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Mirror, mirror on the wall

Interior architectural designer Violet Kulewska reflects on mirrors.

Spring Walls design installation by Violet Kulewska, Malta Design Week 2014.Spring Walls design installation by Violet Kulewska, Malta Design Week 2014.

Mirrors have been used as powerful symbols throughout history. Sometimes, they represent the ability to look into another world, at others they give us access to our unconscious. Ancient Chinese believed that mirrors frightened away evil spirits who were scared of their own appearance. In Polish frame-tale classic novel The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, author Jan Potocki uses the mirror as a gateway to another world. The illusion was shattered when a mirror was broken, because with that unfortunate event, any protection was lost.

The history of mirrors starts around 6,000BC. Ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks were fascinated by mirrors and reflections and manufactured mirrors using polished copper and bronze. Glass mirrors first appeared in the third century and were quite common in Egypt, Gaul, Germany and Asia. Then in the 16th century, Venetian glassmakers invented the process of making mirrors out of plate. To obtain a near perfect and undistorted reflection, they covered the back of the glass with mercury. This invention was followed by the first modern mirror silver glass: the process for depositing silvering on the rear surface of a piece of glass was invented by German chemist Justus von Liebig.

We all have our opinions about how mirrors make us feel. The wonderful thing is that we use them both for practical purposes such as personal grooming, and also for their various aesthetic and mood enhancing properties.

Mirrors play an important role not only in interior design and decoration but also in architecture. Mirrors help to give a sense of greater space by reflecting light, thus brightening a room. The reflection of a room also fools the eye into feeling there is a greater amount of space than in reality.

Mirrors are a versatile decorative element: they illuminate dark corners, add elegance and drama to an otherwise dull area, and create the illusion of space. Nowadays a lot of architectural practices use reflective glass as a decorative material for their projects. The reflective facade cladding often acts as camouflage, offering its occupants a sense of privacy, obstructing views of the interior, and capturingstunning reflections of the surrounding landscape. Besides the basic functionality to shade us from the sun’s rays, a reflective facade also contributes to architectural aesthetics and even energy conservation.

Mirrors play an important rolenot only in interior design and decorationbut also in architecture

I have always been interested in how the beautiful, reflective surface of mirrors is created. The method of manufacturing mirrors is very simple and involves the application of a reflective coating to glass sheets. The more common materials used as metal coatings are silver, gold or chrome. Modern glass mirrors are often coated with non-toxic silver or aluminium.

For this year’s edition of Malta Design Week, my studio designed and manufactured a pair of decorative mirrors with art deco Milan glass lampshades. We used two colour-coated mirrors, bronze and grey, mounted on recycled panels.

The inspiration came from beautiful 1920s art deco Maltese panelled wall mirrors. Our coloured mirrors captured beautiful reflections of the limestone walls of Fort Saint Elmo during the exhibition, giving viewers the possibility of different interpretations of the historic space.

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