Glass Furniture, Mirrored Furniture, Modern Venetian Mirrors - A mirror by the front door is handy for checking one's hair is tidy, of course. But mirrors are far more than simple looking-glasses; used imaginatively, they can create the illusion of space or camouflage less-than-perfect features. Glass is hugely versatile and can also be surprisingly tough. Mirrored furniture, fire-surrounds, and even glass floors can add a clean, elegant sparkle to a room.
A mirror by the front door is handy for checking one's hair is tidy, of course. But mirrors are far more than simple looking-glasses; used imaginatively, they can create the illusion of space or camouflage less-than-perfect features. Glass is hugely versatile and can also be surprisingly tough. Mirrored furniture, fire-surrounds, and even glass floors can add a clean, elegant sparkle to a room.
Martin, managing director of Chandeliersandmirrors.co.uk, says that this versatility means he might be working on a loft apartment one day and a Victorian house the next. "In warehouse conversions, you need to carry light right through the building," he says. "Glass partitions, walls, or even sliding screens divide the space but still let the light in." It's a different story for older properties. "A lot of people move into an old house that has been modernised and they want to put the character back," says Martin. "We can copy and match old patterns – Victorian etched windows or door panels, for example."
A substantial mirror in a living room can make the room look twice the size, says Martin. It can also be useful to disguise a dodgy wall surface.
"If you have a messy wall that's been bashed about, you can replaster and redecorate. Or you can hang a mirror." In bathrooms, he often uses frosted effects on glass, created with chemical etching or sandblasting. "You want the lightness and brightness of a mirror in the bathroom, but perhaps not the unflattering sight of yourself full-length in the bath. Using different tones and finishes breaks up the image, and lets you catch more discreet glimpses."
As well as domestic and corporate projects, Martin, who is based in Kent but works nationwide, also accepts commissions for public art. One of his favourite projects was working with Scottish artist Stephen Hurrel on a 35-foot-high sculpture of a bookcase, with 100 blue carved glass books, for Leeds Metropolitan University Library. A single glass door panel from Creative Glass and Mirrors can cost as little as £100; a complete design scheme can cost £10,000.
Another company which is enjoying the upturn in fortunes of glass as a building material, is Mediterraneo Designs in south-west London. According to managing director Rinda Baroncelli, Venetian glass – the company's speciality – is currently enjoying a huge vogue. "When we first started working in Venetian glass, the response was 'Venetian what?'" says Baroncelli, "but in the last five years that has changed and now people are very aware of it, even if they aren't sure quite what it is."
So, what is it? Venetian glass, explains Baroncelli, is the descendant of the first blown glass made in Europe, back in the 11th century. "It doesn't use any lead at all. It's the purest sort you can find, which is why it has such wonderful translucency." The glass can be used to make wonderfully ornate mirrors, lamps and candelabra, vases, dishes or sculptures. It can be twisted, which gives a very Venetian feel, or bevelled and engraved, which is a more French look. And it can be richly coloured.
A mirror, says Baroncelli, enhances not only the size of a room but the quality of light. "A piece of glass gives a sense of space and light, whether it's a mirror or a candelabra or a sculpture or vase; each of them in the right position can add something out of the ordinary, with a lot of style." A medium-sized Venetian glass mirror measuring 80cm by 50cm can cost anything from £300 to £20,000, depending on the design. "The prices of the very elaborate designs can be a shock," says Baroncelli. "Often our task is to adjust the client's design to fit with their budget. But a simple yet very pretty design is affordable, and often looks better in the home than a more ornate piece that's better suited to a stately home or hotel foyer."
As well as delicate Venetian pieces, Mediterraneo specialises in glass mosaic floors and walls. The effect is rich and complex. "The colours in the mosaic are an imitation of the colours you can achieve in Venetian glass, and on top of that we use semi-precious stones, which gives a sparkle," says Baroncelli. Depending on the type of mosaic used, it is possible to achieve a very tough finish. "Glass doesn't scratch, it doesn't absorb oil or grease. "Once you have it in your bathroom or kitchen, it's there for ever."
Keith Pittman, director of the Norfolk-based Company, supplies mirrors to interior designers and private clients, and also makes mirrored light fittings and furniture. A cheap mirror, he says, is likely to have an imperfect surface and a greenish tinge at the edge of the glass. "There should be no deformation of the surface on a good mirror. Our glass is all white – it was originally developed for making scientific slides. We silver it ourselves." Pittman is also able to "antique" glass. "You can buy sheets that have been chemically antiqued, but they look the same all over. We do our own antiquing by hand."
A good-quality mirror, he says, is "not just a mirror. When you have bevelled or brillant-cut glass, the whole thing begins to sparkle. Mirrors affect the whole look of the room, and can double its length." And a mirrored wall light looks brighter than a standard bracket. "The mirrored lights pick up reflections from other lights in the room," he explains. Prices, says Pittman, depend not on size but on the amount of work involved. "A plainish mirror with a decorated border would start at about £600."
Glass, it seems, can become addictive. One of Martins clients initially called in Creative Glass and Mirrors to fit specially designed candy-striped mirrors in his bathroom. He's now replacing every door in his house with glass.