Mirror, mirror on the wall…where have you gone? Back in the day, mirrored walls were a glamorous, luxurious, and sought-after interior design finish. Now, we don’t see them quite so often—which I think is a shame. After all, mirrored walls just want us to be happy. They reflect light, exude glamour, and help us see ourselves at the best possible angle. While mirrored walls picked up a bad rap in the 80s, I am here to argue that they aren’t just smoke and mirrors. My team of Austin interior designers and I want to bring back mirrors as a go-to finish for walls. We explain the history, types, and applications of mirrored walls. After you see all the benefits, we know you will be on board to get mirrored walls trending again!
What are Mirrored Walls?
So, what are mirrored walls, and are they truly out of style? Mirrored walls simply feature mounted mirrors spanning the total width and height of the wall. Different mirror finishes, including clear, smokey, and antiqued, produce distinct visual effects—revealing full or partial reflections. Mirrored finishes have been used everywhere, from the halls of Versailles to the ceilings of Playboy Mansion bedrooms, which may account for their controversial reputation in the interior design world.
A Brief History of Mirrors as Wallcoverings
The history of the mirror begins over 8,000 years ago in Anatolia, now present-day Turkey. Craftspeople experimented with many different materials, making mirrors out of copper, bronze, mercury, and even polished stone. Eventually, designers began creating aluminum or silver-backed mirrors, which is how we still make mirrors today.
The Venetians are one of history’s most famous producers of mirrors, and Venetian mirrors are still sought after as the purest mirrors in the world. However, while the Venetians controlled the monopoly on mirror production, France looked to break into the industry in the late 1600s. In 1678, work started on what has become the most famous example of mirrored walls—the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles. The hall features over 350 mirrors, showcasing France’s ability to compete in the mirror industry (and pull off fabulous mirrored walls to boot).
Mirror continued to be a popular wall finish for the wealthy through the decades. Mirrored walls can be seen in regal 19th-century estates, glitzy 1920s deco designs, and sexy 1970s lounges. However, mirrored walls began to meet their demise in the 1990s when applications became run of the mill and poorly executed. By the 2000s, homeowners began removing shiny mirrored walls in favor of dull sheetrock. Hopefully, in the 2020s, we can bring mirrored walls back to their former glory.
The Different Types of Mirror
Not all mirrors are clear and reflective—some aren’t reflective at all! Here are some of the different types of mirrors available for mirrored walls.
You are probably most familiar with clear mirrors, which feature a silver backing and produce clear reflections.
Smokey mirrors are acid-washed for a cloudy and darker appearance, creating a misty effect that doesn’t completely reveal full reflections.
Antiqued or Bronzed
Antiqued or bronzed mirrors have a vintage appearance and a warmer feel. Varying tints determine how well you can see reflections.
Blackened mirrors don’t have a full silver backing, resulting in a completely dark or speckled appearance. They bounce light around a room but don’t show clear reflections.
Etched mirrors use acid to cut the surface of the mirror, producing designs. Etched mirrors were popular during the 70s, but mirror etchings date back all the way to the Venetians.
Why Do Mirrored Walls Get a Bad Reputation?
Why have mirrored walls gotten such a bad reputation through the years? After all, they were good enough for Louis XIV! Like any interior design feature, overuse drives the end of a trend. Mirrored walls can be a stunning feature when properly designed and executed. But, seeing dozens and dozens of poorly mirrored rooms in the 80s and 90s gave people a chilling dive through the looking glass. Now, I think it is time to de-villainize mirrored walls and recognize the practical benefits they have in the home.
The Benefits of Mirrored Walls
My team of Austin interior designers and I love these four benefits of mirrored walls.
Make a Room Feel Larger
If you want to open up a room but don’t have the budget to knock down a wall, consider adding a mirrored wall. Mirrored walls make rooms feel larger, grander, and more luxurious. Hello, Versailles!
Reflect Light in Dark Spaces
In dark spaces, mirrors can be used to reflect light and brighten the room. With the proper placement, a mirror can have the same effect as adding another window.
Contrast Matt Surfaces
Interior design is all about layering in contrast with different colors, materials, and textures. A reflective and shiny material like mirror serves as the perfect foil for matte surfaces.
Provide Interesting Accent
Mirror provides an interesting accent to cabinets or wall panels, adding shimmer and a bit of glamour to an otherwise dull space.
How to Optimize Mirrored Wall Placement
While mirrors are beautiful, they are also practical. Here’s how to optimize mirrored wall placement in the home.
Place mirrored walls to reflect windows. This placement generates more light for dark rooms and ensures no one is stuck staring at a plain wall! If you have a beautiful view outside, why wouldn’t you want to see it twice?
Mirrored walls can be used to expand tight hallways. Placing mirrors along the sides of a hall will increase the visual width of the space, and putting a mirrored wall at the end of a hall will make it appear longer.
Mirrored ceilings aren’t just for playboys. Mirrored ceiling tiles provide stunning accents to chandeliers, casting more light and further brightening the room.
Accent Wet Bars
Mirrored tile backsplashes beautifully accent wet bars, reflecting bottles and glassware. Using under-shelf lighting can further enhance the look, creating an elegant illuminating effect.
Add Grandeur to Dining Rooms
Mirrored dining rooms not only visually increase the size of the space, they add elegance and give everyone a view at the table.
Make Bold Powder Rooms
Powder rooms lend themselves to bold design decisions. Just because they are a tiny space doesn’t mean they can’t make a significant impact. Blending antiqued, blackened, and clear mirrors will make the room feel large and unique while giving guests a delightful place to fix their hair.
Substitute for Art
Substitute artwork for a mirrored wall and make you and your guests the view! Mirrors just want to make us feel beautiful and glamorous.
The Case for Embracing “Old-fashioned” Interior Design Styles
While mirrored walls are recovering from a bad rap, it is clear to see that they are an elegant and practical design feature worth considering for your home. Mirrored walls add square footage without construction, create glamour with ease, and showcase the best views and angles of your home. Don’t be afraid to deviate from the “latest trends” and seek home inspiration from designs of the past. After all, they have already been tested for you! When it comes to interior design, everything can be reimagined—and that’s why everything old is new.
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.