Mixing Metals

By Keesa Fullmer, Interior designer

Mixing metals is kind of a big deal right now in the design world. It is one of the easiest items to replace that has the largest overall impact in the home. Whether that be the cabinet hardware in your kitchen or the showerheads in your bathrooms, you are easily able to update the feel or style of a room. It’s one of the hottest hardware design trends in the industry—right up there with subway tile, faux fig plants and white kitchens (will white kitchens ever go out of style?!) As an ongoing trend, you can even see it in many of the amazing Parade homes across the state such as the the homes shown above from the Salt Lake Parade of Homes. Chrome, nickel, satin nickel, bronze, stainless steel, flat black, black stainless steel; the options are endless. There are so many finishes to choose from. So how do you know how to use them together? You want the room to flow and look uniform, but how is that possible with so many variables? Done right, the whole room comes together like Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. Done wrong, it looks like the science project your 7th grader threw together the night before it was due.

For beginners looking for some guidance on the art of mixing metals within the same room, here are a few tips to take into consideration before you order that gorgeous black matte kitchen faucet and one hundred and something gold cabinet handles.

Pick a dominant metal 

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to pick a dominant metal from the very get-go. You’ll thank yourself later when making future design decisions. This is the metal that will be used the most in the room. And, make sure to choose your favorite metal: The one you’ll be happy to look at every day for the foreseeable future; the one that in every Instagram, Pinterest and Houzz picture you bookmark or screenshot.

Don’t have a favorite metal? Do some research. Check your Pinterest boards or personal phone gallery and ask yourself, “What metal have I pinned the most?  What have I bookmarked the most?” You may be surprised. Chances are you have one metal that you clearly favor. Mine is chrome. I love me some polished chrome.

It is important that you choose a metal that you love the most. This is your foundation that you will work from. Ever heard of the wise man and the foolish man who built their houses upon a rock versus a sand foundation? The wise man’s house on the rock stood upright. The foolish man on the sand lost his house. This metal will be your metaphorical rock or sand, so make the right choice. The more confident you are in your initial decision, the better off the rest of the project will be.

Can’t have just one

If you’re certain you are unable to pick a dominant metal, go “halfsies” with two dominants. Okay, so you’re incapable of picking one metal. You sound like me at the Park City outlets over Labor Day weekend trying to decide what to leave behind. I get it! I’m an all-or-nothing type of person. In all seriousness, how about two dominant metals? Do you have two favorites that can be split 50/50 as the dominant metal? The important thing to consider is that you don’t want the metals to be competing with one another. If you go this route, make sure these two are sharing the space equally. You will subtly be able to throw in one more metal in small amounts if you’d like for accent, elegance or flair.

Generally, use three metals

Now that you have your dominant metal(s) picked out, it’s time to choose your secondary metals. If you’re a real novice, I suggest picking and sticking with three metals total. If you’re feeling confident and are working with a larger area, you can use four metals. Anything past four and you’re headed for the danger zone of the room feeling hodge podge and not flowing well. Unless you are a professional designer, it is going to be very hard to utilize five metals or more in a space while creating a sense of balance.

Use contrasting metals

When picking your secondary metals, as with all projects in design, there is a feeling of balance that we need to find with color.  If you pick all dark metals, there is a severe lack of contrast. The same can be said if you pick all light metals. This behavior absolutely defeats the purpose of “mixed metals”.  The point of the design trend is to literally use opposites together. This is also what makes it so nerve-racking for some. Mixed metals work because they are not similar. The differences make the room more interesting, so don’t be afraid to mix those black stainless steel appliances, brass bin cabinet pulls and that industrial chrome faucet.

Balance metals by creating visual groupings 

By now you have your three metals picked out and they are stellar. Let’s say they are brass as your dominant, and black matte and silver as your secondary metals.  Now, where and how to use them within the space? Consider the other objects in the room and create groups. If you need to literally write down the other objects in the room to create the groups, then do it. For example, in a living room (in regards to your metals) you may need a chandelier, side tables, lamps and curtain rods. You have three metals, so let’s create three groups for those. 

Group 1: Large chandelier

Group 2: Side tables and curtain rods

Group 3: Lamps 

Next, we’ll decide what group will be most dominant and apply the dominant metal to this group. It may not always be the group with the most items, either.  This is going to be the group with the heaviest visual weight in the room. In this case, it is Group 1: large chandelier and the dominant metal is brass. Group 2 and 3 will then be our secondary metals and there is no equation for these groups.  At this point, you may pick your secondary metals as you please. I am choosing the black matte for Group 2, the side tables and curtain rods and silver for Group 3, the lamps.  By creating groups within the room, you are able to assign the metals accordingly and continue on your merry way of searching and ordering your products without the confusion. You know exactly what you are searching for and oftentimes that is half the battle.

If you’re not wanting to commit to a metal long-term, incorporate it in with your décor. Sometimes it is hard to tell how long a metal will be in style. You want to make a wise investment for your circumstance. Here’s an example: gold metal. How long will it be in style? In the past, gold comes in fast and goes out faster. Not wanting to change all your kitchen cabinet handles?  Maybe invest in a gold three-tier stand for baked goods that can sit out on the counter or a gold metal mug rack that mounts on the kitchen wall. There are other ways to incorporate that metal you so desperately love but can’t completely commit to.

I wish you the best of luck on your mixing metal endeavors!

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