Cause to Reflect : Mirrors Can Enhance the Light and Sense of Space and Be Used to Dramatic or Philosophical Effect


Mirrors have long been used in fiction for everything from telling the fairest in the land to providing a passageway to a world of talking caterpillars and Cheshire cats. In the average home, mirrors tend to be relegated to the bathroom or the back of a door. Their predominant use has been as a looking glass.

But, as interior designers and increasing numbers of homeowners know, there are far more uses for mirrors than merely checking one’s looks. They can be used to correct design flaws, reflect outdoor scenery and--in Eastern philosophy--bring luck.

Strategically placed mirrors can visually expand the space in a room and bring in reflected light. The current trend is to use oversize mirrors for dramatic effect, according to Lynn Duncan, whose interior design firm is in Laguna Niguel. “I recently put a large mirror on the back wall of a dining room in a condo. It opened the room up and added volume to an otherwise small place.”


Mirrors can be used with or without frames to enhance a decor. If the room’s furnishings are traditional, Duncan recommends a high quality gold frame. For a contemporary home, a lacquer frame usually works best.

When placing a mirror, think about what it will reflect. “I had a client who wanted to put a large mirror on a back wall instead of taking advantage of their ocean view,” Duncan said. “When I showed them how the mirror could reflect that view and bring the outside indoors, they decided to use the reflection.

“When deciding where to put a mirror, think of a mirror as artwork, the art being what it reflects,” Duncan said.

Dorian Hunter, whose design firm is in Fullerton, also likes to use mirrors to make small rooms look larger. Redecorating a 25-year-old condo in Los Angeles, Hunter was faced with trying to add light and the appearance of space to a very small kitchen. “The kitchen was what they called a galley kitchen. To open up the space we put mirrors on the wall between the counters and the cabinets, and did the same thing on the wall above the cabinets to the ceiling to reflect the ceiling light. It did the trick, really brightening the kitchen, “ she said.


Sometimes the use of a mirror is more philosophical.

The ancient Chinese art of feng shui links the placement of objects to fate and good luck. According to this philosophy, each direction of the compass controls certain aspects of life. Proper placement of the orientation of your house and the arrangement of personal belongings and furnishings brings good luck or good feng shui. If things are not in the proper order, according to the philosophy, bad luck, poor health and poverty may result.

Feng shui literally means wind and water, representing the power of the environment to affect humankind.

Interest in the philosophy has been growing in Southern California in the past decade, said Katherine Metz, owner of the Art of Placement in Los Angeles. She has been using the concepts of feng shui in her design business for about six years.

The use of mirrors is a major element of feng shui. Because most Western homes are not designed to the specifications of feng shui, mirrors are used to try and correct architectural flaws.

For instance, it is considered a misalignment to have an L-shaped house with a bedroom extending beyond the front door. “To get that room back into a transcendental state we can put up a mirror to draw the room back into the house,” Metz said.

Mirrors are also used in feng shui to expand areas and draw in energy. Mirrors are also considered a symbol of water. A feng shui master may enter a house and find an area that symbolizes fire--not necessarily a tangible element such as found in a kitchen or fireplace, but a sensation experienced by the master of potential bad luck. In those situations, a mirror will be placed nearby to “put out the fire” Metz said. “Feng shui deals with what is seen and unseen,” she added, “things our Western mind hasn’t been exposed to. But there is a growing interest in the feng shui.


The quality of mirrors--whether used for practical or metaphysical reasons--can vary from thick and solid to thin and wavy.

Before purchasing a mirror, experts suggest standing back and make sure it has good clarity. There should not be any fuzziness or distortion. Also check for distortions by looking at it from different angles.

“When you use a large mirror you want to go to a good quality glass and mirror company, one that specializes in top quality mirrors. The ones you buy at discount stores may be rippled,” Duncan said.

Steve Hemsley, owner of First Class Glass in Laguna Beach, said the only way to really know the quality of a mirror is to look at the back. “There’s not a lot you can look for if the mirror is already framed. But if it is unframed, make sure the coating on the back covers the silver completely.

On a good mirror, the glass is at least one-quarter-inch thick and may have a pure silver coating or a combination of silver and copper or other reflective metals. It takes at least two coats of protective covering to ensure the quality of the reflection remains true, Hemsley said.

Proper care of a mirror is important to keep the reflective material from breaking down. John White, owner of Brea Glass, recommends careful treatment of a mirror during installation. Use clean, dry gloves when installing a mirror, making sure not to get any perspiration or installation chemicals on the mirror. It is also important not to let a mirror rest directly on the bottom of a frame where water and cleaning fluids can collect and damage the mirror, White said.

Experts agree any cleaners used on mirrors should not have ammonia, which can drip into the frame and eat away the reflective backing, Hemsley said.

He suggests using a foam glass cleaner without ammonia.

One reason for keeping a mirror in good condition is the cost of replacement or restoration. “It’s really not worth the cost to restore a mirror,” White said. “And I don’t know of that many people who still restore. Even if it’s an antique cabinet, it’s less costly to replace the mirror than try and restore it.”

Of course, another reason to keep a mirror in good condition is that it is a focus of attention. And a reflection on your home.