Furnishings feeling brassy — again

Home style trends follow fashion. Similarly, the metallic finishes of hardware, lighting, plumbing fixtures and some furniture follow trends in jewelry.

After decades of gold jewelry, white gold, silver and platinum eventually took over as the dominant materials. Now, that silver look is starting to skew cold, and warm golds are returning at the high end.

Where jewelry goes, the kitchen and bath will soon follow, according to industry professionals who often refer to hardware as jewelry for the home.

After years of silver and chrome tones ruling the day, brass is starting to make a comeback in interior design.

It's not your 1980s builder-grade polished brass. I am seeing some really beautiful antique, distressed, oil-rubbed, and brushed brass finishes on items including chandeliers, sconces, coffee tables, sinks, faucets and knobs.

Historically, brass and gold tones were associated with wealth, which meant hardware and fixtures made of brass or sporting a golden finish were often highly polished, more formal and even ornate.

Untreated, brass is susceptible to tarnishing; ignored, it will eventually turn almost black. For this reason maintaining a shiny finish required a small army of servants, and polished brass became synonymous with luxury.

To provide the look of polished brass without the upkeep, manufacturers developed coatings that would prevent tarnish. This move, in retrospect, might have been the death knell for polished brass.

The allure of brass has always been the signs of wear, tarnish and age — the warm patina that develops with time and use. Coatings providing lifetime finishes stripped brass fixtures and furnishings of that mystique, leaving them to appear permanently new.

Today, brass is back, but with finishes that suggest age and use, conveying a warmth that serves as an antidote to the cold look of chrome and stainless steel.

"Brass has a warmth that adds sophistication to any room," says interior designer April Force Pardoe of AFP Interiors. "But don't think of the shiny brass from the '80s. Look for brass pieces with a dull finish."

Not ready to replace all of that stainless-steel hardware you added to your decor in 2004?

"Try brass in a lamp, candlesticks, a mirror, frames or accessories," says Pardoe. "The color and finish complements teals, purples and oranges, and pops against warm whites. The warm patina of vintage brass is a great way to bring something metallic into a space."

As evidence of this returning trend, Annie O'Connell De Meo, showroom manager for Edward Ferrell + Lewis Mittman in the Washington Design Center, points to the lighting line Besselink & Jones.

"Their only standard finish is distressed brass," says De Meo. "While they offer several other finishes, from polished nickel to bronze and powder-coated finishes, brass is by far the top seller."

Eleanor Niermann, vice president for merchandising for local home furnishings manufacturer Niermann Weeks, suggests the comfort factor may have spurred on the resurgence of brass and gold tones.

"Even the silver we are doing now is warmer with gold undertones," says Niermann. "The warmer tones are more comforting."

While Niermann Weeks doesn't make brass fixtures, Niermann has seen a resurgence of golden tones in the lighting pieces it has been producing lately.

"One of our more popular finishes right now is our distressed gold leaf, which is a heavily sanded, worn-looking gold finish," she says.

Interior designer Wesley Thompson, owner of Simply Wesley, suggests that the silver versus gold, chrome versus brass preference might be generational.

"Antique brass has never gone out of style with older generations," says Thompson. "Younger people were brass-averse for years and only wanted silver or chrome, but now that they are getting older and more sophisticated in their style, the trend is moving back to brass."

Maybe brass is just the new skinny jeans.

"People just get tired of trends after a while," says Niermann. "Things have been silver for so long, people are looking for a change."

Like fashion, jewelry trends come and go, just not as quickly. Still, what's hot today could be collecting dust or in a glass case at the local pawnshop in just a few years. The changes we make to our houses are more permanent, so following trends comes with a bit more risk.

Pardoe agrees, but sees the shift from silver tones continuing, albeit slowly.

"I think it's going take some people a while to move away from only using brushed platinum," she says, "but it will come."

Dennis Hockman is editor of Chesapeake Home + Living magazine. He can be reached at

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