When the wicked queen wanted verification of who was the fairest of all, she turned to her trusty mirror and, when it betrayed her, Snow White got the business. Mirrors have always been about vanity, from the time Narcissus gazed into a still pond that reflected his beauty. But in today’s downsize-minded economy, mirrors may be more important than ever as an affordable illusion of greater space.
Mirrors have always been with us. As far back as 6,000 BC, mirrors were made simply by polishing stone, such as obsidian, a naturally occurring volcanic glass. Polished copper was used as early as 4,000 BC in Mesopotamia and Egypt, and bronze mirrors were made in China from 2000 BC. Metal coated glass mirrors are said to have been invented in modern day Lebanon in the first century AD, the same time that glass with a gold leaf backing was being made in Rome.
The mirror that most closely resembles what we use today, glass coated with a tin-mercury amalgam, was invented in Venice, the capital of mirror making for many centuries. Until the mid-19th century, mirrors were a luxury item afforded only by the rich. With the invention in 1835 of the silvered-glass mirror by Justus von Liebig, a German chemist, mirrors became more affordable when the process was adapted for mass manufacturing.
Through the centuries, mirrors have held all sorts of curiosities and suspicions. For instance, in the early days of our country, particularly in the South, mirrors where covered in a house where a corpse was waked. The belief was that the soul of the dead would become trapped in a mirror left uncovered. Mirrors falling from walls or cracking mysteriously were said to be haunted. And feng shui believers have all sorts of fun placing mirrors properly for good energy flow. As examples, they should never be placed directly across from the main entrance, and should be used sparingly in bedrooms if you expect to sleep
For accessorizing, mirrors really come to play. When my wife and I operated an antiques shop, we would hunt for old frames and stick a mirror into them to get two to three times the price than for the frame alone.
While the most popular placement of decorative wall mirrors in the home is over a fireplace, one of my favorite decorating tricks is to create shelving with a mirrored back. This is particular effective for displays of crystal, both cut and in natural shapes that look like sculpture. And, by placing live plants on the shelves, the greenery and flowers are doubled by their reflection in the mirror.
In two different locations in our home – in our center hall on a harpsichord and in built-in bookcases in our bedroom, we use a profusion of small frames containing pictures of our family and friends and, interspersed among them, we feature framed mirrors as well. Why not look at ourselves while we’re looking at others?
Let’s consider mirrors used on a larger scale. Since most of us will be downsizing our homes in the near future, according to a survey of builders who plan to reduce the average size of a home from 2400 sq. ft. to 2200 sq. ft., we can make up the difference in the use of wall mirrors. If a wall of mirror is placed opposite the source of light, it gives the illusion of twice the space and twice the brightness. Just look at what it did for Louis XIV’s Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.
When I checked with various glass suppliers, I found that a typical wall of 8 ft. by 10 ft. would cost between $1400 and $1600 to install. When I asked if there were varying qualities of mirror, I was told that any mirrored wall would have essentially the same product, with 1/4" glass. However, the variance in price is in the finishing edges. For polished edges the price would be on the lower end, and beveled edges on the higher.
If we consider tricks for decorating in a recession, what better device than one that, by reflection, doubles the size of our living space?
Bill Primavera is a realtor (www.PrimaveraHomes.com) and a lifestyles journalist who writes regularly about homes as The Home Guru. For questions about buying or selling a home, he can be reached directly at 914-522-2076.