I have touched on metal finishes briefly here before, and the ginger step-child of the family, copper. However metal finishes in general seem to send people into a tizz when it comes to their interior, so I thought it worthwhile to expand on the rest.
It’s a bit of an odd one metal, and our fixation on how we use it. I think it stems from the fact that metal finishes are generally the most expensive of the bunch, and they really do a lot to help elevate a space. A lethal combo when it comes to piling on the pressure in the decision making process. This isn’t something we want to get wrong. What is more, like death and taxes, it’s something we also can’t ignore in our homes. It’s an inevitable cross-road we will all face at some point or another. Rather a dramatic sentiment I know, but true nonetheless.
In a black and white world, one would assume you should just pick one metal finish and run with it. However if you are on a budget, you aren’t always in a position to customise every finish that goes into your home, and you invariably find yourself faced with more than one metallic finish in a room. Furthermore, only having one metal finish in a house is a bit boring and should be avoided unless you are purposefully trying to remove personality and character from your house. So that answer is out.
Before I get into the nitty-gritty, there is a general concept that I feel we all need to come to terms with when it comes to metal finishes. When this penny drops, the rest of what I am going to suggest really becomes quite secondary.
You know the Serenity Prayer from Alcoholics Anonymous?
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
This is basically what you need to keep in mind when it comes to metal finishes.
Here’s what I mean by this. We have learned to accept that a bath and a toilet are white, yes? We might be able throw a whack of money at them to get them in different finishes and colours, however if you walked into room and saw a white loo and a white bath, regardless of the overall colour of the room, you wouldn’t think twice about it. The room could be painted bright blue, the floor blue and the tiles blue, but you wouldn’t look at the toilet and think, gosh if only that was blue to tie this whole theme together.
The same applies to silver metal finishes. There are items in a house, as with a white toilet, that we just need to accept come in a certain metal finish, and therefore we shouldn’t use them to influence any other metal related decisions we may have. We need to ignore them.
“…accept the things we cannot change…”
These items include, the stove, the oven, the fridge, general appliances, down lights, bathroom taps and the kitchen sink. (There might be others, but generally we would have substituted these out already without even thinking about it. Hinges and door handles for example.)
I’m not being defeatist by saying this. As I mentioned above, you can pay to get anything made in any finish you want. For the vast majority of us however, some, if not all, of these items will be bought in a “silver” metal - a chrome, a stainless steel or nickel. So by default, unless you are going for an all chrome/stainless/nickel home, these items will never match any specialist or decorative metal finish that you intend on using, like brass or bronze.
A Stainless steel range or freestanding fridge in your kitchen does not dictate the need for stainless steel handles on your cabinets. Similarly it shouldn’t now prevent you from introducing a second or third metal finish. Same goes for chrome sanitaryware. If your budget dictates that you can’t opt for brass or bronze taps, don’t feel that having chrome now means that every other metal finish in the room needs to be chrome too. Prime example, the title pic above. If we start thinking of these items in the same way we look at a white toilet, half of the “how do I mix metals” debate falls away.
So with that in mind, here are my thoughts on the rest.
This goes without saying, but pick one dominant metal finish, and where at all possible match to this. Consistency is key here. I say this pretty much every post, but when it comes to metal finishes, its paramount. The more a metal finish is repeated, the more the eye gets used to it, and a good interior is always comfortable on the eye.
It’s like swearing. One F-bomb might be a little jarring, say it all day every day and it just becomes another word you say.
Group similar items in the same finish throughout the house. If the same finish is repeated in the same application, the decision looks intentional and this always reads better.
If all your wall lights in the house are in a brass finish for example, when placed in a room such as bathroom where you may have chrome fixings, your eye has already clocked that all wall lights are brass, and therefore it makes sense that there is brass in this room too.
The key with mixing is to try and achieve as high a contrast as possible between the two metals. So trying to mix chrome and stainless steel for example is like wearing a brand new pair of black jeans with an old black jumper. They are both technically black, however side by side, your jumper will look drab in comparison to the new jeans, and that isn’t good news for the jumper; no matter how expensive or sentimental. A bright yellow jumper in contrast, no matter how old, will always hold up.
This typically applies in bathrooms. Don’t mix chrome and stainless steel. It’s one or the other.
Dark metals, like a bronze or cast iron, are basically a get out of jail free card. These go with anything, so stop stressing. If you do find yourself heading towards introducing a third metal for whatever reason, go dark.
This works for items like bathroom mirrors. You can very easily have chrome sanitaryware, brass wall lights and a dark bronze framed mirror. The dark metals read as black, and black don’t crack, so you’re all good.
Similarly this also applies to things like door ironmongery, handles and hinges. Having these in a dark metal actually draws less attention to them, and allows you to incorporate other metal finishes within the room that carry greater visual importance.
Antique or distressed metals are easier to incorporate. Like a copper with a green patina, or an antiqued bronze, these don’t really read as a metal, but rather a colour or a texture. Loads of products can be supplied in antiqued finishes, so if you are still on the fence about mixing, this is a good way to do it.
Finally, if you're worried that a metal finish doesn't have enough clout in a room, or you need more of it in a space to turn the tide in favour of brass over chrome for example, don't ignore the value of other finishes such as fabrics and timbers. At the end of the day, a metal finish is just a colour, and that colour can be replicated in other items if you need a little help to amplify things. One of my fave bedrooms I've designed has brushed brass wall lights, and that honey-comb colour is picked up in the rattan handles of the bedside tables. Two vastly different materials and finishes, but they bring the same flavour to the room and help further the brass theme throughout the house.