We take mirrors for granted in our homes today but 500 years ago they were so extortionately expensive that only kings could really afford to collect them! Now we can all enjoy their advantages – and there are plenty when it comes to interior decorating. Here's a quick rundown of the mirror's history and our top tips for using mirrors to best effect in your home.
|Our exclusively designed, ornately carved Marlborough weathered oak mirror makes a fantastic focal point in this seating area.|
Mirrors can most definitely work magic in the home – their ability to bounce light around a room, increase the sense of space and either create or bring focal points to life makes them intrinsic tools in any interior decorator’s kit.
Strategically position a mirror in a dark room and you effectively add a window, pair two identical mirrors symmetrically and create a sense of balance and harmony, or group an eclectic collection together and enjoy the way in which the light bounces back at different angles and strengths at different times of the day.
|A pair of Marlborough weathered oak mirrors either side of the window create symmetry.|
Although mirrors have held fascination for mankind for thousands of years, their widespread use for decorative purposes is relatively recent. That’s because until the advent of the Industrial Revolution and mass production around 200 years ago, mirrors – especially large ones – were difficult to produce and phenomenally expensive.
When the Venetian Murano mirror-making craftsmen were at their height and monopolising production during the 15th century, a mirror cost as much to buy as a naval ship! At that time only kings and the wealthiest nobles could possibly afford them… in fact Henry VIII and his French contemporary Francis I were both said to be fanatical collectors of Venetian mirrors.
A mini history of mirrors
Before mirrors were invented, we would only ever have seen our reflection in pools of water, like the ill-fated Narcissus who, as the Greek myth went, fell in love with his own reflection.
The earliest manmade mirrors date from 6000 BC and were crafted from the volcanic rock obsidian, which was polished until the surface shone and reflected – albeit murkily.
The technique for creating crude mirrors by coating blown glass with molten lead was discovered by the Romans and widely adopted in the lands they conquered. But still most mirrors were made from slightly convex disks of bronze, tin or silver, that reflected light off their highly polished surfaces.
Glass mirrors were rare until the Venetians perfected the art of casting sheet glass and silvering it. They jealously guarded their technology so that they could maintain a monopoly on the mirror trade.
France takes on the Venetian masters
In 1670, the French bribed a number of Venetian glass craftsmen to divulge their secrets and help set up a new glass-making factory, Saint Gobain, in Paris, which went on to create the 357 mirrors in Louis XIV’s famous Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles.
Upon its completion in 1684, the majestic vaulted gallery represented the economic might of France and the demise of the Venetians’ dominance.
To keep up with the new fashion, half the houses in Paris acquired a mirror over the next 20 years.
Mirrors became valuable collectibles among the aristocracy throughout Europe and were used on a grand scale in Baroque and Rococo palaces.
From the late 17th century onward, mirrors – and their frames – played an increasingly important part in home decoration. Early frames were usually made of ivory, silver, ebony, or tortoiseshell.
By the end of the 18th century, the frames were decorated with floral patterns or classical ornaments. They were often used to increase the light provided by candles by well-used rooms during the evening, and because they were still expensive, they also reflected the wealth of the household in which they were hung.
Mirrors remained luxury items until the 1830s when the German chemist Justus von Liebig invented silvered glass, which could be mass-manufactured.
Through the Regency and Victorian periods in England they became commonplace in middle class homes, made from woods such as walnut, mahogany, oak and cherry, metal or sometimes plaster, with varying degrees of gilding and ornate carving according to the fashion.
How to use mirrors in your home
There are lots of ways to use mirrors to enhance or change the look of a room. Here are our top tips for creating some mirror magic of your own…
Create the illusion of infinite space
By placing mirrors on facing walls, the mirrors reflect their opposite images, projecting a feeling of extreme depth. This helps to open up room and create the illusion of lots of space.
Make a small room seem larger
A good way to open up a small room is to hang a mirror slightly above eye level so it reflects space. If you can hang it above a fireplace, this is ideal, if not just imagine the height of a fireplace and position a large mirror on the wall above where the mantelpiece would be.
|The way in which these bevelled mirrors reflect the light and interiors add depth and interest to the wall.|
Fake a window
If a room is dark or there’s an expanse of wall between windows, a mirror can be used to make the wall seem smaller, or less dense. If the wall space is between two windows you can mount a mirror to create the illusion of a third window between the other two. Or if there’s only one window, you can position a mirror of a similar size and shape in the same position on the adjacent wall to create the impression of two windows.
Brighten a room
Place a mirror opposite or next to a window and it will reflect light back into the room to increase the ambient brightness. The larger the mirror, the more light it will reflect – no matter how gloomy it is outdoors. You can also place a mirror behind a light fixture or behind a lamp on a strategically positioned console or table to maximise the amount of light thrown into the room.
|This arched mirror acts like a window, reflecting light back into the room.|
Where there’s a narrow corner, a sloping roof or dark spot under the stairs, a mirror can be used to repurpose the space and bring it to life. A decorative mirror can bring light and interest to that neglected corner and illuminate under the stairs A cheval (French for horse, and so-named because it stood on four legs) or standing mirror under a sloping ceiling, especially when placed opposite or near a window, will reflect light off it – making a room feel less cramped.
|Our small French-style mirror is ideal for a small space, or perhaps for a cloakroom.|
Create a focal point
A statement mirror can make an impressive focal point in a room, especially where there isn’t a fireplace or mantelpiece to position furniture around. It’s important to consider its frame, size, and where you would hang it… what will it reflect? Use a mirror to highlight the style and mood of the room.
|A statement mirror can act as an impressive focal point in a room.|
Draw attention to a focal point
If you have a favourite artwork or there’s a beautiful view from the window, hang your mirror to reflect this back into the room. Remember that unlike art, which should always be hung at eye level, mirror placement will depend on what you want to be reflected. Eye-level works in many cases, but higher or lower can work depending on the situation.
|A mirror can be used to draw attention to a beautiful sculpture of artwork, like this impressive bust.|
A mirror in the dining area or where you regularly entertain can help create a convivial ambience by reflecting guests and creating the impression of that there are more people!
|Our Marina weathered oak mirror in the dining area could add to the conviviality of proceedings.|
Conjure a sense of symmetry
Symmetry (where two sides of a room are like mirror images of each other) brings a sense of calm and order to a space. By positioning mirrors, lighting and furniture so that they mirror each other – this doesn’t have to be perfect but enough to achieve a sense balance – you can make a room feel more inviting and harmonious.
|The positioning of the mirrors, lamps and our Heavenly sofa and armchairs create symmetrical harmony in this room.|
Create a mirror wall
Mirrors can be used instead of pictures to great effect. You can either bring an eclectic mix of mirrors together, perhaps in different shapes and styles, go for only round mirrors or opt for matching mirrors if you want to create a more symmetrical look. Here you could really play with different looks, such as coloured or tinted glass, distressed finishes, crackles and glazes to create an individual and artistic design.
|Four different rustic mirrors add distinct charm to this bathroom wall.|