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Mirrors morph from functional pieces to works of art

Elaine Markoutsas
Universal Uclick

Perhaps it’s a reflection of the times.

As we expect more of our home furnishings — to make us comfortable and allow multitasking, all while looking darn good — the mirror has been morphing into an object of art. One that can cost a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

Not that that wasn’t in its decorative DNA. To wit, all of the gorgeousness of grand gilded Louis XV or baroquey mirrors are historically masters at commanding space in European museums, palaces and villas.

But this is different. Almost like designing a piece of art that includes a mirror, with the feeling like the mirror is sometimes kind of an afterthought. And, curiously, it follows that trendy period where large-scale rectangular mirrors showed up in so many interiors — on the floor, leaning stylishly against the wall — as an emblem of modern design.

It started with mirror frames. More imaginative materials began drawing the eye, demanding at least equal time with the mirror. Beautiful figured wood veneers were beefier so you couldn’t help but notice. Fanciful, loopy golden metals, framing like filigree on a ring, or three-dimensional buildups of texture, expanding on traditional elements from seashells to petals of leather to feathers, or unexpected combinations of materials.

Then came a downsizing, in which smallish mirrors emerged and practically begged for company, designed to be displayed in multiples. Not really a new concept, but one borrowed from collectors, who intuitively group beauties like French guilloche enameled hand mirrors or bejeweled Peruvian mirrors. Today, manufacturers sometimes assemble a set of circles or other shapes connected as a single piece of wall art for easier hanging.

Some designers began exploring the mirror itself, creating new geometry with smaller parts, divvying up in Mondrian grid segments as in a bronze/clear mirror from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams. Some perhaps took cues from tile tesserae or even Parisian parquet floors, as Tel Aviv artist Arik Levy, who has a Paris studio, fashioned a mirror out of long strips of mirror, staggering them to create a single piece.

An allover color-washing is like a painting on a mirror hand-distressed with soft color added to abstract art by Mirror-tique owner Jamie Jaffe for Anthropologie. Because of the nature of creating the 32-inch-round glass, steel and wood pieces, no two are alike.

Inevitably, there has been an exploration of form. Karim Rashid did a playful collection of bath mirrors called Reflect + for the Belgian company Deknudt, that play up color with LED lighting. Again, three hung together are more dramatic than one. Designer Julia Buckingham took a star shape and sort of stretched it out, then ganged six diamonds in two sizes into a single cohesive piece for impact at Global Views. The Italian manufacturer Seletti introduced the Luminaire mirrors, conventional round and oval shapes flattened slightly, then circled with LEDs. The inspiration for the designer was strings of lights hung above a piazza during a festival.

Buckingham, whose newly published “Modernique” (Abrams, $40) explains her decorating and product inspiration mixing vintage and modern style and fashion, channeled jewelry for another design for Global Views. It’s a starburst brooch, hung like a pendant from a chain, with the tiniest mirror as a jewel in the center. A number of new mirror designs are suspended in this fashion, and the chains, leather cords or ribbons lend a graceful, even elegant note.

And now the very mirror surface is being decorated — kind of like the feel of antiqued mottled glass, but with deliberately placed patterns that almost appear random.

One overscale rectangular design at Anthropologie has an allover pattern that resembles suzani, the trendy vintage embroidery centered by circles, but actually was inspired by French lace. Another is more ambiguous, actually due to its technique of color washing over mirror. A mirror from Arteriors has a textural surface that resembles a slice of the solar system. And still another, Edinburg, from the same company, is irregularly shaped (kind of trapezoidal) with its craggy surface like a moon crater, looking more like a stone than a mirror.

A mirror by Zuo features a mesmerizing pattern created by repetition. It consists of a series of bull’s-eyes, which recall turn-of-the-century stained and clear glass compositions called “rondels.” Another, on an uber grand scale, is by Memoir Essence Furniture, a Portuguese brand. It combines geometric shapes of different sizes, some dimensional, whose surfaces have been antiqued to create a composition that thoroughly dominates a wall.

Still another fresh new direction actually pairs mirror with other materials, such as wood, to underscore pattern. An example at Roche Bobois features a distinctly art deco look, teaming mirror with wood in a tasteful composition. And at West Elm, one-half of a mirror is a live-edge slice of tree trunk, its rings clearly delineated, while the other side follows the irregular shape with a mirror image. The designs are visually reminiscent of the wood with white marble pairings in cheese blocks and trays so popular in housewares.

“Designers have started to understand that the framing around mirrors is an intricate part of a functional piece,” says Buckingham. “But, all of a sudden, there are so many options, so many different shapes. There’s a total crossover. In every entryway, if there has to be a mirror, how incredibly intricate, colorful is one embellished with stones? It’s not just an ordinary mirror anymore. It’s propelled into superstar status.”

So the new artistry, much of it playfully asymmetrical, lends more gravitas to the usual spots in interiors — over a fireplace mantel, a console in a foyer, a buffet in the dining room, the bed. The artful mirrors may function traditionally — to reflect views or visually expand a room.

“I like taking and creating an unexpected mirror,” says Buckingham, “and putting it in a place that’s unusual — where you would least expect it — like a butler’s pantry. Some might say, ‘Why would I want a mirror there?’ Until they see how decorative and sculptural it may be.”

And for those who don’t own a lot of art, if any at all, this new mirror wall decor offers a cool way to add a grand, whimsical focal point that owns the wall.