Which is the fairest mirror of them all?

If you have a question for Luke about design and stylish living, email him at [email protected]. Follow him on Instagram @lukeedwardhall

I want to make my house feel brighter and lighter and so I am looking for mirrors to place in most of my rooms. I’m not sure where to start. Can you help?

A room doesn’t feel truly complete without a mirror or two, I believe. Not only do they provide extra light and brightness, they are also brilliant accessories in their own right. I enjoy the process of sourcing and placing mirrors and experimenting with colour and material contrasts, sizes and shapes.

In our sitting room in the country, for example, we bought when we moved in a tall and thin circa 1910 japanned mirror in red lacquer (pictured above, from London’s Ebury Trading) to hang above the fireplace. Its thin red border is a welcome contrast to the room’s grassy olive-green walls and the Queen Anne-style rounded shape is quietly elegant.

The slender size gave us ample space to add candle sconces and framed pictures on either side. A wider mirror would have filled the space and looked great too, but the verticality of this thin mirror and the surrounding arrangement of pieces pleases me.

I like mirrors of almost all shapes and sizes, and I don’t have rules about what to choose and where to hang. (Although overmantel mirrors generally belong above mantels, and landscape-shaped mirrors are not usually to my taste.)

What I must say is: go bigger rather than smaller, as a too-small mirror in a space feels mean. And, as with pictures, don’t hang too high. You don’t want a mirror floating high on a wall, untethered. It should feel grounded to whatever is beneath it, whether floor or basin or furniture.

A shield-shaped mirror from the 1960s
A shield-shaped mirror from the 1960s, available at Pamono
A French faux bamboo-style mirror, c1920 available at Tom Scott Antiques
French faux bamboo-style, c1920, available at Tom Scott Antiques

I do, unsurprisingly, love an old mirror. Old glass can often be beautiful; I love its patina, foxing and spots and smudges. It is possible to buy new glass that has been treated to look old, and some smart versions can be found, but more often than not the effect doesn’t look quite right to me.

If you fancy designing your own mirror using this kind of glass, take a look at GX Glass, which makes a nice Venetian glass with a subtle, gently mottled appearance.

So, where to start? The range of choice can feel dizzying. Here are some of my favourite ideas, which I hope might provide some initial inspiration. I like inexpensive faux-bamboo mirrors in little loos — they often seem to be just the right size to hang above a small sink. Tom Scott Antiques often has a good range in stock.

A shield-shaped mirror is a wonderful thing, particularly Italian ones made in the 1950s or 1960s with thin metal borders. Search pamono.co.uk for good examples. London’s Retrouvius is selling a charming mini version in a wooden frame, with the perfect amount of patina across its surface.

I adore also a gilt-wood mirror, but be careful to avoid the Liberace look. How? I think one wants one’s gilding to be fairly dull, not too brassy. If you’re searching for something a bit ritzy, you want fine, elegant scrolling, not bulbous blobs.

LVS Decorative Arts is selling a very large and rare George I gilt-wood and gesso mirror that features a broken scroll arched pediment with carved eagle heads, cresting to a feathery foliate crown. It is utterly marvellous; I want it madly.

Retrouvius is selling a charming mini shield-shaped mirror
Retrouvius is selling this mini shield-shaped mirror
The rare George I gilt wood and gesso mirror that features a broken scroll arched pediment at LVS Decorative Arts
A rare George I gilt-wood and gesso mirror at LVS Decorative Arts: ‘I want it madly’

If money were no object, I’d be first in line for a Murano moment. See the pair of 19th-century Venetian mirrors on offer from a dealer in Long Island City, via 1stdibs. These are etched with scenes of figures in landscapes and trimmed with pink and green glass flowers. They look as if they have been sculpted entirely of sugar by woodland pixies.

At the other end of the spectrum in terms of age, expense and extravagance, I’m a huge fan of the mirrors made by Habitat when it first started out. These feature thick plastic borders in a range of colours. They’re simple, fun and bold, and look great in bathrooms. Habitat should consider bringing them back. They come up on eBay sometimes — this is where I found my square emerald-green model.

A pair of 19th-century Venetian mirrors at 1stdibs
A pair of 19th-century Venetian mirrors at 1stdibs

The French company Atelier Vime produces lots of wonderful things from wicker and rattan, made by craftsmen using materials grown locally in Provence. I very much like its large natural rattan-edged mirror. The soft tones and textures of the rattan contrast beautifully with the glass, and its size would create a grand statement in any room — above a console table in a hall, perhaps?

Atelier Vime’s rattan-edged style mirror
Atelier Vime’s rattan-edged style

I mentioned the idea of designing your own mirror, and this is something I certainly recommend if you fancy the challenge of creating a particular shape and size. For my Paris hotel project, last year I designed a mirror inspired by William Kent’s ornate gilt-wood pieces, recreated in simple off-white painted MDF, to which I added decoration in black paint.

Not exactly fit for the V&A, but it worked just fine in a foyer around the corner from the Gare du Nord.

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