Volume 47, Issue 9 - September 2012

Decorative Glass
A special section of USGlass magazine

Retro Reflections
Out is in Again as Mirror Becomes the Latest Interior Design Craze
by Ellen Rogers

Finding inspiration from the past is one design concept that’s always fashionable, and these days the 1950s-1960s are eras in vogue. Blame it on “Mad Men,” but retro chic is hot—and that’s good news for mirror.

A sharp decline in the 1990s, primarily due to the overwhelming increase of mirror imports into the U.S. from China, took a severe toll on the North American mirror market. While some manufacturers were able to survive and thrive by taking their core competency—mirror production—and diversifying with similarly produced products, others couldn’t pull through. Of those who managed to do so, however, many say they are now enjoying a new chapter: a re-emergence of interest in bringing mirror into interior design.

Exciting Times
As Mandy Marxen, vice president of marketing with Gardner Glass Products in North Wilkesboro, N.C., puts it, “I think this is one of the most optimistic times in my career and it’s exciting to be a part of it.”

Marxen says she started seeing the mirror trend about three years ago and attributes much of the interest to the ever-expanding online community.

“I see a correlation between design blogs and websites that are photo-heavy gaining traction,” she says. “As they post more images people are seeing what can work in small spaces and it gives them something to which they can aspire.”

Diane Turnwall, market segment director, interiors, for Guardian Industries, agrees the popularity of mirror is on the rise, but not in traditional, functional applications.

“We’ve seen an increase in mirror in decorative ways opposed to functional ways,” she says. “It’s coming back, but not as just straight mirror.”

Turnwall adds, “I think designers are always looking for new ways to reflect light and texture and mirror can do that.”

Likewise, the residential market has shifted toward smaller homes with more features. Such applications have also been a plus for the mirror industry as the products can help open up the smaller spaces and bring light in.

Marc Deschamps, business development manager with Walker Glass in Montreal, says the growing interest they’ve seen has come from increasing exposure to architects and interior designers. “For un-etched mirror, the interest comes from increasing/redirecting daylighting inside a building. They also use it to brighten up spaces in the building, thereby reducing the need for artificial light,” says Deschamps.

“For acid-etched mirror, it is used to absorb light, and give a unique look with a slight reflection and depth into the glass.”

New Places, New Spaces
Though there may always be a need for mirror in the bathroom, companies say they are now taking that traditional mirror to new heights by combining it with a variety of fabrication processes.

“Designers already know about mirror and what it can do,” says Marxen. “Mirror has been designers’ secret weapon for years. So there’s not as much [of a need for ] education with them as it is just letting them know about the many fabrication options … curves, cuts and color. The fabrication options are growing by leaps and bounds.”

Take, for instance, Selective Silvering, a new product Gardner launched earlier this year at NeoCon in Chicago. “We combine the Dreamwalls color glass with the silvering and art … the patterns and tiles are a big opportunity … plus you can get that hot color and mirror together,” says Marxen.

Turnwall says her company is also continually working to generate awareness about the many mirror possibilities.

“We want to promote the combination of what it can do with different substrates, such as acid etching, laminating, etc.,” she says. “It can be a thought starter to let designers know about the options.”

As an example, Turnwall says with the increasing desire to use mirror in so many different settings one challenge is making a fragile material, such as mirror, more durable. To address this concern, Guardian, for instance, promotes combining its DiamondGuard glass with its UltraMirror products.

While interior designers are an important audience for the mirror industry, they are not alone. Millions of consumers, heavily influenced by what they’ve seen on HGTV and in design magazines, are flocking to home-improvement stores, websites and local glass shops to find just the right pieces and parts to re-create the latest styles.

“For retailers, the big thing is to give consumers a space or even a virtual showroom where they can see the many options,” says Turnwall. “They can use visual input to show ideas … and how they can use the glass in different designs, etc.”

Deschamps agrees, “People usually like to see products in a desired setting. Therefore, a well-presented showroom will go a long way.”

Turnwall adds that companies should also find ways they can differentiate, as the goal is to create an overall demand for mirror.

“Companies that differentiate can take a strong foothold in the North American market,” she says.

Likewise, Marxen says retailers that offer exceptional customer service will be best poised to succeed.

“The shops need to create a flawless, safe installation and stress to the consumer why they are taking the steps that they are taking to ensure such,” she says.

What’s Next?
“Design trends come and go,” says Turnwall. “Yet there are viable, growing options with mirror … you can expand the space and bring light into the space.”

While trends may change, there are still opportunities for mirror.

“Offer different and unique products that will answer decorative and functional needs,” suggests Deschamps. “Educate the decision makers—architects and designers—on the properties of these products.”

And with so many fabrication possibilities, manufacturers are taking those strides to prove that the possibilities of mirror go way beyond just the bathroom.

“People think they know mirror,” says Marxen, “but there’s a lot more to it than what they think.”

Ellen Rogers is a contributing editor for USGlass magazine and editor of Decorative Glass magazine. Email her at erogers@glasss or follow her on Twitter @DG_Magazine.

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