11 Rules to Follow When Decorating With Brass
Here’s how to ensure it looks modern—not like a dated mistake.
Published Jan 4, 2017 6:00 AM
Brass is everywhere right now—from ultra high-end designs (think Kelly Wearstler or Roman and Williams) to highly accessible stores (think CB2 and Target). Warm metals including brass, gold, and copper are having a major moment after almost two decades of design loyalty to chrome and nickel. Any metal with a hint of warmth was considered dated and passé well into 2014 with many designers hesitant and skeptical of the look until very recently. Today, the look has crept into all aspects of design including tech—you can even purchase a rose gold iPhone. With such widespread acceptance, this trend appears to be morphing into a true design movement that can’t be ignored.
So why the extremely rapid shift? This luxurious metal used to signify conspicuous consumption and showiness. It now feels traditional, nostalgic, and homey. The Victorian, Hollywood Regency, Mid-Century Modern, and Dark Nostalgia styles all embrace these rich tones. But this metal can be tricky to use in a modern, fresh way that won’t feel dated in a few years. Follow these rules to make the best use of brass.
Make it Matte
To ensure your brass feels of this century, look for a matte, burnished, or un-lacquered finish. High gloss brass often feels very 1989 (or even 1889). Brass, by its very lavish nature, commands attention in a space; you don’t need to add extreme reflection. An un-lacquered finish will change patina over time, adding texture and color variation to your fittings, making each piece unique.
Just as a high gloss finish can feel dated, so can highly ornate, Victorian-like detailing. Look for clean lines and modern forms drawn from Mid-Century Modernism or Minimalism. Simplified and updated interpretations of traditional shapes also make brass feel contemporary. Avoid faucets that look like Victorian reproductions; instead, purchase a pared-down1920s cross-bar style.
Brass makes a big impact in clean, modern spaces. While warm metals will be lost in a traditional home’s sea of color and ornate detailing. This sophisticated metal wants to be the center of attention and requires some room to do so. Keep colors light and accessories to a minimum.
Mix it Up
In fashion and jewelry design, nothing is more modern than mixed metals. Brass plays well with others in the home too: Try rose gold, copper, or black (or all three) with brass for a complex and varied design. Add a bold accent in a room fitted-out in nickel or chrome. The addition of brass pendants or cabinet pulls in a chrome kitchen instantly updates the space without a major investment or elaborate renovation project.
Try Black and White and Brass
Brass warms any graphic black and white (or all black or all white) space; meanwhile, chrome can make these rooms feel cold. Brass accents are a much-needed break from the visual rigors of a graphic interior, especially when the metal has gained a patina and the color begins to soften.
Nothing says “French café” more than brass and Carrara marble, a classic combination dating back to the Greeks and Romans. Add white subway tiles and a warm croissant to be instantly transported on a European vacation.
Make a Bold Statement
Brass makes a bold statement in any space and becomes more impactful in a single, large dose. Try using a less conspicuous metal for small details and simple color scheme throughout, leaving the brass element for one central, knock-out piece. Try a large chandelier, range hood, or solid brass table for some wow-factor. In this case, a glossy finish can work to your advantage.
Brass, Brass Everywhere
Brass feels subtle and modern when scattered in small doses throughout your home. Cabinet knobs, thin legs on a bar cart or side chair, and delicate tabletop accessories all feel fresh in brass. This technique ensures you don’t overwhelm a space with too much of a good thing, and it won’t feel overly trendy.
Pair With All Things Clear
Lucite, glass, and plexiglass are instantly made more current with brass accents. If you don’t want to purchase new lucite pieces, just add brass accessories.
Use With Blues and Greens
Brass works best with bold blocks of color like turquoise, emerald, or cobalt, as well as deep, cold grays. Select one color from the cool side of the wheel and keep other elements in the space simple and neutral. Avoid pairing brass with orange, yellow, or red.
Brass Loves Nature
An organic, textured interior filled with chunky wool, whitewashed oak, painted brick, and raw linen pairs wells with brass. Verdant green plants add contrast. A color range of white, cream, and flax makes for a sophisticated backdrop for this lavish metal, giving brass the opportunity to grab the attention.