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How to decorate with mirrors without turning your home into a fun house

Designers say to go big, reflect something you like, and complement your furniture

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By The Washington Post | June 24, 2019 | Trends

Helen Carefoot, The Washington Post

Typically, a final pit stop to check your look before you run out the door, mirrors serve an important function in most homes. They can be simple and subdued, or artful, ornate statement pieces. We asked some experts for advice on making the most out of them.


Bigger is better

To maximize a mirror's impact and create a focal point on a wall, consider a large mirror. "I would go one size larger than you would originally expect," says Utah-based interior designer Andrea West, owner of Andrea West Design. "When you go a little bit larger in your scale, it makes it look so much more dramatic, continues the line of vision and it really visually expands the space."

To open up a small, cramped bathroom, West installed floor-to-ceiling mirrors, drawing the eye upward to create the illusion of sky-high ceilings. But when positioning a mirror over a piece of furniture, West recommends expanding up but not out: A mirror should not be wider than the piece it's hanging over.

If a large mirror doesn't work, smaller mirrors can be beautiful and striking. Tricia Huntley, founder of D.C.-based firm Huntley & Co. Interior Design, says a single small mirror on a wall can have a strong impact and create an intimate experience. If this is the effect, you're after, she cautions against crowding the surrounding wall space with other objects. "Multiples don't make a small space feel bigger," she says.


Positioning is key

Mirrors can help make spaces feel larger because light reflects off the glass and back into the space. Huntley likes to hang mirrors opposite windows to take advantage of natural lighting, but if you don't have a window in your room, positioning a mirror near a light fixture will achieve a similar effect.

West advises positioning mirrors opposite a room's entryway. This "greeting technique" is commonly deployed to make small and narrow entryways and hallways feel more expansive. Be sure to hang the mirror opposite something you would like to see reflected back. "Put it opposite the reflection of something that would normally make you really happy," Kim Vargo, co-founder of the Yellow Brick Home blog, says. "You probably wouldn't want to bounce it off your closet doors if you just have bifold doors."

Drawing the eye upward with tall mirrors can open up a small, cramped bathroom. Travis Richardson

Don't hang it too high

Although you might want to draw the eye upward to make ceilings appear higher, you don't want people craning their necks to look into the mirror. "When it's too high it makes the room feel more disconnected," West says. "When you bring it slightly lower, you feel more intimate in the space." The size of the mirror, not its height, is what makes a room appear taller, she says. Scott Vargo, co-founder of Yellow Brick Home, hangs mirrors at about eye level, with the center of the frame about 48 or 50 inches from the floor.

For a pulled-together look, Jackie Harris, who runs Puckhaber Antiques in London with her son Martyn Fowler, advises against cluttering and leaving large gaps between a furniture piece and the mirror.


Complement and contrast

There are no unbreakable rules when it comes to decorating with mirrors. To achieve a personal, collected look, West considers a room's existing furnishings. She tends to go for opposites: In very angular spaces, she chooses rounder mirrors. "When you do have a lot of clean lines in your furniture, I would bring in a more ornate mirror that adds more personality and detail," she says.

If you don't find a mirror you love in stores, try a yard sale. Picking up interesting frames and pairing them with newer glass is a relatively cheap DIY project that the Vargos have used to create several custom mirrors in their home. If you find a great antique frame, Harris recommends an aged mirror plate to complete the look. (Check antiques stores and garage sales and contact glass shops.)

Don't be afraid to mix materials, either. Huntley mixes metals in many projects for a curated look, and suggests getting metals that "have patina instead of very simple finishes." West also encourages mixing materials such as metals and wood; you can ground seemingly disparate pieces by looking for the same undertones.

Multiple simple mirrors in a room can look chic. Vary the sizes and shapes, but don't allow them to reflect each other, Scott Vargo warns. This creates an unsettling fun-house effect.


Protect your investment

Although hanging and choosing mirrors can be a daunting task, keeping them clean and usable shouldn't be. "They're really low maintenance, and they're best left alone," Fowler says. If a mirror does get dusty, Harris recommends dusting with a feather duster or using a small amount of window-cleaning solution on the plate.

And if you've bought a very heavy or valuable piece, experts say, you might want to call in a professional to help hang your mirror. If hanging isn't feasible, consider propping a large, heavy mirror up against a wall. Just make sure it's secure and not in a high-traffic area where it could be knocked over.

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