effect.

GETTING STARTED

Focus on the shape and the frame when shopping. Popular frame materials include metal, wood, plaster and leather. Then find a retailer that fits your budget. The four designers we spoke with for this article suggested CB2, RH, Serena & Lily, Crate & Barrel, West Elm and Wayfair as good sources.

“A great budget-friendly mirror source is HomeGoods,” Meyer said. “I have a round one in our office that I bought there years ago for USD20. World Market is another great option.”

New mirrors can be big-ticket, budget-busting items. Designers recommend flea markets, thrift shops and local auctions as sources for vintage mirrors. Keep an eye out for old frames with character that can easily be fitted at a local glass shop to create a statement piece.

Meyer picked up a frame for USD10 at the Big Flea Market in Chantilly, and spray-painted it white, then had a mirror cut to fit. “It hangs in my powder room and looks great against the metallic wallpaper,” she said. Go to frame shops, Meyer said, because they often have discarded frames they might be willing to give away.

Chicago designer Tom Stringer likes 1stDibs for vintage mirrors. He also recommends attending estate sales, where, he said, you can find high-quality pieces at good prices.

“Chunky vintage picture frames are ideal for reuse as mirror frames,” he said.

WHERE TO HANG THEM

In terms of placement, Stringer said he likes to position mirrors where they will magnify the light in a room. “They bounce light into dark corners,” he said. “I often use them as illusionary windows.”

Designer Nick Olsen agrees. “It’s a cliche, but it’s true. The best selfie lighting in my Upstate New York house is the spot where I hung a mirror between two windows.”

Put a mirror opposite a window, he said, to grab the light and make the room brighter and to create a greater sense of space. Be mindful of how high you hang them. Meyer’s go-to formula is four to eight inches above the furniture or architectural feature below it.

“I usually start at four inches and then move upward,” Meyer said. If your ceilings are particularly high, you can hang it higher. But the mirror should relate to what’s below it, she said.

“I generally do not go further than eight inches off that surface, so we do not create an awkward naked gap between the mirror and the furniture or mantel.”

Over a fireplace. If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, don’t just nail up any old mirror you have lying around.

Nobody is looking into a mirror that high up, Meyer said; it’s a focal point of a major room.

She suggests looking for “a frame that feels artful or a shape that is unique”.

She likes the look of round mirrors over a fireplace, “since it breaks up all of the horizontal elements”, but said rectangles also can work.

She’s not a fan of using square mirrors in this spot, because it’s a bit too close to replicating the opening of the firebox.

Entryways and hallways. Stringer said you need a mirror in the entryway. “Everyone wants to check their face before they answer the door, especially now that we are wearing masks.”

Welch said people often neglect hallways – both upstairs and down – as well as entryways.

“Naturally, people gravitate toward focal-point walls,” he said, but “I am a fan of looking at slender spaces that don’t get as much love.” He suggested placing a mirror above an entryway bench.

The dining room. Positioning mirrors opposite windows in a dining room will allow them to reflect natural light.

A mirror centred over a credenza or buffet can also catch the glow from lighting fixtures and candles at a dinner party, adding to the ambiance.

Stringer said installing dining room mirrors harks back to classic French bistro banquette seating surrounded by walls of mirror panels.

“If you are the person who gets stuck looking at the wall, you can still see what is going on in the room,” Stringer said. “You don’t feel like you got the bad seat.”

On a gallery wall. Mirrors in interesting frames or picture frames are great mix-ins for gallery walls. “Don’t be afraid to step outside of pictures,” Welch said.

“Try using 70 per cent artwork and 30 per cent mirrors on the wall.” He advises mixing it up and not putting mirrors next to one another. Cut craft paper into the sizes of the art and mirrors, then tape them to the wall, he said.

“This will allow you to play with various configurations before putting numerous holes on the wall.”

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