Precious Metals

In the same way a little black dress comes to life when a gleaming gold necklace is layered on it, adding the shimmer of metal to a room’s décor helps create a luxurious, well-appointed interior. Metal’s finish and malleability add an aura of warmth, sleekness or rustic charm to a space that might otherwise feel unfinished. And, much like fashion, achieving this look starts by striking a contrast between tone and texture, be it cool colors against warm, shiny finishes against matte or hard surfaces against soft.

Color My Metal
Metal is not usually thought of in terms of color, but recognizing the dominant tone and how it interacts with the other colors in the room is integral when incorporating it into a design scheme. Golden metals like brass or antiqued gold leaf bring a warm, yellow tone and anything silvery—from shiny, polished chrome to matte, brushed nickel—read a cooler gray. Bronze finishes, from the very dark oil-rubbed bronze to a lighter champagne bronze, add caramel brown to décor. Copper injects a bright peach or orange tone. It is wise to consider that these strong infusions of color must harmonize or complement the existing color scheme and can clash if not used correctly. It is best to design with metal finishes that loosely belong to one family, be it the range of golden-yellows, silvery-greys or bronzy-browns. Meanwhile versatile black iron can be mixed in anywhere for a solid, grounding effect.

Luxe Luster
Achieving balance in design is what makes a room visually compelling. Make a major statement by keeping one of the main furniture pieces in a metallic finish, anchor it with something softer: A gold leafed cocktail table that sinks into a shaggy area rug, a wrought iron headboard juxtaposed by deeply textured, cable-knit pillow shams or a brass lantern suspended in front of a rich, dramatic wall. Striking this balance between soft and hard can also be achieved by incorporating smaller accent pieces. For example, a brushed nickel side table tucked next to the plush arm of a chenille-covered sofa, a stately bronze wall sconce that sparkles beside a length of silky drapery or a gleaming, polished chrome bar cart that rejuvenates the nearby worn wood buffet. These pairings add incredible visual interest to a room while also working to define different interior styles.

In bathrooms, the finish on faucets and towel bars drives the décor. Chrome and nickel impart a cool, modern spa feel when featured against crisp, solid-hued towels and rugs. Brass finishes are classically elegant and they complement bath linens and window fabrics that feature a more traditional print. The family of warm bronzes imparts a decidedly casual mood when paired with textured towels and woven window shades.

The world of interior door and cabinet hardware presents an opportunity to capture metals in rooms where floor space is lacking and accent pieces can’t be accommodated.

In the powder room, on or in closets and more casual spaces like reading nooks or home offices, salvaged, vintage knobs with rosettes (like those found on Etsy or in antique shops) create a relaxed but nostalgic feeling. In modern niches, like a small den or bedroom foyer, ornate backplates and sculptural, minimalist levers in more light-reflecting metallic finishs can add a touch of formality.

Shine On
In room design, the term “metallic” describes a catchall category inclusive of several finishes that are not actually metal. There’s a spectacular array of equally flashy materials that will shoot light around the room and grab the eye in the same, exciting way although their substance may be quite different. A mirror is one such material vital to every room design. Beyond framed and wall hung expanses of this most functional reflective surface, furnishings trimmed in mirror make a glamorous impact. An attention-grabbing side table or a sleek console becomes an uplifting contrast to all the wood and textured upholstery found in most rooms. A mirror typically looks flawlessly new, bright and silvery but by choosing the mottled, antiqued version the effect is matted down and warmed up with hints of gold. This softer finish is also found in items made of mercury glass originally known as silvered glass (though it’s no longer made with actual mercury). Mercury glass has an aged look that shimmers without brashness and is a great way to marry the cool and warm tones that are being used around the space.

Wood furnishings can have a painted, rubbed or leafed finish in gold, silver or bronze, allowing furniture and picture frames to easily add the look of luxe. The same holds true for frames around some mirrors. Accents made of porcelain, glass and ceramic, like an angular garden stool, curvy floor vase or stately ginger jar can be glamour-glazed just the same.

Paint is an incredible way to layer on luster and create a luxurious effect. Professional faux painters have mastered techniques that include silver- or gold-leafed-looks and dreamy, pearlized finishes that can be added to any wall color. These treatments give ordinary walls and ceilings an extraordinary glow. If the budget doesn’t allow for giving an entire room this treatment, a faux finish on one feature wall can also make
a powerful statement.

Threading the Needle
Fabrics that shimmer or shine are another way to add the metallic factor—and they move around easily to constantly refresh a space. Choose window treatments with gold or silver threads woven through or upholster dining chairs with crackled metallic leather. Golden brocade fabrics look rich on linens as do more modern prints that are foiled onto the fabric’s surface. Throw pillows can wake-up upholstered furniture when trimmed with metallic cording, buttons and beads or bedecked with tassels made of vintage French metal thread, which is available in a range of luscious jewel tones. Or go flashy by making pillows with super-shiny spandex fabric. Adding nail head detail to sofas, chairs or ottomans, available in different sizes and virtually every metal finish, will definitely add a dose of dazzle. Nail heads are readily available at many hardware stores and are relatively easy to install.

Room by room there are endless opportunities to let metal work its magic. The varying degrees of shine found in the wide range of finish options—from highly polished to brushed matte to hand forged, can impact the mood of an interior. When put together harmoniously, metal works with the other elements in the room to define the space as everything from classic to earthy to glam.

caroline wilkes

Caroline Sophia Wilkes is an interior designer who also writes about design trends. From Manhattan to Montauk, this native Long Islander derives inspiration from the dynamic forms and energy of the city to the organic serenity of our land- and seascapes.