Thick, silver-backed mirror is fairest of all

DEAR DESIGNER: I have a small living room in my condo. I've heard that mirrors can make it look larger. I don't know how to pick out a good mirror. Is a mirror a mirror? Or do they come in varying qualities? - Chelsey

DEAR CHELSEY: You are correct to think that a mirror (or mirrors) can make your small space look larger. The reason a mirror can do this is because of the light that is reflected in the mirror. Knowing this, be sure to place your mirror in an area that will reflect light and you will have the illusion of space.

As you suspect, mirrors come in varying qualities. Although you can expect to pay more for a quality mirror, a higher price does not always equate to its quality. Sometimes a high price on a mirror may have more to do with its size or the frame it is in than the quality or reflective value of the mirror.

If you are looking at wall-to-wall or floor-to-ceiling length mirrors, you automatically will pay for a safety coating that will be part of the price. The safety coating will stop mirror fragments from being scattered if the mirror is ever broken, a worthy feature.

It's easy to understand how to pick a quality mirror when you know a little about how they are made. In order to make a mirror, a reflective material is adhered to the back of clear glass. Although mirrors were made in several countries previously, Murano, Italy, an island near Venice known for its exquisite glass-making, improved on earlier versions during the 16th century. Mirror makers used a tin-mercury amalgam as the reflective surface behind glass. The mercury made the reflection very clear, but also made the mirror very expensive. Others eventually adapted this process and eventually made it more affordable but had a problem with using the toxic mercury.

Today, a process called vacuum deposition is used in order to mass produce mirrors. Aluminum or silver are the most common reflective materials used on the back of mirrors today.

A quality mirror will have silver as its reflective coating. In order to keep the silver from tarnishing, there will be a sealer along with several coats of paint applied behind the silver.

The glass of a mirror also is important. A quality mirror will be made of a glass that has few impurities. It's impossible to find a perfect glass or a perfect mirror. Look over your mirror before purchasing it to be sure there aren't a lot of inconsistencies. When you look hard enough, you will always find some sort of imperfection, as this is normal with glass. If you are purchasing an installed wall-to-wall mirror, ask the glass company to make note of the glass/mirror manufacturer. If you need to replace a section of mirror, it will be important to use the same manufacturer. Glass that is made elsewhere, although it could be a good quality, can look different than the original when they are placed side by side.

Mirrors come in different thicknesses. You might find one-eighth inch, three-sixteenths inch or ¼ inch. Typically, a ¼-inch thick mirror would be considered a good quality mirror. The thicker the glass, the better chance your mirror will show a true reflection for years to come.

Thin mirrors can warp over time which distorts the image. But thinner mirrors are necessary on mirrored closet doors because of their weight.

Look for beveled edges. When looking for a framed, decorative mirror, look at the edge of the mirror just before the frame starts. If there is a bevel, the mirror is probably at least ¼ inch thick. It costs more to bevel the glass, and it adds a nice touch. If you are installing a wall-to-wall or ceiling-to-floor mirror, forgo the bevel. It will draw attention to the edges of the mirror along with imperfections in the ceiling line.

You don't need to have a large mirror to create space. By making a collage of various framed mirrors of varying sizes, you can create an individual look that will provide both decoration and the illusion of space.

Be sure to hang at least one of the mirrors so that you can see your reflection when walking by. The rest can be hung at varying heights.

Cindy Payne is a certified interior designer with more than 25 years of experience, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers, as well as a licensed contractor. Email questions to her at deardesigner@ or send them to her at Project Design Interiors, 2620 S. Maryland Parkway, Suite 189, Las Vegas, NV 89109. She can be reached online at