Mirrored walls in their glory days of the 1930s and 1940s reflected glamour. Today, they create an illusion of space in small quarters and add light in dark rooms.
Using mirrored walls requires special planning to avoid a fun-house effect. A large mirror next to a column or a step may change the apparent dimensions of the architectural feature. Steps reflected could become a physical hazard.
Also, avoid mirror images of eyesores such as a radiator or an open bathroom door. It's best to experiment first.
Interior decorator Ron Bricke recently used mirrors to solve two decorating problems.
He mirrored one wall of a 3-by-4-foot closet in a decorator show-house, turning the tiny space into an appealing and efficient home office. He fitted it with built-ins, including an L-shaped desk for a PC, printer, phone and fax. The unmirrored walls were covered in striped fabric and used as tackboards.
Why the mirror?
"The room would have felt unbearably small without it," he says.
In addition to visually doubling the area, the mirror created an intriguing optical illusion of a full Palladian-style glass and wood door. Bricke devised the illusion by building a tall, slender corner cabinet with a quarter-round curtained door abutting the mirrored wall. The mirror completes the door, creating a semicircle.
In his apartment, Bricke used a mirrored wall to visually enlarge his bedroom and emphasize the view.
The skyline is seen from a row of windows in the 10-by-15-foot room. By mirroring floor-to-ceiling closet doors on the opposite wall and draping the two other walls with white gauze curtains, Bricke created an airy pavilion.
Bricke says it's easy to estimate an appropriate size and placement of a mirrored wall or portion of a wall.
"Stand in the spot where you intend to place the mirror and carefully observe what you see," he says. "Kneel down, stand on a stool, move to the left and move to the right to make sure that everything within your view is suitable and attractive."
If there is an eyesore, reducing the width of the mirror usually will eliminate it.
Finding a good spot for a mirrored wall is only half the battle. Panels must be aligned to avoid wavy images.
"Looking into a crooked mirror is a subtly queasy and uncomfortable feeling, like being in a fun-house," Bricke says. "Good installers know how to take any irregularities into consideration and to compensate for them."
If the installation is perfect, the reflection of a sofa back, for example, will run smoothly across the panels.
While a wall installation is the most dramatic use of mirrors, a mirrored screen or a collection of mirrors in decorative frames is less permanent.
Mirrored screens offer reflection and flexibility by changing the angle of the panels or moving the entire screen.
"Use the screen to divide two sections of a room, behind a sofa, table or chest, or near a window," Bricke suggests.
A dramatic use of framed mirrors is as a group, each mirror a different size and shape.
"The best way to work out a composition is to place the frames or templates on the floor and combine them until you are pleased," Bricke says. "Then go out and have the mirrors cut to fit the frames."
While frame materials can vary, Bricke suggests sticking to the same or similar materials--gilded wood, for example.
"Having a wall hung with framed mirrors is like having a wall with lots of tiny windows," he says. "Each gives a different view."