Vintage view: Spotting a mirror to die for

MIRRORS of every era and variety from whiplash belted Art Nouveau overmantles to small silver vanity sets for the dressing table are a staple of any country house sale or mixed auction.

Early mirrors are very thin and you can judge an old looking glass by holding a pencil or key to the glass. If the reflection is just about touching the object, the plate is thin and the mirror probably antique. Here are just some things to do with that faded reflected glory.

* When you find foxing, or damage to the silver leaves that make up a mirror’s surface, think twice before replacing the glass. Not only is the original glass integral to the piece, but it gives a ghostly atmospheric reflection. Repair the frame but leave it otherwise ‘as found’, treating the glass with extreme care.

* Hang a group of orphaned hand mirrors together like a flock of birds, handles down. Ideal for poking light into the corner of a dark corridor or study as an archived collection.

* Mirrored overmantles, with several panels can make stunning headboards for beds. Ensure the glass is secure in the frame and keep in mind that your head may touch the surface. Consider hanging it high enough to allow a discreetly upholstered support for your head beneath. Clamp securely to the wall.

* The narrow mirrored door of an old wardrobe (mirror on the outside) is an ideal shape to use as a ‘pier’ glass. If the timber is dull, sand lightly and paint in water-based matt finish such as Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. Wax can be worked into carved detail, or use a little darker paint applied with a rag to raise it. Leave any pretty lock-plate or handle in place for interest. Place the pier glass on an awkward squeak of wall with a slender console table beneath close enough to form a relationship. (see illustration)

* Look out for stunning picture frames that can carry a new piece of mirror plate. Period frames are often neglected at sale, and are often worth more than the prints shoved rudely into them at some later date.

* Don’t automatically hang a very large antique mirror on the wall. Try leaving it in a traffic-free area on the floor (not recommended around young children) or place it on a mantle rather than over it.

* Hang a mirrored overmantle or huge mirror over the back of a sofa (a framed support can be hidden behind the sofa and the mantle secured to the wall). It enthrones the area and can add visual space to a cramped room. Set to one side of a great armchair, a huge mirror listing against a wall adds French bohemian charm.

* Create a period style mirror with old cutlery set in a star burst around a simple circular mirror set on a circle of ply to the back. Don’t be afraid to mix up spoons, knives and forks. Just find a pattern that pleases. ‘No-More-Nails’ or suitable industrial strength glue is vital for a good hold of the metal to the ply.


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