Meandering through a maze of antiques at a shop in Illinois a friend and I chanced upon a large, ornately gilded mirror that spoke to us. Both of us. A toss of a coin procured it for my friend.

She admitted the impracticality of it. She doubted she even had one wall large enough in her cottage-style house to hang it without it overlapping into a window frame, doorway or bookcase. And, to top it off, her furnishings were all country rustic. Quilts on the walls were more her style than baroque gilt mirrors. But the coin dictated that it was hers to purchase, so she did.I helped her lug it home. There was one wall, just opposite the entrance, that would perfectly accommodate our new found treasure. We hung it. And the results were stunning. Her house was transformed. The afternoon sun caught the mirror at a perfect angle. Her room was swathed in golden light.

Walls of mirror panel can sometimes leave too much room for reflection. The trick of making a small space appear bigger by mirroring an entire wall recalls an amusement park nightmare: Who wants to see everything thrown right back at you? But a well-placed, framed mirror can be a brilliant decorating stroke. Framed mirrors, in their infinite variety, fit into any decorating decor, deftly bounding light and pattern, creating the illusion that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Light certainly alters the entire mood of a room. Mirrors placed to capture sunlight in the summer help boost low light levels without adding heat. In winter, a mirror above the mantle or across the room from the fireplace helps embrace the ambient light of candles and hearth flame, making the room appear more inviting and cozy.

Last spring I placed a flexible Plexiglas mirror on the rear of my fireplace and added two dozen pillar candles, all in a creamy white and of varying sizes, to the center of the fireplace for a warm weather glow.

Spatial illusion is, of course, the mirror's trump card. The trick to playing, however, is to realize that not all spaces deserve to be increased in visual dimension. Selectivity is the key.

Jean Cocteau once said that mirrors should think longer before they reflect. So make sure your mirror only reflects what you really love.

Which is the fairest mirror of all?

Before the 15th century mirrors were merely polished metal. Upon close inspection, a shimmery, slightly out-of-focus image was returned.

Convex or curved glass was an improvement. However, the mirror image was still distorted in size and shape. The fascinating beauty of convex-glass or bull's eye mirrors was seeing a miniature world.

The convex butler's mirror was an invaluable tool to the discreet butler. He could look away from the table, busying himself at the service board. But, by peering into this dining room fixture the butler could still observe the whole table at once and satisfy the needs of the guests as unobtrusively as possible.

A sunburst mirror repels the light of the design inspiration original, scattering the light in sunspots around the room.

Remember that a mirror's frame is as much to be considered as the mirror itself. Mirrors with a surround can be glue gunned with seashells, created from stone, crafted from twigs or fashioned from antlers to help create a design statement. Mirrors set into old window frames or hand-made tiles add a shimmering note to the rusticity.