There’s no design rule that insists every finish in a room should match. Instead, it’s often more impactful if they don’t. Mixing metal finishes is an elevated way to increase visual interest. Varying metal finishes across fixtures, hardware, lighting, accessories, and furniture adds depth and character to the room.
The task of deciding on the right combination of metals and determining how to use them can be intimidating for those of us not practiced in interior design. While there’s no magic formula to guide us in mixing metals effectively, we do have some great tips from the professionals to help painlessly pull off this look in your home.
Types of Metals
The most common types of metals used in interior finishes are aluminum, stainless steel, brass, copper, bronze, nickel, chrome, and iron.
As trends come and go, the popularity of each metal varies. For example, brass peaked in the 80s and was replaced by silvers (both polished and brushed). Matte black and brass have been enjoying the limelight for the past decade or so, but copper and bronze are picking up in popularity—as you’ll see in some of the images below!
Types of Metal Finishes
Metal finish or ‘sheen’ refers to the way a metal is treated and its surface aesthetic. The finish largely determines the final look and texture of a metal-based item.
Incorporating a variety of sheens in your interiors makes mixing metals interesting (and sometimes challenging). Popular finishes include:
- Antiqued – chemically darkened to simulate aged or tarnished look
- Brushed – matte finish with faint brush marks or texture (are you able to spot it in the image above?)
- Matte – flat surface often consisting of powder coated black paint
- Polished – reflective, mirror-like surface prone
- Satin – dulled surface similar in appearance to brushed
- Hammered – surface texture that appears dented
- Raw – unlacquered to allow for natural darkening (patina) over time
1 / Choose a Primary Metal
Pick one metal to use as a focal point, and incorporate other metals/finishes as accents to complement it. Your primary metal should reflect the overall aesthetic of the room.
Aim to apply it to approximately 60-75% of the finishes in the room.
In the bathroom by Le Clair Decor above, brass is their primary metal—in a couple of different sheens.
2 / Choose Accent Metal Finishes
Pick one to two accent metal finishes for the rest of metals in the room. (If you’re a pro, you might choose more!)
If you’d like to incorporate two very different metals – like polished stainless steel with aged copper – bridge the gap with a finish that’s in the middle, such as brushed stainless steel.
Tip: Having a hard time pairing two different metals? Stick to mixing finishes of the same metal. For example, start with a polished version, then add matte and/or antiqued surfaces as the accents.
3 / Apply in Levels or Planes
Organize metals by height or levels, making sure that the same finishes are on a similar plane. As the eye sweeps across each surface, the metals are cohesive.
Example: in the Kate Marker kitchen above we see the highest element, the lighting fixture, has brass details while the next level down uses polished nickel faucets. The lowest level has brass – with a different lustre or finish than the lighting – on the cabinet hardware.
Tip: Use one metal for a lighting fixture and another for cabinet hardware and faucets to create a cohesive blend.
Tip #2: In smaller spaces, have the faucet as the only accent metal. Consider coordinating your countertop accessories with the faucet since they’re on the same plane.
4 / Pay Attention to Tone
When mixing metals, pay attention to the undertone. In general, brass, bronze, copper, gold, and nickel have warm undertones, while stainless steel, chrome, and brushed nickel have a cooler look. Matte black is neutral.
Example: In the kitchen above, photographer-designer Tessa Neustadt’s seamless, collected look is due to following the above three tips:
- A dominant metal – bronze hardware and light fixture (possibly also the mirror in the corner)
- A secondary metal finish – brass in the unlacquered faucet & polished shelf poles
- Tonally these metals work beautifully because they’re both warm. It’s hard to tell with the silver stove but it doesn’t compete.
Tip: Although it’s possible to mix warm with cool tones, it’s easier to keep them the same. You can see the difference in the two silver metals above, where polished nickel is warm and chrome is cool.
Now that you know how to mix metal finishes in your home, you can spot these ideas in action while admiring your favourite designers’ projects!
Contact us if you’d like professional interior design services in your next home renovation or build.
Feature image credit: Le Clair Decor