Is Brass Out? How to Mix Metals like a Pro

I often get asked how to combine metal finishes in lighting and hardware. The look of matching all your finishes is long gone (even when working with brass). Here are a few guidelines to help you mix metals like a pro.

Thank you to the Washington Post for including my bathroom in a recent article about timeless colours!

How to mix metals

It’s a question we receive in my eDesign department all the time, “how do I combine finishes for my lighting and hardware?”

It’s official. You can buy almost anything for the home in black now. 

From hardware to lighting to faucets, black is everywhere and here to stay – that is, for at least 6-7 more years while this trend runs its course.

And it’s quickly replacing gold, but gold is one finish I hope becomes a classic. It warms up so many really neutral interiors.

Is brass out?

Secretly, I hope brass never goes out of style. I love brass! I remember, when not so long ago, I couldn’t talk anyone into brass lighting or hardware. WOW, how things have changed! More on that below…

In all honesty, this post on how to mix metals long overdue.

Because gone are the days when it was a simple case of matching all your metal finishes. In fact, if you simply choose the builder grade brushed nickel everything, the look is sure to be disappointingly dull.

Okay, so before we go any further, notice how I mixed metals in my master ensuite (above). I installed chrome faucets, repeated them again in the towel rod and knobs (which were a combination of glass and chrome). And for the gold/brass, it is repeated in the lighting, mirror and accessories.

 Let’s start with brushed nickel, which is a preference that is more often being checked off lately in our kitchen and new build eDesign packages:

Is brushed nickel in style?

Let’s talk about brushed nickel. There is nothing technically wrong with brushed nickel. There may even be an uptick in interest in the more meek and modest of the silver finishes lately. The problem is that it has been the generic builder grade go-to for way too long. Yes, it’s versatile, but it has to be used on some pretty new and sexy looking fixtures and shapes to look current, fresh and interesting. 

No one is rushing to install brushed nickel fixtures like this:

Brushed nickel looks good in this bathroom below layered with brass, but the faucets could just as well have been shinier polished nickel.

What do you think? Is brushed nickel going to overcome its generic reputation and begin trending again?

Driven by Decor

This bathroom (above) is a very good example of successfully mixing metals for a very fresh look. 

The key to mixing metals

The main thing you need to understand about mixing metals is to repeat each metal finish at least once. In this bathroom above, the mirrors, lights and knobs are brass, and the shower fixtures (not shown) and faucets are brushed nickel. Each finish is repeated, which is the not-so-mysterious reason that they work.

All the metal elements also all have similar modern styling. Making sure the STYLE of the fixtures and hardware make sense together allows for layering in a few different finishes and the overall design still look like they belong together.

Always choose a silver finish for faucets

When choosing metal finishes for bathrooms and kitchens, I recommend that you start with the faucets. I prefer to stick with classic chrome or polished nickel for faucets in kitchens, especially to relate to stainless steel appliances.

Choose the same chrome or polished nickel for bathroom vanity faucets as well to relate to chrome or polished nickel shower/bath hardware. Stainless or brushed nickel are ok too, just a bit dull in my opinion.

Plumbing is more expensive to change out typically, so it makes sense to stick with a timeless silver finish. You can then layer in one or two more metal finishes in decorative lighting, cabinet hardware and mirrors. These decorative elements are easiest to switch out when trends in metal finishes change.

I much prefer the soft and timeless look of chrome faucets to coordinate with stainless steel in kitchens. The kitchen above is by Jean Stoffer Design

Should I choose a black faucet?

I don’t see the matte black faucet trend as having legs, meaning it’s not going to be around for a long while.

In my estimation, black faucets are more of a fad because they are high contrast and jarring, making them not that easy to live with. Fads that pass quickly are the ones that demand so much our attention right away, that we get sick of them much faster. My hope is that black faucets are a flash in the pan. 

Black faucet via Home Bunch

Here’s the trick to decorating with black. It’s so powerful, in a bathroom or a kitchen, that you only need to repeat it ONCE.

What about brass?

And speaking of trends in metal finishes. Brass and gold have been going strong for some time now, and many of you may be fretting about the trend’s longevity.

Is brass going out??

Well, I don’t think so and I sincerely hope not. And this is why:

Mixing metal finishes add so much interest and warmth. And in spaces like bathrooms, where opportunities for creating interest are somewhat limited, it’s important to consider your metal finish combinations with care.

Studio McGee

In this bathroom above, for example, all silver metal finishes would have been a bit flat. But black finishes would be too harsh for the delicate look of the wallpaper. Brass metal finishes add the perfect touch of warmth.

And with olive and muted forest greens trending along with cognac, mustard and terracotta, the warmth of brass is the perfect metal accent at the moment. It’s lovely how it picks up the gold veining in the marble in the kitchen below.

Hunker

And while we are seeing many creative trends for kitchens including scads of cabinets in natural white oak and painted rich colours, the white kitchen (and white bathroom) is still fundamentally timeless, and brass is a lovely way to warm up an all-white room. 

Brass, wood and rattan warm up a classic white kitchen – Serena and Lily

Is bronze dated?

Bronze metal finishes have always been around. Bronze hardware and lighting brings in a just the right note of rustic charm. It reads almost black, but softer. As long as people are drawn to hint of nostalgia in their interiors, bronze will stick around. The trick is to make sure you choose bronze fixtures that are current in shape and style. I prefer to use bronze for hardware and lighting, and definitely not in faucets. 

 

Bronze hardware and lighting – Rejuvenation

The silver finish has been used on the faucet here to tie in with the stainless sink. The lighting and updated rustic hardware in bronze deliver contrast and a touch of rustic styling to this all-white kitchen (above). 

A tip about bronze

Bronze in light fixtures is often fairly interchangeable with black. So if you fall in love with a fixture in black or bronze and your hardware is the other, order it anyway (as long as it can be returned) and it may relate together just fine. 

Remember this post from years ago when black wasn’t available? Just Blink Twice and It’ll be Black

Recap: How to mix metals like a pro

Yes, there are absolutely a million ways to mix metals. BUT, if you don’t designate materials and finishes all day long giving you the experience to break all the rules like a pro, here are the best guidelines to follow:

  • REPEAT each metal finish at least once for an intentional look
  • Go TIMELESS and VERSATILE on expensive plumbing like faucets and shower fixtures. This means choose chrome, polished nickel or their duller counterparts, stainless or brushed nickel. Often this is a good way to repeat stainless appliances in kitchens.
  • Don’t mix POLISHED nickel and BRUSHED nickel in the same room, they are too close and could look like a mistake.
  • It’s good to be aware that there are not a lot of good lighting options available in chrome. Therefore, YOU CAN either mix polished nickel with your light fixtures and chrome faucets (like I did in this bathroom). Or, if you are anticipating you want a silver finish, install polished nickel faucets to begin with. Keep in mind, they are more expensive, which is why you see a lot of chrome faucets.
  • Keep to SIMILAR STYLES in all your hardware, fixtures and lighting (i.e. modern, contemporary, transitional, traditional). This way, the variety in finishes will look connected. For example, it will not look good if your tub faucet doesn’t match your sink faucet. This is where you need to match not mix.

In this bathroom I chose chrome faucets and hardware with polished nickel sconces and towel rings (above)

Hope this helps, I know you’ve been asking for this post for a while!

Over to you my lovelies! How do you feel about brass? Do you like it as much as I do?

If you’d like help creating a classic, bathroom, kitchen, renovation or new build check out my eDesign packages here. 

Related posts:

How to Update a Brown Kitchen by Adding Brass

Less is More for Kitchen and Bath Hardware

6 Common Mistakes New Decorators Make

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  1. What about door hardware? We build new homes, and I’ve stuck with using polished brass door hinges and interior door knobs. I think it’s timeless and am afraid that oil rubbed bronze or satin nickel will date the home in a few years.

  2. I love all of these finishes (except the black if I’m honest), but the oil rubbed bronze is a living finish and will change over time. I prefer it in places that you’re not touching often, like a curtain rod or light fixture, as it will wear off fairly quickly on a faucet or door knob that’s being used constantly. That Calacatta Oro slab in the second photo is amazing!

  3. I picked stainless steel appliances for my kitchen remodel with brushed Chrome taps. As for lighting fixtures, I went with bronze. Black seemed too harsh with my finishes. I’m happy to read this post and know my bronze light fixtures are not OUT. They were pricey from Hamilton Forge, plus I still love the big chandelier hanging down from the cathedral ceiling in my living room. Gold will never be put of style, as it is a classic. It may not be trending at some point but do we always follow want to follow the trends or what makes us happy and suits our style?

  4. Maria –
    Thank You I
    Also love brass .
    My favorite has anyways been chrome .
    I can use car wax on them and in hmy sinks they shine !
    When they no longer bead I wax again .
    So easy to wipe down my sink area …
    Personally and this is just me ..
    I’ve seen so much black on Instagram
    I mean black on black .
    I’m tired of it .
    I mean like burned out .’
    I’ve learned for myself it’s heavy a little goes a long way .

    I did black interior windows in this house .
    We just sold and I won’t do again …

    I have a wall of glass and a ten ft double patio door that opens up in the center . It’s a lot of black .
    For me I’ve learned to
    I can’t do that much black .
    I know it’s a trend and most are loving it …
    I get it …
    Is it just me ?
    Is any one else feeling this way ???
    Nancy

    • One thing we all need to remember is that search algorithms just give you more of what you are looking at. So while someone might be seeing nothing but black everything on their feed, another person won’t. It depends on your preferences. However, I’m with you Nancy, and you’re noticing it like I am because there’s too much of it in the room. Too much black hits the heavy tipping point quick! Thanks for your comment! Maria

  5. You’re timing is perfect! I literally was having this discussion with husband when your email came in. The kitchen update finally starts soon, so it’s time to make decisions on lighting & cabinet pulls. I’m so torn between gold & bronze. All my door handles & main curtain rods are antiqued brass, & my cabinets, doors/windows & floors will still be darker, so I’m thinking gold to brighten it up. But I have such high ceilings that either could work.

    Thanks for giving me more confidence to mix metals! I love how you did it in your bathroom.

  6. Great article! When you mix metals do you keep to the same finish (polished, brushed). I have brushed nickel faucets in a mountain home and want to mix metals in the bath on the cabinets. Bronze or a brushed gold? I typically just see mixes with polished so I’m not sure.

  7. Just curious… is brushed brass, burnished brass, and/or antique brass all back in the mix or just the polished look?

  8. I am planning a bathroom update so this is perfect timing! should cabinet hardware match faucet or lighting? I was thinking lighting. So brass lighting and cabinet hardware and polished nickel/chrome fixtures? We had to replace faucet last minute and it is brushed nickel and drives me crazy! It was a quick cheap fix but sticks out like a sore thumb!

    • Just make sure you repeat it where you can see it. It might not be enough to repeat it in the towel bar since you’re still looking at the cabinet with the brushed nickel faucet that sticks out visually. Maria

  9. I redid my kitchen but only used brass with knobs on cabinets and lighting which can be changed easily by a new owner. My faucet and fridge handles are are polished nickel (looks like chrome). I couldn’t make the decision to make the expensive Rohl faucets brass since I have three. And I love the results! All goes well with Carrara marble 3×6” subway tile walls and counters.

  10. What about curtain rods? We have antique brass lamps and cabinet hardware in master bedroom of our MCM house but went with stainless rods. Does the fact that there are multiple rods in room count as repeat of metal, or should we bring stainless into the room somewhere else?

  11. Whitney McReynolds

    Thank you for this post, very helpful! What do you think about door hardware? I love the look of black but is it trendy? Is it better to go stainless/silver? Thank you

  12. I love polished but unlacquered brass door hardware and hinges. I was told to change mine years ago, but I kept them and like them well enough, still.

  13. So interesting to read your comments on black hardware and faucets. When we were building our home seven years ago, I wanted black bathroom and kitchen plumbing fixtures. It was incredibly difficult to find at that time. I just finished a major interior design project for a modern home in Colorado and my client wanted black plumbing fixtures. Much more available options now, than seven years ago.

    I also hope gold becomes a classic. It is such a elegant finish, elevating even a builder grade home to a more refined look and feel.

  14. Great article!

    What about ceiling light fixtures in open spaces? For example, if a kitchen is open to a family room, does the metal finish have to be the same in kitchen light fixtures, as it does with the family room chandelier (and does it matter if the ceiling height is different in both rooms – ex kitchen has 9′ ceilings & family room ceiling is 2 stories)?

    Also, is the repeat rule the same with interior door knobs? If a home has matte back door knobs, do you have to repeat that metal finish in all the rooms?

    Thanks Maria!

    • Lighting is hard and really custom to the space and the decorating. To keep it easier I would say yes, coordinate the metal finish on lighting you’re looking at, at the same time. No, I don’t think it’s necessary to repeat black in a room with a single black doorknob. Maria

  15. I have polished nickel faucets, towel bars, robe hook in our master bath. They have special cleaning needs, but are beautiful. If I did it again, I would go with polished chrome. You get a similar look at a lower cost and easy to clean.

    On the kitchen: what metal finish do you use with copper sinks and black stainless steel appliances?

  16. On the kitchen: what metal finish do you use with copper sinks and black stainless steel appliances?
    I have polished nickel faucets, towel bars, robe hook in our master bath. They have special cleaning needs, but are beautiful. If I did it again, I would go with polished chrome. You get a similar look at a lower cost and easy to clean.

  17. I love brass! Especially with marble countertops. That would’ve been my dream kitchen except my husband was NOT a fan, so we picked something a little safer– but I still dream of brass! Maybe I’ll sneak some in when we do the bathrooms next 😉

  18. Great informative post as usual! First of all kudos on your article picked up by the Washington Post! You are a star!
    I personally love the mixture of chrome and brass and have used it for years even before all of the chrome appliances became the latest thing. To me black hardware goes with a modern home whereas “silver” and “gold” goes with any style IMHO. Black is so strong that it makes it’s own statement. I loved all of the questions about coordinating finishes on light fixtures from room to room. Sometimes there is not always a set rule.

  19. Yes, thank you for this post! In my limited experience, choosing plumbing fixtures, lights, and even curtain rods that work well together is difficult. Besides figuring out what looks best together there is the added problem of availability! So often, not all items are available in the desired finish or perhaps the desired style and finish. Thank you for showing us that mixing works!

  20. Thanks for this post, so informative and timely! And great advice, as always – especially love your explanation on what distinguishes a fad from a more lasting trend. In the age of Instagram we’re being pushed to think of home decorating the way we do of fast fashion – there’s always the newest, shiniest, most “original” thing someone is doing that we then want to replicate at home. It’s so unsustainable, and the trends are over before we know it, faster than ever. So many DIY blogs were painting their chrome hardware black a few years ago, and some still are, but I think that novelty is finally starting to wear off.

  21. This is a great article. I love the picture of your bathroom. What is the color of the vanity? Without the blue, the bathroom would not be as stylish!

  22. LOVE LOVE LOVE this post! I have been reassuring “late to the brass party” clients that, YES-it is a lasting trend (at least I whole heartedly believe so.) I so agree with so many of the points you made. After working in custom new construction design for several years and then taking a “break” to a plumbing & hardware showroom for 2 years, and now back to custom construction design, I am mixing metals for clients and they love it. I feel differently about 2 opinions you offered–1) Mixing brushed nickel & chrome-In my opinion it looks like 2 builder grade finishes (because the least expensive items always come in these 2 finishes) that got mashed up together (but I LOVE well thought out chrome mixed with brass or black or contemporary dark bronze) and 2) Mixing polished nickel (shiny warm undertone) with chrome (shiny cool undertone) looks like the designer didn’t realize they were different finishes. JMHO. I am ok with mixing brushed nickel with polished nickel because they both pull warm undertone. Bottom line-GREAT BLOG POST!!!! Always enjoy reading your thoughts based on your experience! XOXO-JHD

  23. Hi Maria. Love this post. I, like you, was thrilled when brass came back “in”. Especially with all the cool greys showing up everywhere. I dont love the polished brass but prefer the antiqued. It adds warmth to white and grey and adds elegance to black and deep colors. I think my favorite metal for faucets is polished nickel. I’m doing a remodel right now and will be changing out all the kitchen and bathroom hardware from the 90’s mix of chrome and polished brass to creamy glowing polished nickel. It reminds me of sterling silver. As far as black goes I’ve been a huge fan of black and white forever. However I would not want to be scrubbing water spots and mineral deposits off of black bathroom fixtures and faucets!! Save the drama for dry areas please lol.

  24. Yet again another brilliant article Maria and team… I have turned several people onto your blog (professionals and novices) and they rave about your knowledge. Thank You for creating a more beautiful world through your awesome design knowledge!!!! L

  25. Thank you for this. We are at the end of a renovation of an old farmhouse. There was a renovation done in 1989 also. I have an odd collection of brass light fixtures, some probably from the early 1900’s. Wanted to use some of them but wasn’t a big fan of brass. Now feel much better about using them and mixing with other metals. Very helpful!