IT’S ALL DONE WITH MIRRORS!
Artworks, lamps and mirrors are probably my favourite decorative pieces when dressing a room. Mirrors give a space an instant “lift”. Not only do they add light – they introduce visual depth and character to a room.
ENTRY STATEMENT – A substantial mirror in the foyer/entry hall is both practical and decorative. It helps set the tone for the rest of the house and of course is useful for a quick check of one’s appearance before greeting guests or leaving the house. Traditional placement is above a hall table or credenza.
If your home boasts a grand foyer, why not make a real statement with an oversize stand-alone mirror – creates a very dramatic first impression. This can be wall mounted or, like my Parisienne friend has done with an enormous antique gilt-framed mirror, propped at a slight tilt against the wall. The effect is quite stunning since her voluminous vestibule is graced with very high ceilings and classical architectural features – the proportions are just right – tres chic!
REFLECTED GLORY – create the illusion of greater space in narrow room by hanging a large wide mirror on the longer wall – this works particularly well in a formal dining room – reflecting a lovely table setting and dancing candlelight! Don’t be afraid to go for one 2 – 3 metres wide – it will really “enlarge” the room and enhance the atmosphere! A mirror of these proportions should be balanced by a substantial frame. Also – a big mirror will be quite heavy – installation may be a job for professionals.
VANITY MIRROR – whether it’s a bathroom mirror or one at your dressing table, ideally, position the mirror to make the most of natural light. In any case, at night you’ll need to introduce reliable artificial light – you can mount a good task light above the mirror or “go Hollywood” and have bulbs fitted as a mirror surround. The aim is to produce clear, balanced lighting.
DRESSING ROOM – here a full length mirror is required – ideally two – opposing each other (as in a fitting room) so you can view yourself from all angles. These could be wall-mounted mirrors or mirror-fronted wardrobes. I don’t care much for cheval mirrors – too much adjustment required!
BEDROOM BLING – A large silver framed mirror or even a gorgeous Venetian piece can add light and dazzle to a glam boudoir. Mirrored cabinets (bedside and dressing tables), create a stunning effect in a contemporary context – best suited to the modern luxe look – black, white, silver and grey palette, dramatic wall papers, sensuous fabrics and over-the-top chandeliers. This is not to everyone’s taste, but done well, in a generously proportioned room, the effect is very sophisticated and indulgent!
SELECTING A MIRROR – Whilst there is a plethora of mirrors available through retailers, one might not necessarily find the exact size and style required. This is often an issue when I am decorating for clients, in which case I resort to the services of a picture framer. Professional framers also specialise in mirrors and usually display a comprehensive range in their showrooms. They offer a broad selection of frame types and will customise the mirror to suit your specifications. I recommend that you stipulate a bevelled edge – a little more expensive, but much more elegant.
An alternative is to work with a “found” frame – second hand stores and antique dealers are good sources (as can be markets and op-shops!) – if not the perfect mirror, the astute treasure hunter can at least unearth a ho-hum artwork housed within a handsome frame – worth rescuing! A glazier can cut a mirror to fit and… voila – you have a unique piece to display!!
Size matters – proportions are important considerations with regard to mirror selection and placement. If it is to hang above a table or cabinet, the mirror width should not exceed that of the furniture piece below – ideally it should be smaller, but still of dimensions to produce a balanced effect. Also – don’t hang the mirror too low – there should be a visible separation between – you may need to experiment. Lamps, vases and other decorative pieces can be used to “link” the mirror to the table/cabinet. These elements will also create pretty reflections.
These same principles of proportion and placement apply to hanging a mirror above a mantlepiece.
RECYCLE– maybe you like the style of a frame you already have, but not the finish. Re-invent it with a quick paint job – spray paint is fast and effective (particularly for fiddly, ornate frames). I’ve achieved some great results using silver and also a range of high gloss paints (particularly black) – transforming dated old mirrors into stunning one-off feature pieces! Ideally you should remove the mirror from the frame first, but if this is not practical, mask the glass with paper and tape before you start painting, and don’t remove it until the paint is dry.
Spraying is best done in the open air. Work over sections in short passes to ensure good coverage. Repeat if you have missed a bit, but don’t overspray an area or the result will be cloggy and uneven. Try a practice run on cardboard or something else you can discard. The alternative is to use a paint brush – a better choice if you are after special effects or using more than one colour.
MIRROR CARE – with unframed or metal framed mirrors such as you would find fixed to a bathroom wall, direct spraying with a mild glass cleaner is appropriate (just avoid the edges so moisture can’t make its way behind the mirror). Polish dry with a soft cloth.
For mirrors with a painted or gilded frame, a different approach is required. First clean the frame and mirror with a soft duster. If there is stubborn build up of dust on the frame, gently remove it with a soft cloth dampened with warm water. Fiddly crevices may require the use of a dampened ear-bud (aka cotton tip or Q Tip). Next – apply the glass cleaner onto a fresh soft cloth (lint-free), then polish the mirror, avoiding contact with the frame. With all mirrors it is imperative that you don’t over-wet them in the cleaning process – water or chemical run-off can damage the back of the mirror causing de-silvering and also wreak havoc with wooden or plaster frames.
There are so many opportunities in the domestic setting to arrange a vignette and give any room an instant style injection! It’s a great way to display your treasures and all sorts of other complementary pieces. Visually it helps “pull” furniture together within a space.
Dramatic, quirky, folksy or classic, it’s these thoughtful arrangements which speak of the people who inhabit the space and make their house a home.
The basic principles of good arrangement are:
Keep it simple – depending on the theme, generally a grouping of 3 – 7 pieces will sit well – if it’s too busy you will lose the impact and it will register as clutter.
Note: Just as in gardening – odd numbers look better than even.
Arrange the theme and placement around a dominant feature e.g. a table lamp, sculpture, vase, candelabra, decorative platter, ornate box, beautifully framed photograph, an antique mantle clock or a small stack of beautiful books etc. The subsidiary objects should be of varying height and bulk. You probably have all the individual pieces you need in your environment – it’s just a matter of recognising what goes with what and bringing those individual items together.
In a very contemporary setting with strong geometry, you can get away with rigid linear, repetitious arrangements – along a mantle, ledge, shelf, cabinet or table, but in a more traditional or formal space, variety works better.
Composition – the pieces you assemble should, in some visible way, be related to each otherand the immediate environment – think theme, shape, medium, texture, function, quality, origin and era and how they reflect the setting.
Colour – critical! Keep in mind the scheme of the room and reference the colours through at least some of items in your display. If you want contrast – get the colours – strength and mass – right! Reliable examples of good combinations can be found in illustrated paint brochures and home builders’ advertising material and, of course, design magazines. Another great, if not addictive, source of inspiration – real estate sites on-line – a most enjoyable way to keep up with decorating trends and new architecture – browse the high-end homes.
Placement – compose your vignette in a staggered format for a less contrived look. Don’t necessarily centralise everything – rather, cluster the objects to one side of the surface. Spacing is critical – ideally some of the pieces should overlap to a degree. Be aware of shape – have one piece placed to reflect the curves/angles of another. Getting it right takes practice and may require a bit of juggling and experimentation – try a few alternative arrangements and don’t be afraid to delete an item or two – as with fashion – less can be more!
Location – a vignette is intended to be a focal point so make sure your arrangement is visible – well-lit and positioned to catch and please the eye. The immediate backdrop is important too – don’t display your gorgeous pieces in just any old corner – try the lamp table, dresser, credenza, dining table, desk, night stand, kitchen bench, hall table, mantle, coffee table, bathroom vanity etc. etc. (I even create little vignettes in the powder rooms – can’t help myself!!).
Of course collections (in the appropriate context) lend themselves beautifully to mass display. It might be an assemblage of ceramic, porcelain or crystal pieces, perfume bottles, candlesticks, coloured glass, shells, fossils, antiquities, wooden toys, snuff boxes, jugs, framed photographs – as long as it enhances the setting and doesn’t dominate. A little editing may be required…
Your vignette does not strictly have to comprise multiple items – a beautiful jug or vase of flowers perfectly framed in a window is still a statement!
When you think you have it right – leave the room for a minute or two then re-enter with ”fresh eyes” and focus critically on your composition – it is then you will spot any necessary adjustment. I apply the same (“second look”) test to decorating and furnishing in general.
Keeping it real – incorporating natural elements such as fruit, flowers, river stones, shells, driftwood and other “found” objects lends a friendly informality. In the casual living areas and the kitchen I will often display fruit, flowers and foliage in combination with ceramic and metal objects. I relate this directly to my love of still life painting.
And really – a vignette is a picture – a picture within a bigger picture!
A VASE FOR EVERY OCCASION
If you enjoy fresh flowers in your home you will need a selection of vases in different sizes and styles. I confess my vase cabinet is quite overcrowded but that is partly because I love collecting glass and china. On the upside, I can always find the size and shape required. Whilst I have some lovely decorative china and porcelain vases, most of mine are glass and crystal – I have a fondness for Scandinavian design and have collected a lot of Kosta Boda, Ittala, Holme Gaarde and Orrefors over the years as well as some stunning Murano Glass. I also have a weakness for Waterford and Lalique crystal.
Of course some of these more extravagant pieces are used for display as opposed to everyday function. I was very fortunate to inherit four magnificent Sevres porcelain vases (two pairs) from my late grandmother. However, I find them a bit over the top and somewhat at odds with the decorating scheme, so, special as they are, I have relegated them to my study (where they look awfully grand!).
All that said – a basic range of vases should include the following:
Bud vases for single specimens (one petite and one taller cylinder style)
Posy vase – approximately the capacity of a large water glass
Medium wide-mouthed mid-sized vase for floral bunches
Larger version of the latter for fuller arrangements
Tall, slender vase for roses, gerberas and orchids etc.
Very tall, somewhat wider vase for longer stemmed species like irises, gladioli and foliage arrangements.
There are many interesting alternatives to traditional vases – jugs, carafes, pretty bottles, decorative jars, large goblets, even teapots – all make lovely containers for your floral arrangements in the appropriate setting. If you don’t already have such vessels you can find a plethora of very affordable and often unique pieces in op-shops – occasionally a real collectable at a bargain price. Keep an eye out at department stores too – vases seem to be regularly discounted year-round.
Another trick is to place your arrangement in a plain jar or plastic container and then sit this inside a pretty box or flower pot, adjusting the flowers to camouflage the inner vessel.
For floating flowers – like camellias, gardenias and water lilies, you can use a large glass salad or trifle bowl (or even a punch bowl).
To stabilise your floral arrangement place a handful or two of clear glass marbles in the bottom of the vase – add these carefully because they have the potential to crack a very fragile vase if just dropped in en masse.
For a more decorative and contemporary effect you might try coloured glass “gems” or polished river stones in glass or crystal vases – these and other similar fillers are available from craft and florist suppliers and some department stores.
Another device for holding stems in place in your vase is the old fashioned flower “frog” – these are generally round and most commonly made of glass. They are designed to sit at the bottom of, or partway down the throat of the vase and feature multiple holes, into or through which you insert the stems. The most likely place to source these is antique and second-hand dealers, op-shops and online. (They have become very collectable).
Whether you are an expert or a novice, I hope you enjoy experimenting with flower arranging – it is such a very rewarding and calming creative process. The design possibilities are infinite and fresh floral displays add a lovely ambience to the home.
Sometimes price and location are the governing factors when choosingrental accommodationand one has to overlook aesthetic shortcomings. A friend has just leased a rather tired but affordable little house – 1950’s vintage, in a fashionable area. Convenient to her work and opposite a lovely park, it’s really quite a find. She has enlisted my help to bring it up-to-date within a modest budget.
Our first project is the bathroom. Well – white walls, white tiles, white vanity bench, blue bath and basin! The only real stand-out feature is the questionable aqua-blue used on the window and door frames and a fine horizontal strip in the same colour, ¾ of the way up the walls. Not very exciting! So – rather than fight the existing colour scheme we have used it as our colour cue and introduced several decorative elements in that aqua range – plastic storage baskets for the open shelving and, on the vanity bench, a frosted glass bottle/vase in almost the same aqua. (Colours don’t have to be a precise match – just in the same “family”).
We teamed these with a box of tissues, a nail brush and pump bottle of liquid soap in related shades of aqua-blue (it’s these inexpensive little touches that reinforce the theme). Fortunately I remembered some 1970’s adhesive tile decals (in bright blue) that someone had passed on to me ages ago – so glad to finally put them to use! I stuck four of them, evenly spaced, down the narrow white medicine cabinet door and the effect was surprisingly pleasing in a funky sort of way!
The ugly plastic light fitting had to go – replaced by a simple contemporary one in ribbed frosted white glass, with a silver metal fitting. An old oval mirror with an ornate gold frame was brought out of storage, re-sprayed in silver and hung opposite the fixed glass mirror. This tied in with the existing chrome and stainless steel bathroom fittings, adding more light and a bit of bling.
And finally, for impact, we finished with rich chocolate-brown bath towels and bathmat. The three colours – aqua-blue, silver and chocolate work very well together, creating a warmer, more modern and welcoming space and all for about $100! My friend is very pleased with her “new” bathroom!
The only expenditure was on the light fitting, storage baskets, vanity accessories, bath towels and mat – the other decorative items were at hand. When renting it is best to limit home improvement spending to things which can move with you – try to work with your existing pieces as much as possible and “overlay” a decorating theme rather than investing time and money in permanent improvements to your landlord’s property.
I display some of my lemon harvest on a large hand-painted Italian platter in the kitchen or on the table – practical and appealing. The foliage makes a lovely fragrant “filler” in floral arrangements – particularly in tall contemporary displays. Whole or sliced lemons add a modern twist to arrangements in clear glass vases.
MAKE AN ENTRANCE!
In an ideal world your home is a statement of your personal style and standards, so it makes sense to present it at its best. Whether your abode has a modest or extravagant exterior you can optimise its impact with just a little effort and not a lot of expense.
First impressions do count – you, your family and your visitors will feel more at ease in a welcoming home and a well presented frontage will enhance the immediate surroundings.
The Front Door
Our London home is a white fronted house in an elegant Victorian row and with identical black railings and architectural detail, the main distinguishing feature between each individual property is the front door – so we paint them in strong colours with a gloss finish. (This would be a familiar sight to those who know London). Ours is currently an inky dark blue which sets off the brassware very effectively. Neighbouring properties feature doors in black, burgundy, forest green, red and a strong turquoise. They lend a bit of personality to a very formal terrace.
Maintenance – ensure your doorstep/porch/verandah is regularly swept free of dust and debris and the front door is spotless (and don’t forget railings and balustrades). Most doors show fingermarks and panelled ones also trap dust in their crevices. Generally a regular dusting and wipe down is all that’s needed. Use a mild all-purpose cleaner for grime – a moistened sponge or cloth with a dab of dish-washing liquid should do the trick. For really stubborn marks, gently scrub the area with a moistened soft toothbrush and a little of the cleaning product, wiping clean with a fresh damp cloth. Harsher cleaning agents may damage the door’s finish.
Pay particular attention to door “furniture” – knobs, knockers, doorbells and letter slots if you have them. The brass and stainless steel varieties will require occasional polishing with specific cleaning agents.
If the door is a little worse for wear, do attend to it early – a shabby door is a sad introduction to your home – it might be time for a more modern replacement or maybe just a quick ”sand and paint” (or stain) which will cost very little and work wonders. Attend also to squeaky hinges – some screw tightening and oil may be in order.
Whatever your climate the door mat is essential to maintain a neat entry area. I don’t much care for those emblazoned with “WELCOME” or bold prints and patterns. A plain coir mat is hard-wearing, practical and won’t compete with other decorative elements on your porch or verandah. The ornate varieties – elaborately modelled in metal or rubber, aren’t particularly effective at trapping dirt. Size is important – aim for one that is almost as wide as your front door – a skimpy little mat in front of a large threshold is not a good look and you will end up with lots of spill-over mess. If you have a very generous porch and/or a double front door, you could opt for a big commercial-style synthetic mat – the very efficient ones you see at the entrance to shopping centres and other commercial buildings. Available in various colours and piles, these are very durable and easily cleaned with a quick vacuuming. They also complement the more contemporary home.
Good exterior lighting is imperative for security, atmosphere and physical safety. It is important that paths and steps to the entrance are effectively illuminated as well as the door itself. I recommend a two-way light switch near the front door to avoid struggling with keys and push-button codes in the dark. A beautifully lit house and garden create a wonderful night-time ambience whilst also highlighting your home’s best architectural and botanical features. Choose soft, warm lighting – much more welcoming than the harsh “bright white”. There is an extensive range of solar powered garden lights on the market – ideal for pathways and up-lighting specimen plants and some lovely individual hanging lights for trees – very pretty!
Add a bit of interest out front with an elegant pot or two near the front door – try plantings which complement your colour scheme or, go to the other extreme with a clever contrast! A pair of topiaries in smart matched containers always makes an impact, flanking the door or steps. For a more contemporary house, architectural plants (e.g. dracaena, yucca, cordyline, agave, euphorbia and other sculptural specimens), in tall containers (stone, metal or glazed pottery) will add some real dramatic impact. Select containers that relate to the architectural style of your home and avoid cluttering the entrance area – elegant simplicity is more aesthetically pleasing and maintenance will be easier. If your entrance area is rather formal and elegantly proportioned with strong structural character – stone, steps, pillars etc., a carefully positioned sculptural piece – something striking and beautiful in bronze, copper or stone would make a wonderful artistic statement.
Space permitting, a well-placed outdoor chair or bench can be both practical and attractive – somewhere to sit whilst removing muddy boots, wait comfortably for stragglers or simply enjoy the fresh air.
Be it a grand villa or a modest flat, nothing lifts a space as immediately as a vase or three of fresh flowers. I always have displays in the main entertaining areas and the entrance. Smaller arrangements are placed on the breakfast table and in the boudoir – (a single perfect flower in a slender bud vase looks very pretty amongst the perfume bottles on the dressing table). Even more effective in the bedroom is an extravagant show of roses – the perfumed varieties of course! Create interesting little vignettes by grouping your vase with other gorgeous items (lamps, trinket boxes, objets d’art, framed photographs etc.) on a bedside cabinet, coffee table or credenza.
If you can only have one arrangement, place it somewhere conspicuous where all can appreciate it.
To prolong the life of your flowers, refresh their water daily and give the stems a quick rinse in cold water. Trim about a centimetre from their bottoms to ensure consistent water uptake.
Enjoy your store-bought bunches longer by replacing any tired specimens with additions from your own garden – if you don’t have flowers as such available, try fern or creeper cuttings such as jasmine, ivy and bougainvillea. Of course – lavender and rosemary are also lovely fillers.
When harvesting from your own garden, cut your flowers in the early morning when they are at their freshest.
Don’t be afraid to combine fresh with artificial flowers (but these must be of very convincing quality). This works particularly well with the taller, more dramatic flowers like lilies, gerberas and irises – experiment!
I seem to spend a lot of time enjoying afternoon teas – and when the girls visit me, I love to trot out an assortment of trio sets (matched cup, saucer and plate) from my ever-expanding collection of china and porcelain. This lends a sense of occasion to the gathering and we all agree that tea sipped from fine bone china really does taste better than that served in an office-grade joke mug! The sets are gorgeous and girly and everyone enjoys having a different design – quite a talking point! Some are so elaborately decorated they shout Lacroix! Whilst I have a fine assortment of full tea sets – some heirloom pieces which I scarcely use (which is silly, I know) and others that I have chosen myself, I do think its fun to mix it up a bit.
Coming from a long line of serious collectors, I suppose it’s no surprise that I too am somewhat obsessed with the china chase. I have sourced quite good pieces from antique dealers, (the days of op-shops yielding up real treasures are sadly long-gone) but in recent times have found the best value on eBay! Be very specific about the condition of the china you select and familiarise yourself with the item’s appropriate value before you commit to purchase. Thus far I have had no disappointments and no breakages in transit.