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In the Studio: Talking convex mirrors and collaboration with Sean Phelan

To celebrate the launch of the Soho Home and Sean Phelan Mirror Gilding partnership, we sit down with the founder, designer and Soho Farmhouse member to discuss the collection, which is on display at our Oxfordshire outpost.

'Convex mirrors look great in a contemporary setting, but this style has been around for hundreds of years,' says designer and gilder Sean Phelan who, after years experimenting with shape, style and finish (he has been restoring antique mirrors since 1996) recently launched his own studio and online store.

'Before designing my own, I honed my craft restoring Georgian convex mirrors from the 1820s; pieces embellished with mythological dragons, antiques with lots of character - and that's what I love, and try to recreate,' he says. Those experience went on to inspire his newest project - a collection of Art Deco-influenced, rounded mirrors with platinum leaf gilding and hand-burnishing to create a bespoke aged effect, unique to each one.

Now living in the Cotswolds with his family, Phelan's studio is located just a stone's throw from Soho Farmhouse and his mirrors can be seen in the Main Barn, Cowshed Spa and Soho Home's Woodshed. And these pieces are not just for show - they feature in the new Soho Home collaboration and are available to buy.

Phelan sits down with us at his studio to tell us more about working with Soho Home, his design process and why convex mirrors bring something special to interiors.

What effect do convex mirrors have on an interiors scheme?

'Aside from the obvious use for mirrors, they are a great decor tool in your home as they can open a space up, reflect the light and give an airier, more open feeling. Now, imagine that times a hundred - because, while a flat mirror can bounce light around the room, a convex mirror actually brings the room to life.

'The room becomes drawn into the mirror and is then pushed out again. The effect brings a different dimension to interiors.'

How did the collaboration with Soho Home come about?

'I've been a Soho Farmhouse member for six years after moving to the area. I love the set-up - the simplicity of good food, nice surroundings and a pool just in a farmer's field; it works.

'I thought that one of my large convex mirrors would look great in the Main Barn and so I worked with the in-house interiors team at Farm to have that installed. From there, the Soho Home team got in touch and thought we could take it one step further which I'm delighted about.'

What has your design process been in creating this collection?

'I've been designing mirrors, in a sense, for a long time - throughout my career I have played with different frames and gilded finishes; burnishing one part, having another part matte, adding different colours, etc. But drawing my own designs and taking them to production has been really rewarding.

'I design everything by hand - the simple way, the old way. I don't like using a computer; I think it can get sterile. Whereas when you do things with your hands it's all about feel and touch. Drawing out the shape, the style - you get something completely different to using a computer-generated image.

'I imagine everything from the shape to the finishes and the ageing. Each one is hand-finished and completely unique. I've also experimented with infusing different colours and levels of oxidisation - people can come to me for blue, bronze, green.'

How do you get that beautiful aged effect?

'We gild each mirror by hand, laying on platinum leaf, working around the frame quickly enough to complete the effect before it starts to dry. Your hand's movement is responsible for the direction of the gilding.

'We run over the gold with a burnisher and the pressure lifts the gold so it has a really high lustre. It's so powerful, it gleams. By then working it back you allow some of the colours to come through the gold, and that tones it down. It makes it a bit softer on the eye, allowing different tones and effects to come through so that it's not flat. I can't stand print mirrors, every single one is the same. They are used a lot. They can look nice - but there's nothing unique about them.'

What inspires you?

'Everything. I could walk down the street, look through a window and my mind will be triggered into thinking: I could do something like that but different. I love the Art Deco period, with its clean lines and rounded shapes. It's really sad that it was brought to an early standstill because of the war.

'I have an appreciation for many design styles through history: Georgian; William and Mary; the 1970s - it all inspires me. But I have so much fun adding gilding by hand and working with clients to bring through colours and finishes that they love.'