If the only mirrors in your house hang over the bathroom vanity and over your bedroom dresser, you're missing out on the magic that mirrors can bring.
Using mirrors inventively is a relatively quick and inexpensive way to enhance your surroundings by increasing light and improving views while seeming to expand space. They also add glamour to a room.
The change can be surprisingly dramatic.
"I call it 'remodeling without plaster dust' or 'Saturday morning remodeling,' " said Pamela Heyne, the author of "Mirror by Design: Using Reflection to Transform a Space."
Mirrors can change the look and mood of your home, said Heyne, an architect based in Washington. She is known for her use of mirrors in residential and commercial settings.
"Mirrors are a wonderful tool, an affordable tool that used to be the tool of kings," she said, mentioning such examples as the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, built for French King Louis XIV from 1678 to 1684. "Then, mirrors were the ultimate, like having a Jaguar."
Today, she said, "people can be a little nervous about [using] mirrors because it's such a big transformation -- they can't picture the outcome because they don't know the law of reflection."
Simply stated, the law is: "Light bounces off a highly polished mirror at the same angle it strikes it," said Mitch Conklin, a Milwaukee lighting consultant.
Heyne provides this example of the law in her 1996 book: "The light emanating from a house plant bounces off the mirror's surface and enters our eyes, causing us to see the plant 'in' the mirror. We see a 'virtual illusion.' "
The easiest way to determine what the mirror will reflect, Heyne said, is to stand where you want the mirror to be, turn around and look at the view. For more information on Heyne's book, visit www.houston-heyne.com.
Another tactic is to place a hand mirror or 12-by-12-inch mirror square where you want to hang a mirror and check the reflection, said Tom Ehmke, a partner in a glass-installing company in Milwaukee.
In short, Heyne said, "Don't be intimidated. Play around with mirrors -- don't be shy. Make mirrors work for you."
Playing around with mirrors can be part of planning their use and increasing their effectiveness, said Joanelle Jordann Klumb of Chenequa, Wis., an interior designer and collector of framed mirrors. "Mirrors do create mood, so do a little research. Give it some thought so the mirror helps create the mood you're looking for."
Interior designer Nancy Miller of Bayside, Wis., said she believes "strongly in mock-ups so that you can see what will happen." Miller's house has several mirrored walls that were installed by a previous owner. She operates her design firm, Form & Function, from her home.
Mirrors seem to expand space because they dematerialize mass, Heyne said. So, if a wall is covered with a plate-glass mirror, the wall will appear to disappear. Furthermore, when mirrors are applied to solid objects, such as a plant cube or stand, the objects seem to disappear into their own reflections.
They can also shift views and create a sense of infinity, Heyne said in her book.
As an example, she suggests hanging mirrors on facing walls with a chandelier between them. The light from the chandelier will bounce onto the mirrors and continue to bounce back and forth.
Clear mirrors create a greater sense of openness than tinted mirrors do, said Stacy Sinks of Les's Glass & Mirror in Hales Corners, Wis. But tinted mirrors can enhance mood. For example, gray or bronze mirrors are often chosen by customers for installation behind a bar in a recreation room.
The newest tints are rose and sapphire, Heyne said. Mirrors can also be antiqued to resemble old mercury mirrors. Surfaces can be sandblasted, etched, painted, coated and textured, she writes, and edges can be smoothed, polished, or beveled. Surfaces can be convex, giving a compressed view of a room, or concave, making reflected objects look larger.
Widths of beveled edges range in quarter-inch increments from one-half inch to 1 1/2 inches, Sinks said. If an entire wall is to be surfaced with glass, she suggests dividing the length among an odd number of abutted, beveled pieces. The abutted bevels appear twice their widths and have a prism effect. An odd number of panels has a continuous effect, she said.
Correct lighting makes a world of difference in mirror effectiveness, Miller said. New recessed ceiling lights help reduce glare and shadows, she added. She also recommends installing dimmers on lights in mirrored areas.
Lighting specialist Conklin said the most important thing is this: "Do not concentrate on lighting the mirror; concentrate on lighting the face."
Because conventional down- lights -- both narrow-beam and floods -- can create shadows on faces, he said the best recessed-light reflector, which is called a trim in the lighting business, is an A-lamp multiplier in either clear or gold Alzak. An A-lamp is a regular incandescent bulb, and Alzak is a Alcoa trade name for a specially finished aluminum, he said.
The addition of side lighting, such as sconces on both sides of the mirror, also reduces glare, he said.
In decorative lighting situations, wall-washer lighting that highlights the frame -- not the mirror surface -- works best, he said. Need proof? Stand in front of a mirror and shine flashlight into it. See the glare, and the dust?
Ehmke, who has been in the glass and mirror business for 25 years, described a couple of creative installations he has done. In one case, a customer wanted mirrored walls around a whirlpool tub but also wanted a TV on the wall. Instead of mounting the TV shelf on the mirrored wall, Ehmke recessed the television into the wall and covered it with a one-way mirror. The effect is a fully mirrored enclosure. But the television, when turned on, is visible through the mirror.
Another homeowner had an entire wall mirrored, then hung a grouping of decorative but empty picture frames on it.
Interior designer Teresa Erickson of Racine, Wis., was one of a team of designers at the Wisconsin Breast Cancer Showhouse who hung a decorative Venetian-style mirror over a mirrored wall mirror in the master bathroom. The double mirroring is not just stylish but functional.
The old plate-glass mirror in the house, built in the early 1930s, was corroded. So the team borrowed a reproduction Venetian mirror and covered up the corrosion spots. "We hid a lot of flaws with that mirror," Erickson said.
Just about any room can benefit by adding mirrors, she said, adding that propping a tall framed mirror against a wall, instead of hanging it, is trendy.
Judy Banta has done just that in her Wisconsin home, using a large mirror to create a sense of spaciousness in her small house, which is only 840 square feet. Located near the entry, the mirror reflects her living room furniture, a light-filled window and a grouping of decorative objects Banta placed directly in front of it.
The mirror, which has a large gilded frame, is about 30 inches wide and 45 inches tall. "It doesn't physically take up much space, but it gives the illusion of space," said Banta, who has worked in the home-interior business for 13 years.
The key to the success of a mirror is the arrangement in front of it, Banta said. "The objects are important so it doesn't look like the mirror was just propped there, waiting to be hung."
"I just hate the typical way mirrors are installed in bathrooms," said designer Klumb. By that, she means a frameless mirror mounted above the sink that is surrounded by wall space and illuminated by a wall-mounted light above it. She suggests two alternatives: traditional, a vintage-style framed mirror with period wall sconces on both sides and a vintage dresser as a vanity; or contemporary, a frameless mirror that covers the entire area above the sink, from countertop to ceiling and from side to side, with inset sconces on both sides.
Interior designer Nancy Miller, who lives in a mirror-filled house, reminds prospective owners to remember:
* Mirrors should be cleaned often.
* Glass can be fragile.
* If mirroring a whole wall, you have to be willing to either look at yourself or be good at averting your eyes.