If you're the type to haunt Saturday estate sales or make sharp U-turns when you see "garage sale" signs, you might run into Ginger Coffer, founder of Ginger Coffer Designs (www.facebook.com/GingerCofferDesigns). Coffer is always on the prowl for the antique mirrors that are the center of her design and refurbishing business.
"An estate sale's a great place to find beautiful mirrors, especially Uptown New Orleans, [since] there's so many old houses here," Coffer says. "I look for anything that has a good price ... and that I think I can turn into something even better."
Using a subdued palette of neutrals, taupes and dusky blues, Coffer transforms old, new and artificially antiqued mirrors by using custom-painted frames and bronzed architectural details like medallions and crests. Inspired by the trumeau mirror, a rectangular mirror popular in 18th-century France, her work is a mix of classical and contemporary. One faux-antique mirror's speckled glass contrasts with a clean wood frame, while another small mirror's upper margin ascends into baroque curlicues.
Like many small business owners, Coffer started with a problem to solve. She loved the visual effect of mirrors, but couldn't track down the right ones for a focal point in her home.
"I was looking for two [mirrors] to go on either side of my fireplace," she says. "The French antique trumeau mirrors are very pricey, and they're hard to find. That's when I decided to try and make these myself. My dad is an engineer and very much a do-it-yourselfer — I guess I have a little bit of that in my blood."
She researched companies that sold the type of ornamentation she liked and found a carpenter to do the heavy lifting of frame assembly. The process was addictive, she says, and custom-built mirrors soon popped up in every room of her house. Coffer's first finished product impressed friends and family so much that she began to receive commissions for other projects.
With her work, Coffer brings this decorating tool to her circle and the community.
"[When] you're looking for something to fill your walls, everybody thinks of art," she says. "I think you need a mix of art and mirrors. ... [Mirrors] bring light in; if you have a small space, it's definitely going to make it feel much larger." Mirrors placed high on walls can miss out on some of this expansive effect, she says.
Coffer also suggests placing a mirror where it can reflect other beautiful objects, like chandeliers or a great piece of furniture. If you aren't looking to visually expand your space, use this strategy when installing a mirror, or make a large mirror the centerpiece of a room.
Since creating her first mirrors in 2009, Coffer has established a comfortable creative cycle. She finds mirrors or frames to redesign, sends them to a carpenter to be cut or reassembled with new frames and hardware, and adds ornamental elements, paint and finishing touches in her garage or backyard. Her ideas come from a variety of sources: from Pinterest and decorating magazines to modern art and New Orleans itself.
"I do a lot of custom work because if someone wants a mirror for a certain space ... it's hard to find a mirror out there that fits the exact size," she says. "They'll have ideas and I'll just make what they need. Growing up in New Orleans with so many artists and the architectural surroundings helped a lot."
Coffer has moved from mirrors to furniture restoration. Her recent upcycling successes include a vintage drop-leaf table -turned-modern with a refinished surface and colored legs. She brought a pair of metal candleholders to life with a textured painting technique that makes them appear snow-covered.
Coffer puts these objects on display at Vita (1537 Metairie Road, Metairie, 504-831-1111; www.vita-nola.com), the boutique on Metairie Road where she began selling her work last summer. Owned by longtime friend Erin Ewing, Vita sells of-the-moment apparel alongside Coffer's home furnishings.
"[Ewing] asked me to put my mirrors in [the store], and I was so excited; it's a place for me to show what I'm doing," Coffer says. "People come in for clothes and they see home [furnishings] and art and mirrors and furniture that they love; it's a good mix."
In the future, Coffer hopes to stay inspired by estate sale treasures and designs of her own creation. To her, the business side of her work isn't so important. She prefers to focus on the right finish or molding and the perfect paint color or embellishment.
"I'm having a lot of fun with this," she says. "I'm kind of just seeing where it takes me. Right now it's really keeping my creative interest. The [mirror's] frame itself is what I love to do. It's like a piece of art."