Furniture Styles

Furniture > European > English > Decorating > Antique Mirrors

Antique Mirrors

Using old antique mirrors to decorate your home.

A comprehensive survey of the history of mirrors from the days when our remote ancestors first beheld the reflection of their simian features in some forest pool is beyond our scope, and to indicate their place in modern rooms, and suggest the use of suitable types are the primary objects of this section. Our choice is not limited, for the past is rich in attractive antique designs.

Antique Toilet Mirrors

We may begin with toilet mirrors, and these may be divided roughly into three classes : fixed and swinging glasses, and triptych or three-fold mirrors. The most widely known type of swing mirror has a base with drawers in it, and many Queen Anne Mirrors designs have two or three tiers of drawers, of sufficient depth to make them really valuable for the disposal of various toilet vanity articles. They can be in walnut or mahogany, inlaid with lines of satinwood in the latter case perhaps, the glass varying greatly in shapeoval, circular or rectangular.

Toilet Mirror
Toilet Mirror, 1758.
Soft-paste porcelain, painted in enamels, with gilt-metal mounts.

Some toilet mirrors stand in a simple frame on feet, with no base of drawers : but the three-fold design offers the greatest convenience. It is not very difficult to obtain original models, for large numbers of these mirrors were made during the eighteenth century; and they can also be inexpensively reproduced. Their outstanding advantage is that they may be arranged on any table or chest sufficiently high to make a practical dressing-table and never appear out of place. A walnut mirror would be most suitable on an oak or walnut table, and for mahogany the plainer type of Sheraton design would be best.

Mirrors that are adaptations from Italian designs such as the early Venetian style glass mirrors, with graceful frames of gilded pewter, bordered with bevelled or coloured glass, and ornamented with glass rosettes, are very effective on vanity tables.

The complicated toilet tables designed by Sheraton, with mirrors that could be folded down when the table was closed, and supported by a slat that fitted into notches when it was open, are not very practical in use.

Bedroom Mirrors

We must consider all the uses of a mirror in a bedroom before we turn to other rooms, and having thought of the dressing-table, we naturally think of the dressing-glass. The cheval glass and the mirror-fronted Victorian wardrobe have been replaced very largely in bedrooms and dressing-rooms by bevelled glasses fixed to the inside of wardrobe and cupboard doors. A bedroom or a bathroom door may be treated with a mirror, framed in a moulding, or bevelled and secured with screws that are covered by glass studs.

Shaving Mirror
Shaving Mirror, 1770.
Mahogany, carged and turned, with mirror glass.
This antique mirror can be raised or lowered on the pole using two rings fitted with springs attached to the back. It would have been used in a bedroom for shaving and has a drawer at the bottom to hold shaving equipment. The mahogany stand is finely made: it is supported on a single column that was turned, or shaped, on a lathe, and has three carved scrolling legs.

It is a mistake to have too many mirrors in a bedroom for too much reflected light is distracting and has a curiously unsettling effect upon colour. A mirror over a mantelpiece will help to lighten a dark room and can always be made into an interesting feature. A walnut frame with a little simple carving can give character and dignity to a chimneypiece, and any type of mirror will produce an effect of space in a small room.

Silver Mirror Frame
Silver Mirror Frame, 1683.

There are many designs in plainly moulded frames gilded or in polished walnut that can be used very effectively, and the combination of a picture and a mirror has character and interest. If it is possible to obtain old glass it should be used, for it has a wonderful depth, and lacks the hard, metallic line of machine-made glass. It gives a strange intensity to perspective as well, and possesses a soft, attractive tone.

Bathroom Mirrors

In bathrooms it is well to have a very plain mirror. A simple frame in black or white, or a square of bevelled glass fixed to the wall with the glass-headed screws already mentioned. These rosettes or studs can be in coloured glass or metal, whichever would be suitable to the decoration of the bathroom. The mirror should be fixed, not hung, for a plain frame perfectly flat against a wall is far better in effect than if it is tilted slightly forward.

Dining Room Antique Mirrors

In rooms decorated in simple styles, with walls of disAntique Mirrorsered plaster or plain wall papers, mirrors with dark frames are best, and a light wall gives a curious quality of reflection to a dark-framed mirror. In dining-rooms the Victorian habit of reflecting food in a mirror at the back of the sideboard has disappeared, and there is little need for a mirror in this room. A convex mirror can be hung over a sideboard. Original designs can often be got without difficulty and reproductions are not expensive; but only of the plainer types, more elaborately carved examples being often very costly.

Sitting Room Mirrors

All sitting-rooms should have at least one mirror ; and a pair of them arranged in recesses, or on either side of some piece of furniture, will give brightness and interest to a room.

A recess may be furnished by a bureau with a mirror in a broad frame, hung about nine to twelve inches above the top ; or instead of a bureau there can be a table with a vase or bowl of flowers on it, but care must be taken to regulate the height of the mirror so that it balances with the table.

A mirror should never be hung too high in a room, although its position depends very much on its design. There are types beyond counting that may be used in our rooms, from the heavily carved and gilded early Georgian designs, to the narrow-framed creations of our own times; while the painted and decorated modern mirrors are often very attractive. No matter how a room be decorated and furnished a well placed mirror is a brightening and cheerful influence and assists in the attaining of vitality in arrangement.

Next: Pianos in Rooms.

Copyright © 2004-12 International Styles
All Rights Reserved