Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mixing metal finishes–what are your thoughts?

This vignette caught my eye when I saw it on the HGTV Remodels Facebook page.  The beautiful brass lamp, the artwork casually leaning against the wall, the burst of purple from the unusual flowers, the interesting metal medallion made into art – it’s a beautifully composed scene. Image source.

I really love the lamp (does anyone know who makes it?).  It is quite sculptural, and the aged brass finish is one that has really grown on me over the past few years.

The image was featured in a Facebook post from HGTV Remodels about whether all lighting fixtures need to be the same finish in a room, and how this question applies to an open concept house.    Click here for the blog post by ‘The House Counselor’ Laurie March to see a video on her thoughts on the topic.  Although the initial question was about light fixtures, I got the impression that she discussed more broadly the concept of metal finishes rooms in general, not just light fixtures – two finishes can be friends, but three is a crowd when it comes to finishes in a room.  The general conclusion, though, is that mixing finishes is definitely fine and is very common in European design.

When I was working with my designer and architect on some of the finishes in the house, we had a lot of discussions on finishes, although I was quite surprised at the overall low level of concern about ‘matching’ finishes with cabinet knobs, plumbing fixtures, lighting, and door knobs.  One of the first ‘finish’ decisions, and one that was important to my architect,was on what to select for the door hardware.  My architect wanted the door hardware be consistent throughout the house, and we decided to do an unlaquered brass lever from Baldwin, which has attained a nice mellow look now that we have had it installed for over a year.  That set a tone for the house, and the other metal finishes that were selected, particularly with the installed lighting (chandeliers and sconces and such) were made after the lever color was selected.

The plumbing finish decisions seemed to be more standalone – we decided to use either polished nickel or chrome for the plumbing fixtures, and the knobs that are in rooms with these fixtures are the same finish as the plumbing fixtures.  I have several rooms in my house where the plumbing and knobs are polished nickel or chrome and the lighting is brass.  I even have one room – the master bathroom – where the sconces are polished nickel, and the bell jar light is unlaquered brass.  Since all of the levers on the doors throughout the house are unlaquered brass, that is a common finish found in every room and allows flexibility in deciding which finish for the fixture. 

I would have to say that we definitely use at least two metal finishes in most of the rooms of the house.  In the kitchen we have three – the plumbing and cabinet knobs are polished nickel, there is a polished nickel sconce, the chandelier is a dark metal finish, and the door levers are brass. Perhaps because the door levers do not dominate, I never really thought about the fact that the kitchen has three metal finishes until writing this post!

I would be interested in hearing your experience.  What are your rules of thumb for selecting the finish for door knobs, cabinet knobs, plumbing fixtures, and lighting?  Do you think two finishes can be friends, but three is a crowd?  I would also be interested to hear what finishes you are working with these days. 

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  1. I went through a phase when everything had to match....but now that the "undecorated" look has taken over I have relaxed my own rules:). I'm still a chrome girl....but do love to mix some aged brass around.

  2. I have a house built in the 80s. Most of the door knobs are scratched shiny brass. It's so expensive to replace everything, and I have been doing it slowly but surely but maybe I should have thought more about the same finish in the entire house! I have nickel in the master, oil rubbed bronze on the front door, shiny scratched brass in the kids rooms and the downstairs. This post has given me something to think about as I replace the shiny brass. I might do nickel for consistency.

  3. I like the black shade on the lamp.

  4. I like the look of mixed metals, especially brushed brass with brushed nickel.

    In our kitchen, we have brushed copper drawer & door pulls mixed with an oil ribbed bronze faucet and outlet covers and a stainless steel garbage can and pendant light. That's three finishes in one room, and I think it works :-)

  5. I really like antiqued bronze with brass, copper, etc. I'm not as "excited" about shiny chrome, stainless steel, etc. anymore. franki

  6. Early in my home ownership years I was a purist and everything was brass, that was the "look" of the decade. Now, I like so many different metals and I select items based on the overall design. I could make myself crazy trying to keep everything the same. I believe a well designed room holds its own, even if the door hardware is one finish and the wall sconces and tray on the tables are different finishes, respectively.
    The little vignette is so alluring. I love the lamp.

  7. Can you tell the paint color on your house, trim and shutters. thank you , i enjoy your blog. enbyram

  8. We have just completed construction on a new home, and are in the midst of these decisions. All the doors are oil rubbed bronze. I am going back and forth with a dark finish for my white kitchen cabinets, or polished nickel. I definitely believe mixing finishes is perfectly acceptable, and can make the design more interesting and less static. I am now seeing so much aged brass in design pictures that I am mulling that over too. So many options it is dizzying! Would love it if you shared some photos of your selections! Cheers! Beth C.

  9. Holly I think that we have now seen so many beautiful rooms with mixed metals that our eyes are trained; and I personally love it. I do think it is different when shiny metals are used in combination, for me it glares too much!

    Art by Karena

  10. In the "old days" I would never have mixed finishes. I am completely comfortable mixing finishes now. I think it gives a home another layer. As you know there are many ways to tie the mixtures of metals together as is evident in your lovely home. What a great idea for a post!

  11. I agree with everyone else! Mix it up ~ this is a lovely vignette. The lamp shade is gorgeous!

  12. Oh, boy! What a gorgeous vignette! The black shade just seems to set off the rest of the tabletop accessories. I tend to agree with most...mix things up. But from experience, it seems that keeping the metal muted and 'antiqued' works better than bright metals.

    And that little bunch of muscari...yum!


  13. I think mixing metals makes it really interesting. I took off my island hardware in the kitchen (oil rubbed bronze) and replaced it with ant. brass..so much better and way more interesting. So yes I am a fan. Beautiful vignette. Have a great day Holly and thanks for stopping by:)

  14. As I get older and "wiser"? I gave up on trends and rules! Your home is Yours! Looking around I see crystal, many shades of gold, dark metals, and chrome.
    A little information I will share. All my Kitchen hardware, for each drawer and cabinet, is different! Crazy, but what a fun look and quite a "conversation" party opener! Now I am not going to count how many different finishes there are! It came about looking for new hardware and checking out prices. In my search, I went to a Custom Kitchen shop. I inquired if there were any "on sale". The owner sent me to the back of his work shop were he kept boxes of hardware left over from his jobs. He told me to take as many as I wanted, he wanted them out of his workshop taking up space, and best of all... they were "FREE". All I had to do was choose the ones I wanted. To find enough of the same knob to do the kitchen was impossible. At this point I decided to create Whimsy! I easily found more than enough different styles and finishes !!! What fun.

  15. YES...YES...I love to mix metal finishes. SO much more interesting than everything the same.

  16. I like mixing metal finishes as long as they're OBVIOUSLY different. I hate seeing chrome next to nickel -it just looks like a mistake!

  17. I mix gold and silver jewelry all the time. Why not throughout my house? As long as the piece or hardware works in the room, I have no problem with different finishes. I started decorating with cast-offs from friends and family. Accordingly, my eye trends towards an eclectic look. It can often look more thoughtful and interesting. Beautiful vignette above.

  18. I mix metal finishes and I think 3 different finishes are fine. However, some metal combinations are more pleasing than others. I agree that a polished nickel and polished chrome don't easily mix - the chrome comes off as too cold. I frequently combine polished nickel, stainless steel, aged brass and sometimes even pewter in a kitchen.

  19. ditto with everyone above. my inspiration comes from europe, the old europe, and it's always been about the mix.

    just back from market and saw nothing close to that lamp. i will be checking back frequently, dying to know who manufacturer is!

  20. Yes to the metals mix. I currently have a mix of chrome and brass in my own home, and it seems to work just fine!


  21. Hi Holly, I have been "advised" a couple of times on my blog that two metal finishes are all I am allowed. I always disagreed. If you look at books of grand old European homes, there is a mixture. In every photo, there is always some lovely silver frame or object next to a gilded-framed painting, etc. and some old bronze light fixture.
    I love consistency as much as possible but really, unless you are neurotic, it isn't possible. I have lovely crystal lamps with nickel bases - do I throw them out because my new light fixture is another metal? It is just silly.

    Another dilemma I always have relates to curtain rods. I see silvery rods, black iron rods, and various shades of brown wood rods, not to mention white painted rods, etc.

    In my guest room, which is tiny, I have silver lamps, iron rod, bronze knobs on the night table and what the heck do I do about a light fixture? In a small space, too many metals can look mismatched. But in a large and spacious home like yours, I doubt it is really very noticeable!

    I have been pondering this on a regular basis. But if the Europeans can do it for centuries, it works for me. As long as everything relates and goes together in the mind's eye. :)
    xo Terri

  22. Another vote for mixing metals. When "everything" is of the same metal, it off gives a very sterile feeling. That said, the mixed metal finishes need to work together and not fight each other. It tends to be a subjective decision but you can usually get a feeling when something isn't quite working right.

  23. Love the lamp too. If you find out where to buy it, please post the info.
    Mixing metals is much more interesting than going with just one.

  24. i like the mix! i wear gold and silver jewelry at the same time so if it works in fashion it works in decorating!

  25. it's all in the mix- matchy-matchy is over.

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  27. DAMN I´m always late for the best parties! Mixing metals... I have an antique clock. In it is marble and three mixes of brass AND solid brass. So I figure, if it was a ok over 200 years ago in France, why not now. And mixing metals in a room, much like other commenters I have seen that it manages to add to the dimension to layer even metals and their finishes. I kid you not, I lost a few winks of my beautysleeps while pondering could I live with shiny chrome banker´s lights on my library while every other metal- thing was old, antiqued brass. I painted the glass domes faux- malachite, insides of domes gold and left the chrome " feet " be at their peace. All shiny and terribly new. And you know what, it works like magic. Shiny chrome freshens the entire room and now I see it conversing with mirror- and mirrored surfaces and all is well.

  28. We always mix metals, love the interest it gives a space! Especially when you have a nice tarnished brass piece with a blackened iron metal!
    Great Post!
    xo Karolyn

  29. This is a gorgeous vignette Holly...
    I suppose I have always tried to stay in the same vein with finishes... although our home in France has nickel switches, kitchen and bathroom fittings.. I have a lot of old gilt around the place... I guess I try and stay uniform with the fitted and am more relaxed with the free standing...
    Have a great week... xv

  30. Mx away I always say!

    But most people are fearful. I posted a bedroom for a client in November where I used several finishes in her small master bedroom and I'm working with a client currently I've had to help (every step of the way) get over her trepidation of mixing metals! The lamp is fantastic!!!

  31. I agonized over the mixed metal thing during our recent renovation as well, but all turned out fine. We used "French antique" finish door hardware from Emtek (with glass knobs), and I remember worrying that the gold tone would "clash" with the polished nickel faucet, island pendants, and cabinet knobs in the kitchen. I also worried that the soft gold tones of our dining room chandelier would "clash" with the polished nickel kitchen island pendants (visible via French doors from kitchen to dining room). All turned out fine. I also worried needlessly about having that same "French antique" door hardware on the door to the laundry room, which used oil rubbed bronze Circa light fixtures and chrome cabinet knobs. Again, all was fine. Elsewhere on our terrace level, we used brushed nickel drawer pulls & knobs and brushed nickel Circa fixtures -- still with those "French antique" door knobs, and even paired with a polished nickel bar faucet in our wet bar area -- and, again, all was fine. Mix away!

  32. I like the mixed metals it add interest and a kind of map of terrain in a home. I encourage my clients to mix it up... after all we age that way so why not allow our homes to refelect that as well.

  33. Hi, I love your blog! I have just started a new home building blog and would welcome any comments/feedback on some of the decisions I will be making. See here:


    Like your post says, I also will walk a fine line between mixing and matching and not being too boring. I like mixes of metals and woods, personally. I think it gives off a an edgier environment while still being homey.

  34. I think that these metal finishing are so great. They really improve the look of your home.

  35. I think mixing metals makes a room more interesting. However, as with anything else, one theme should predominate. In our home we have ORB knobs and hinges on all the doors and cabinets. All of the hanging fixtures are ORB, as well. However, in our somewhat formal living room we have several crystal table lamps with polished brass and some gilt mirrors. It is the one room in the house which gets very little natural light so it needs some sparkle. In the family room which receives much more natural light and is obviously less formal we have several antique brass table lamps. While polished chrome is the most practical metal for bathrooms and kitchens, I just could not stand having a polished chrome faucet in the kitchen. Our kitchen is contiguous with the family room. The faucet had to be ORB!


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