Butler County Times Gazette
  • Through the Front Door: The Grand Girandole Mirror

  • You know you want to know what it is!
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  • The Grand Girandole Mirror - you know you want to know what this is!
    Good morning, my lovely people of Butler County! As you have learned, my passions arise at the most interesting times, and I then feel the need to let you in on a new relationship I have with history and design. Recently, I was admiring a Federal-style convex mirror, once belonging to my mother-in-law, which has become one of my favorite possessions. These lovely mirrors were abundant in 1960s home decor and were also known as girandole (jir-uhn-dohl) or bull’s-eye mirrors, especially in our lovely “God Bless America” homes. During this period, home furnishings mostly fell into two very different styles: 1) sleek, midcentury modern, often Scandinavian, and 2) wholesome interiors of the hard-rock-maple or cherry, early-American variety—our parents’ Ethan Allen interiors, which I will address today with some historical tidbits.
    The history
    The Federal period ran from 1780–1820 or thereabouts. During my research, I found some conflicting dates, some with the Federal period beginning earlier or lasting longer. But, clearly, it was after America became America. We were a young country, and much of the new construction taking place at the time was a blend of Neoclassical architecture, heavily influenced by the Greeks and Romans. This style was in abundance in Europe and Great Britain, so it stands to reason that it would arrive here in America.
    The Federal Style is linear and has less adornment than earlier styles, especially in the early part of the period. Pieces were lighter in both handling and in appearance, making moving them around easier for the homeowner. Hepplewhite and Sheraton were two of the most recognized chaps doing this type of furniture design. Hepplewhite’s chairs were square with less carving than previous styles, and the chair backs often had a shield or oval shape. Sheraton’s had even cleaner, straighter lines and also were not as heavy-handed with the carving. This will end the furniture history lesson; I just wanted to mention a couple of the designers who were legendary in this style.
    I found it interesting that the very first mirror dates back to around 1685 A.D. And the Federal Girandole mirror made its way into our homes less than 100 years later. These convex mirrors, like so many items throughout history, first appeared in the homes of America's privileged and prosperous. Doesn’t it always seem as though the wealthy get the goodies first!
    The reasoning for the convex or bowl shape to the mirror was really quite clever. The protrusion of the mirror’s center made for better illumination back when interior lighting was primarily done with candles. Pretty smart! Many times, the convex mirror had branches that held candles, and a pair could give off enough light to fill an entire room. It was common for a pair of mirrors to bank the fireplace.
    Page 2 of 3 - Generally, these mirrors were crafted from hardwood and embellished with gold leaf or bronze gilt. Most were imported, making it difficult to establish the manufacturing company or who the designer might have been, unless you deal with an expert in mirrors.
    The lovely mirror I now own, from Wilma, is a classic gold-leaf piece, featuring an eagle with outstretched wings and laurel leaves at the top and bottom. Thirteen bullets (actually round balls on the flat surface of the mirror frame) surround the mirror, representing the 13 colonies!
    Where to buy
    Finding these mirrors has become rather easy, and the prices haven’t yet staggered out of site. On eBay, for instance, I found them starting as low as $19 and moving toward the $500 mark.
    In the 1950s, reproductions started appearing, and one company (Syroco, the Syracuse Ornamental Company) was a leader in producing this mirror. Syroco had a molding technique that brilliantly reproduced the original carvings on these beauties. Needless to say, they produced a gazillion of them, and you can find them on eBay labeled Syroco as well on Etsy. Because they were reproduced in such quantities, they are affordable, and painting them won't destroy a form of history, so you can have fun and be creative.
    If you do, however, want one of the real deals, a true Federal-style girandole mirror, please visit a reputable dealer, perhaps one who specializes in mirrors. A good company will be able to prove the age of the mirror with the proper paperwork and, in some cases, have records of the original sale and family ownership. Of course, with a purchase like this, the price will be considerably more.
    What to do
    These lovely mirrors can handle any room design. If you are in need of a Shabby Chic piece, dry brush white over the gold to tone it down and soften its presence in a room. Need one for a very sleek, modern bedroom? Paint it with gleaming chrome for a steely-cool appearance. For a mirror that says, “Hey, look at me,” spray-paint one canary yellow to add some powerful punch to a very eclectic room with lots of WOW! Or place it over an entryway table to reflect your love of rich, saturated colors that tells visitors, “brace yourself, we are fearless with color in this house!”
    Because of the convex shape, these mirrors really help to expand a room’s lighting quality just like they were intended to do. So hanging them is not as big of an issue as it might be with a conventional mirror that might not work in all areas. The convex glass reaches into the room and captures delightful images! I have even seen them hung on flat-fronted bookcases, adding a lot of rich detail.
    Page 3 of 3 - For the purposes of this column, it is about having fun with these historical beauties. So, by all means, find yourself a couple and have fun painting them. Here are some super simple steps for doing just that:
    • Spray-paint works well for this project. Prime the mirror with a spray primer to avoid the possibility of the paint bubbling. Take a look at Krylon products for one that will work with whatever substance the mirror is crafted from.
    • Remove the mirror from the frame by unscrewing it. This can be tricky with some mirrors that still have the paper dust protection on the back. If you don’t care that the original paper is removed, tear that stuff off. (Replacing it is not as difficult as you might think.)
    • If this step frightens you, then just brush your color of choice being mindful of getting paint onto the mirror.
    • Give the frame about three good coats of paint, allowing it to dry thoroughly between coats.
    • Be wary of the fumes, and work outside in a well-ventilated area.
    • Once the mirror is dry, replace the brown paper.
    • You will need heavy brown paper, white glue (like Elmer’s), scissors, a pencil, a damp paper towel or cloth, a hanger or D-hooks, and a spray bottle of water or glass cleaner.
    • Remove the hanging device that is original to the mirror, and set it aside.
    • Clean off all the old paper.
    • Using a pencil, trace around the mirror, and then cut a piece of paper a bit smaller than the radius of the frame.
    • Place a small, thin line of glue in the center of the back of the frame, not too close to the edge and not too close to the opening.
    • Lay the brown paper over the glue and smooth it down along the glue line.
    • Use your damp paper towel or cloth to clean any oozing glue.
    • Allow the glue to dry and reinstall the hanging devices.
    • Clean the mirror.
    • Hang
    Have fun with your dignified mirror with a new life!
    Have a wonderful week—I will be here next week for a chat about something new!

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