Mixing metals – and a thought on the Mona Lisa…

I get a fair amount of questions about mixing and/or matching metals and metal finishes.  It’s not like someone asks every day or even every week, but it does seem to come in waves.  I had three people ask me last week so it got me thinking…

I looked around our house in search of metal mixing.  I think we might have every kind of metal finish somewhere in our house – and I mix metals in just about every room.  Our new bathroom is a good example where we mixed polished chrome faucet and shower fixtures, brushed stainless cabinet hardware, aluminum tile trim and outlet covers, white gold frames for artwork, and oil rubbed bronze door hardware.  I think it works.

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Obviously, I think mixing metals is ok to do.  In fact, I think mixing metals and metal finishes actually adds interest.  It’s kind of like matching bedroom sets – a little boring because everything is the same.  Same with too much polished chrome or brushed stainless – a bit uninteresting.  Mix it up though and we’ve got some interest out there.

Question #1 & the most common question – Is it ok to mix other metals with polished chrome in the bathroom (or kitchen)?  

My answer: Yes – definitely.  I am not a fancy pants (or smarty pants), but I do think every kitchen and bathroom needs some shine and brightness.   I will always choose polished chrome for faucets and fixtures.  I can’t think of any situation where I would opt for any other kind of faucet or shower fixture finish.  I like polished chrome faucets that much!

You can see here that the polished chrome on my little red teapot adds a lovely bit of shine against the brushed finish of the stove.  It’s the same concept with polished chrome faucets and a surrounding cast of characters in brushed stainless/nickel cabinet hardware and such.  It adds “layers” as the designers out there might say.

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 Same deal with brushed aluminum, matte aluminum, any aluminum…

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I feel like oil rubbed bronze is a beautiful contrast to polished chrome – not only in color, but also style and feel.  Oil rubbed bronze is like the working man’s metal – patina-ed, low maintenance, well worn and understated.  Polished chrome is like the talking man’s metal – dressy, a bit high maintenance, showy and over the top in high doses.  Oil rubbed bronze is soft and warm.  Polished chrome can be hard and cold.  Together, these two metal finishes provide a contrasting visual “interest” and “balance” – again, as the designers out there might say.

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Copper is another metal that is nice with polished chrome, but less likely to pop into your head.  There just isn’t much copper out there. I once searched the world (or at least all the local stores and internet) for a bright copper light fixture for a bathroom project.  I found only one option.  A friend had a custom made powder coated copper countertop installed in her kitchen.  It was unexpected – I loved it. These days, I think copper is a bit pricey so accent pieces such as outlet covers/switch plates and towel racks might be better on the budget.

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I used a copper switch plate in our old bathroom because I liked the warmth and artsy element it added to the cold feel of the polished chrome, grey walls, stark white tile, and watery green and blue art pieces that dominate in there.  An added bonus of my copper switch plate is that being in a damp environment (we don’t have ventilation in there) a few spots of blue/green patina have shown through (think Statue of Liberty).  I like that well used, well loved patina – it coordinates with the frog on the wall above it.  Here is a close up – you may be able to see it better in this photo – inside some of the curly cues.

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Question #2 & second most common question – What sort of finish would you recommend for door hardware?

My answer:  I like to keep the finish consistent throughout the house. I don’t think you have to match all the door handle styles throughout the whole house, but keeping the finish the same is good for tying together each space with the next. The front door is the exception. The front door is a great opportunity to do something different, fun, dramatic, unique.  I say go for a completely different style and/or finish there. Make it stand out.

Guests are greeted with a stainless brushed egg knob at our front door.  I like eggs – not only as food but as a shape and as art.  In fact, I’ve got a thing for eggs as art – but, that is a subject for another day.

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Oil rubbed bronze is probably my favorite finish for door handles.  As mentioned previously, it is like the working man’s metal – low maintenance, understated, soft, warm.  It’s a nice contrast to most wood tones and all white doors.   This is an original oil rubbed bronze finish, from way back when…

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Todays oil rubbed bronze is darker, less patina-ed, but still feels like a modern version of the classic and traditional – so it works well in our old house – I think.

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Question #3 & the final question – What can I do to make polished brass look good?

My answer:  Nothing.  Sorry.  Polished brass is just bad.  Nobody likes that polished brassy gold look.  Nobody ever liked that polished brassy gold look.  I wish there were a way to antique that stuff though because I do appreciate a little bit of antiqued brass/gold in small accent doses.  Our fireplace window hardware is antique brass.  It’s nice.  It’s got that old school, non trendy, retro, mid century kind of feel.

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On a side note – I really like the whole gaudy antiqued brass/gold frame thing – not sure why.  Maybe, it’s reminiscent back to the days of self taught amazing painters and original old art – very European and Louvre like…  On even more of a side note (or is it a tangent at this point?) – when visiting Paris, we went to the Louvre with one mission in mind (well two if you count saying we saw the Mona Lisa).  I have this print (framed in gaudy antique brass/gold) and a friend told me that the original was in the Louvre.  Without an era, name, or any identifying factor, we found it!  Crazy!  Out of a bazillion pieces of old artwork, we actually found this original painting!  And, as you can see, this original is also framed in antique gaudy gold!

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Oh – and we technically can say we saw the Mona Lisa as well, but from really far away – we couldn’t get anywhere near that tiny painting due to the huge crowds around it – but I did notice that it too was framed in gaudy gold.

Ok – back on point and in summary:

  • I say always use polished chrome faucets in the kitchen and bathroom, but mix in some other metals and/or metal finishes for interest.
  • Brushed stainless steel, brushed nickel, aluminum, oil rubbed bronze,  and copper work well with polished chrome and with each other.
  • Do something different with your front door hardware – make a statement there.  Otherwise, door hardware looks best when the finish is consistent throughout the rest of the house.
  • Polished brassy gold doesn’t work with anything at all.  However, gaudy gold/brass antiqued frames are perfect for artwork in any environment and with any other metal – in my humble opinion.
  • I’ve seen the Mona Lisa, but it isn’t that impressive.  If you are ever in the Louvre, look for the Delaroche – it’s more interesting than the Mona Lisa.