Yes, You Can Mix Metals (& Here’s How)
For interior designers, metals can be a vital way to tie a room together. There are many types of metals available to choose from, as well as a number of different types of metal finishes that can impact the look and feel of the metal you choose. So are you wedded to one type of metal once you start working with one? Absolutely not. Mixed metals—particularly brass and nickel finishes—are all about achieving a cohesive, “collected” look that’s elegant, cozy, and amassed over years.
Metals find their way into traditional, historic schemes as well as ultra-contemporary ones. Different types of metals can be incorporated into moveable furnishings such as brass bed frames or candlesticks, as well as more permanent décor like nickel shower fixtures. For as many different types of metals as there are available, there’s a finish out there that can help tell your home’s story. Is your décor modern or historic? Craftsmanship-oriented or sleek? As with upholstery patterns or wood grains, variety and texture are key to mixing metal finishes so the final aesthetic doesn’t fall flat.
When mixing metals in interior design, it’s important to establish measured, intentional choices in each space to avoid creating a space that feels haphazard and frenetic. Let’s start by defining what metals exist in the marketplace, so that you know what your choices are when mixing metal finishes in home decorating.
Types of Metal
From faucets to sconces, there is a wide variety of different types of metal to choose from. While the most common types of metal in residential design include brass and nickel, you can really start to play when it comes to custom projects—including rarer, more expensive metals such as platinum or copper.
The category of brass metal is a large one. Within each “brass” metal are different color hues, such as reds, yellows or oranges. If you think you want to go with brass, it’s best to view it in a showroom to make sure it’s what you want. The plus side is that changing your décor down the road will have a lot of flexibility, as brass transcends many different interior design styles.
An alloy product of copper and tin, bronze is often favored for architectural elements such as hand-rails and windows. Its darker, brownish-reddish color offers rich, unassuming elegance. Bronze generally comes with a higher price-point than more common types of metals, and is thus popular in high-end projects.
As interior designers know, copper injects instant warmth into a space, mainly because of its red-orange undertones. Its corrosion-resistant properties also make it a favored choice. For an antiquated, historic look, many love the green-blue patina that can develop over time with the oxidation of copper.
Often in a dark (black) hue, wrought iron is more commonly seen outdoors (particularly with furniture and railings) but is making inroads with interiors. The reason wrought iron is a hit outdoors is because of its resistance to corrosion. However, if you are looking for a smooth surface and there will be a lot of hand contact, such as with drawer pulls, know that wrought iron is often rough in texture.
Nickel as a metal is extremely versatile. Especially if you want a classic look, nickel has a silvery-white appearance with a hint of golden. It’s also corrosion-resistant, making it a low-maintenance choice that can stand the test of time.
Stainless steel is perhaps the most common metal in the market. From a practical perspective, there’s a reason why: like nickel, stainless steel is much less likely to rust or corrode, making it a durable, reliable choice, popular for kitchen appliances (for good reason).
With an understanding of different types of metal under your belt, it’s time to move on to different metal finishes. Choosing types of metal finishes is perhaps the most important decision when it comes to mixing metals because the type of finish you choose can dramatically impact the metal’s appearance.
When choosing a metal finish, consider the design style in your home. Is it historic and traditional, or sleek and ultra-modern? While the finish on a kitchen faucet or the living room’s overhead light fixture may seem like a small detail, a metal finish can actually tell its own story. In fact, you’ll find that the terms used for these metal finishes are a reflection of the style they best complement.
Even if a metal is new, it can be made to look old if you opt for an antiqued finish. Homeowners of properties that are historic or in the countryside are often drawn to this finish as it appears linked to the date that the home was built.
As if a paint brush graced the top of this metal: that’s precisely what a brushed metal finish looks like—minus the too-obvious “brushstroke” lines. Instead, the variation can barely be seen.
More common on soft metals like aluminum and brass, a burnished metal finish is achieved by polishing a metal to create a smooth, bright, and gleaming appearance. “burnished” and “polished” are often used interchangeably, but the distinction lies in the means to achieving the polished look. A burnished metal finish is created through a mechanical process, where a polished metal finish can be achieved both by hand or machine.
This finish is all about texture. When you run your hand over it, there’s the feeling of indentations, or it having been “hammered.” This is commonly found in bathrooms and in kitchens, whether it’s a utensils container or a stool outside of the shower.
Conversely, polished features a smooth texture while hammered feels rough. If you’re wanting a sleek, mirror-like finish, this is exactly that.
Think of a satin metal finish as a cross between antiqued and polished. It’s smooth but not shiny, classy but not contemporary.
Unlacquered v. Lacquered Finish
One last important distinction is the difference between unlacquered v. lacquered finishes. Unlacquered finish — also known as “living finish” — is a type of finish that will change over time. It’s used most often when talking about brass finishes. Unlacquered brass, for example, will begin to patina immediately. It gives a rich, warm, and lived-in feel to a home. It does, however, require some maintenance, so it’s not for everyone, but the aesthetic can be the perfect touch to achieve a home’s “collected” feel. Conversely, lacquered finish — also known as non-living finish — is a protected finish that will always look the same as the day it was installed and will not patina over time.
These differences are very personal choices, and conversations we have with every client before installing any metal in a home, particularly when it comes to plumbing and when building seaside homes, as humidity and salt air will accelerate the rate at which unlacquered finish patinas.
Mixing Metals in Bathrooms
While the basics of mixing metals in bathrooms include obvious places like faucets and light fixtures, this isn’t the end of using metals in bathrooms. There are additional options to incorporate metals as finishes in the doors (trim), cabinetry (drawer pulls or knobs) and mirrors or vanities (frames). The art of how to mix metals in the bathroom is infinite if you keep a few general guidelines in mind.
Start by selecting a dominant metal. In other words, what metal will be displayed most? You want to be careful here with balance. No two metals should be evenly used. Instead, choose one to rise to the top, then support the look with one or two accent metals woven into the design. One bath-design expert even coined a term that can be your mantra: complement, not compete, when it comes to mixing metals.
Mix warm and cool tones: By eyeballing different types of metals, you can quickly drop them into one of two categories: shiny or dull and warm or cool. As a general rule of thumb when mixing metals, try to avoid selecting two types that fall into the same category. Instead, opt for a cozy, collected and curated vibe through your mixing of metals.
Mixing Metals in Kitchens
In kitchens, there are clear opportunities for mixing metals—such as hardware for cabinetry and a light fixture above the island—but there are also some subtle spots you might consider (that can even be implemented in a weekend’s time). Consider the pots hanging from the pot rack: are they copper or stainless steel? In terms of decorative objects like candlestick holders or pottery, are there metal accents you can play with?
More so than with baths, kitchens are loaded with opportunities for personalization and you may find it beneficial to take inventory of what’s already in the space before shopping for drawer pulls or selecting between a chrome or silver back to the bar-height counter stools. And if your kitchen folds in furnishings, such as banquette seating or a breakfast nook, consider whether or not the upholstery has nail-head trim. This is another very small—but equally powerful—method for mixing metals.
Knowing how to mix metals in the kitchen isn’t as intimidating as it seems. Because the kitchen is a space in the home with multiple objects, appliances, art and furnishings, it can appear overwhelming, but you may find this is the most fun spot in the house for mixing metals.
Personalizing Your Home
The beauty of mixing metals is that you don’t have to make a hard decision on just one metal type — you can use several. Check out these five fool-proof ways to mix metals as a final primer before you embark on this decorating challenge. And once you start mixing, you may not be able to stop. Just keep in mind “complement, not compete” and you’ll achieve the warm, collected feel you’re going for.