The Christmas card arrived wrapped jewel-like in brilliant gold foil paper, and my wife and I were thrilled to discover that the traditional holiday greeting was accompanied by an invitation to join our client for what promised to be an elaborate, over-the-top dinner. We knew that for a fact because everything this client did was first class, always exhibiting graciousness and superb good taste. We were excited and couldn't wait to see the decorations and taste all the goodies prepared by his personal chef.
We arrived on the appointed evening, perhaps a bit earlier than we should have, as we didn't want to miss a minute of soaking up the fabulous ambience - not to mention the divine food. The valet took the car and we entered protected from the cold night air by the porte cochere that graced the main entrance of his magnificent Italiante-style home. It was a joy to visit him at any time of the year, but especially during the glittering, festive holiday season.
Talk about decking the halls with boughs of holly! It was a glorious sight to behold with most of the rooms lit primarily by candlelight that reflected off the mirrors that seemed to be everywhere. Funny, I didn't recall so many of them; but I remember thinking that they must have been part of our original design plan, which, of course, they were. Nonetheless, it was as though I was seeing them for the first time; and I was once again bowled over not only by the beauty of the decorative frames, but by the enchantment that they created that evening. I understood more clearly just why mirrors are often used in magic to create an illusion - just as they can in a home.
After the last course had been served, I took a deep breath and leaned back in my chair, when I once more surveyed the dining room in all its formal, traditional beauty and focused my attention on the mirrors and the candlelight so gloriously reflected in them. Yes, I thought to myself, antique mirrors certainly go a long way in creating a feeling and sense of softness. They really are often works of art in themselves that can bring color and texture to a space, as witnessed by the room I was sitting in and all through this home.
The next day, still feeling dazzled by the extraordinary evening with our client, I further reflected on the use and placement of mirrors. I was so impressed by the spell they had woven by their functional elegance. Curious as to how it had all begun, I discovered that mirrors, in some form or another, have been in use for the past 5,000 years, and that the original idea probably was born by ancient man seeing his reflection in a pool of water. My first thought was that it must have been that ego-driven Narcissus.
Early mirrors were little more than a sheet of polished metal, often silver, copper or bronze, although most modern mirrors are made of a thin layer of aluminum deposited on a sheet of glass. The glass is then polished and becomes an effective base for the reflective layer of metal. Interesting that such a simple concept could give rise to something so essential to every home, no matter the style. Designers use them anywhere and everywhere to create an illusion of depth and space.
For example, I've used a mirrored door at the end of a short hallway to make it appear longer and brighter. The results are sheer magic. Used over a sofa or mantel in place of a piece of art and you have an instant and glorious focal point for your room. And if, at the same time, it can reflect a beautiful outdoor scene as well as the sunlight coming into the space, then you've really hit the jackpot.
Recently, I designed the interior for a rather small master bedroom and once again called on the magic of mirrors to help increase the size of the space and reflect the glorious view opposite the bed by employing one of my favorite tricks of the trade. I placed a large vertical mirror over each night table that not only opened the room and created a whole new dimension, but also reflected the light from the table lamp in the evening as well as the sunlight during the day. It works like a charm every time.
And let's not forget that mirrors also can be used on the backs of display cabinets and etageres to reflect treasured possessions, while adding intensity and drama to your design. Their use in entry ways, with or without an accompanying console table, is practically a given, as is their extensive use among feng shui practitioners, who have affectionately referred to them as "the aspirin of feng shui" because when they're properly placed, mirrors have the ability to transfer beneficial chi (energy) into a given space. Remarkable.
It's plain to see why mirrors, with all their wonderful magical abilities, have fascinated people for as long as they have, and will no doubt continue to do so. I implore you not to leave mirrors just for the bathroom or behind the bedroom door, but bring them out into the open where they can dazzle and transform your home, as they "mirror" your individual style.
Stephen Leon is a licensed interior designer and president of Soleil Design; he has been designing and manufacturing custom furniture and cabinetry for more than 25 years. He is president-elect of the Central California/Nevada Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers and is a certified professional in green residential design. Questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.