Mirrors don't have to be kitschy

8 tricks to enhance interior architecture

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8 tricks to enhance interior architecture

Arrol Gellner
Inman News®

Mirrors in architecture have somehow gained the reputation of being cheap trickery. Part of this bad rap stems from the dreadful gold-veined mirror tiles that were so popular during the 1970s. They were applied haphazardly by laypeople and decorators alike, and became associated with all the other excesses of this period.

Such kitsch aside, mirrors are one of the simplest and most effective ways to enhance interior architecture. But to be successful, they must be integrated into the architecture, not applied as an afterthought.

1. First, make sure you buy good-quality float or plate glass mirrors. Cheaper mirrors have ripples that distort the reflection, as well as thin silvering, which will quickly corrode. Also, for a really clean installation, attach mirrors with mastic rather than clips (you may wish to have a glazier do this for you). Mirror size is limited mainly by cost and by the clearances available in your house; floor-to-ceiling mirrors up to 4 feet wide are not uncommon.

2. When installing any mirror, take care that it's absolutely perpendicular to the walls and ceiling. Otherwise, the reflected surfaces will "bend" at the glass, destroying the illusion of continuity.

3. An architectural mirror shouldn't be placed on top of the wall surface like a poster -- the edge reflection will be paper-thin and unconvincing. Instead, recess it so that its edge reflection gives an illusion of surrounding wall thickness. The illusory "wall" will appear twice as thick as the depth of the mirror recess, giving a look of mass and permanence so convincing that it can often fool onlookers into thinking there's actually a space beyond.

4. Carefully determine the reflection that will appear in the mirror. To help you visualize what you'll see, draw a floor plan that shows the real room as well as the reversed, illusory space beyond the mirror. It's worth spending a few moments diagramming the sightlines on paper to make sure of what you'll be seeing.

5. Arrange the mirror to reflect windows, doorways, or interesting architectural features like arches or columns. That way, you effectively get two features for the price of one. Mirrors reflecting windows also have the added effect of brightening up a room considerably.

6. At bathroom vanities, carry the mirror up to the ceiling line rather than stopping 18 inches below it as is customary (the mirror will have to be drilled for any wall-mounted lighting fixtures in this area, about a $25 charge). The ceiling will appear to continue through the glass into the "room" beyond, amplifying the illusion of space.

7. For the really adventuresome, experiment with arranging mirrors at right or obtuse angles. The results can be very surprising. Mirrors facing each other at less than 90 degrees (for example, on opposite walls of a powder room) will produce infinite reflections, giving a funhouse effect.

8. Finally, one of the cleverest mirror tricks I've seen comes from the Fox Theater, a beautiful movie palace in Oakland, Calif., dating from 1928. In an ornate upper lobby, a pair of blank metal fire doors were disguised as French doors and then glazed with mirrors rather than glass, giving the illusion of additional rooms beyond.

Read Arrol Gellner's blog at arrolgellner.blogspot.com, or follow him on Twitter: @ArrolGellner.

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