The fairest of them all - choosing the right mirror and its location
Choosing the right mirror and deciding where to place it can be a major decor headache
In Jane Austen's Persuasion, the new occupants of Miss Elliot's family home were swift to remove the large mirrors from her father's dressing room. "Such a number of looking-glasses! Oh Lord! There was no getting away from oneself."
I've been to those types of homes where I had to devise strategies to avoid glimpsing myself in the mirror.
"Mirrors draw us in, like firelight," says Nina Kati, interior design and feng shui consultant. "They're the most distracting thing that you can put in a room." For this reason, it's best not to have mirrors in an office or you won't get any work done.
That said, their absence can also be fateful. I once went to a party where a snooty lady looked me up and down. "I do admire the way that you dress," she said. "You put an outfit together in such an interesting way."
At the time, I lived in a house without a full length mirror and had no idea what I looked like. I ran to the bathroom to check myself head-to-toe. My worst fears were realised. My shirt bore no relation to either my trousers or my boots. The next day, I went out to buy a full length mirror.
The mirror is without doubt one of the trickiest elements in interior design. Looking in the mirror is great, when it's what you intend and you are prepared for it. But accidentally seeing your own reflection, especially in an unflattering light, can be depressing.
Feng shui holds that mirrors multiply the energy of whatever they reflect. The basic trick, when placing them in the home, is to think about what you're going to see reflected. Positioning a mirror so that it multiplies the view of cherry blossom in the garden, for example, is very much better than placing it so it reflects the door of the guest toilet.
The worst thing you can do with mirrors, according to feng shui principles, is to place them opposite the front door. If you do so, all the good luck that comes in the door will be bounced straight back into the street.
That said, a mirror to the left or right of the hall is extremely useful. That's where you check that you don't have spinach on your teeth.
Like artwork, mirrors need to be hung at the optimum height. "The best guideline is to place the mirror with its centre at eye level," says Kati. "Make sure that you can see your head, neck and shoulders, and leave room for your halo!"
Likewise, she suggests that many full length mirrors are too skinny. She's not talking about the obesity epidemic. Apparently one's aura goes all the way around the body. The language of auras is not for everyone, but there's a basic design sense behind this. Full length mirrors that cut you off at the ankle are much less useful than mirrors that allow you to see your shoes.
Kati is not a fan of mirrors in the bedroom, which can make you agitated and ruin a good night's sleep.
"The Chinese think that the spirit leaves the body during sleep. If you catch a glimpse of it in the mirror you'll get a fright." It's for this same reason that Irish households cover the mirror in a room where someone has died.
On a less spooky level, it's possible bedroom mirrors disrupt the sleeper because when you roll over during sleep, you catch a glimpse of reflected movement that wakes you up.
If you're going for a fragmented feature mirror - there are some lovely ones available from Boca do Lobo and Brabbu Design Forces - position it where it won't fragment your reflection. "We're fragile enough as it is!" Kati says.
According to interior designer Luigia Londi, the stalwart arch-topped over mantle is still Ireland's mirror of choice. "It's the number one place to put a mirror. I'm surprised to see that so many contemporary homes are keeping that traditional shape, but they're replacing the gold-leaf with a silver-leaf frame."
The silver leaf finish (which comes out as a muted champagne colour) is considered more modern than gold. On average, people chose to spend between €550 and €650 on an over-mantle mirror.
Londi and her husband, Marco Panfili, are the owners of Collection by Panfili, an interior design outlet in Galway that specialises in mirrors. "We make the mirrors in our workshop in Tuscany and bring them to Ireland in our customised truck. Getting insurance for transporting mirrors is impossible!"
There are a lot of potholes between Tuscany and the West of Ireland.
The upcoming trend, Londi predicts, is for antiqued mirrors. That's where the surface of a new mirror is treated to make it look old.
"It's something that happens naturally with old mirrors, but you can make it happen too. The glass is subtly mottled in different colours and it creates a lovely ambience. It's great for Irish interiors because it makes the space look warmer."
Of course antiqued mirrors are no good for squeezing out your spots. That requires clear uncompromising glass and good task lighting.
Bathroom design has, to date, been focused on such well-lit functional mirrors but, according to Lisa Collins of Mindy Brownes Interiors, there's a new vogue for feature mirrors in the bathroom. "Mirrors with ornate frames can be a way of humanising the bathroom and getting away from all the straight lines."
The Delta mirror (€290) from Mindy Brownes works well in a bathroom and is available at Red Earth in Mullingar, Arnotts, and Beacon South Quarter.
For girly titivation you can't go wrong with a mirrored dressing table, like the pretty Rococo examples from the French Bedroom Company. Sitting down at a dressing table is such a deliberate act that it allows time to prepare yourself to meet your own reflection.
Looking in mirrors requires a bit of self-delusion, like that of Miss Squeers in Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby. Like most of us, she looked in the mirror and saw "not herself but the reflection of some pleasant image in her own brain".
See collectionbypanfili.com, redearthireland.com, ninakati.ie.