This Old School Design Trick Will Make Your Living Room Feel So Much Brighter

published Feb 21, 2020
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Credit: Anna Spaller

Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say. And in the mid-1800s, before electricity or modern lighting was barely a commodity, the stately pier mirror was the decor of choice for brightening up a dark space. Also popular in France (where known as trumeau mirrors), stateside, pier mirrors quickly became a staple of New York City, and more specifically Brooklyn, interiors. Often ornate with carved wooden frames, these tall and narrow pieces were traditionally hung on a pier—or the load-bearing wall between two windows—and were the designated centerpieces of parlors and foyers.

Credit: Alexis Buryk

Quick history lesson over! But take a scroll through Brooklyn brownstone real estate listings today, and you’ll likely come across a historic one bragging about its original pier mirror. Once in a blue moon, you’ll be lucky enough to find these architectural gems in smaller, less grand homes like the enviable 800-square-foot Brooklyn Heights studio (complete with a mezzanine, no less) pictured above. 

While the original, intended function of these pieces may seem a bit outdated, thanks to the power of electricity, pier mirrors are still every bit as charming as the originally were. The pride of having something from a bygone era preserved in your home is hard to rival. Plus, they can still bring a little something to the table.  

Mirrors equal brighter rooms. Period. So if you’re living in a dark home or apartment and want to avoid racking up the electric bill by having lamps on all day long, place an oversized mirror near a window and watch your home fill up with sunlight. The bonus? It’ll also visually expand the depth of the room, making it feel like your space is just a little bit bigger, too. 

The best part is, you don’t need a storied looking glass to accomplish this. Floor-length leaning mirrors (be sure to secure them if you have small kids or live in a city prone to earthquakes) can be found in a variety of styles and shapes. Take The Everygirl’s co-founder Danielle Moss’s home for instance. She used a large, contemporary mirror to optically add to the width of her narrow Chicago apartment, and the result was pretty impressive. 

These grand mirrors can also be used as standalone decor pieces, assuming you have the wall space. Take note from this tiny Parisian apartment, where the ornate mirror, pushed up against the coffee table, instantly maximizes the visual area of the cramped quarters. 

Alternatively, you can place one above a fireplace mantel instead of a piece of art, allowing it to double as a decorative yet functional element. Style the ledge with found objects, sculptures, or an assortment of candles for the ultimate source of ambient lighting in the evenings.

We leave you with this antique stunner spotted in the New Orleans living room of “The Yellow House” author Sarah M. Broom. Strategically placed, it bounces the light coming in from the window directly across it and helps show off the dreamy wallpaper beside it, because a single wall of it is not nearly enough. The moral of the story? Give pier mirrors a chance.