It’s all in How You Finish That Counts


I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s the wild west out there when it comes to the finishes we find on hardware, bathroom fixtures, and lighting.  Where we used to have just a few choices (our old friends chrome, polished nickel, satin nickel) there are now about eleventy-hundred.  Suddenly we’re faced with finishes like champagne bronze, graphite, and brushed chrome.  

I mean, what’s a homeowner to do with so many options?

Of all these new finishes I get questions on gold the most.  Isn’t it a trend?  Won’t I regret using it?  

Well first off, I don’t think of trends as a terrible thing, but I do try to stay away from fads.  Fads have a very short shelf life and will definitely date your project prematurely.  Trends, on the other hand, can last a much longer time and are somewhat unavoidable.  Like in the 90s, everyone wanted their Tuscan Italian kitchen with its warm colors and tumbled travertine tile.  In its iteration, that trend lasted a very long time.

Similarly, we are currently nearing the end of another long trend, and that’s the prolific use of gray.  We are shifting away from the all-Carrera marble bathrooms with neutral gray walls and white vanities.  Those minimalist spaces are now feeling a bit cold and clinical, so I’m adding wood grains and organic, hand-cut tile.  But as a designer, it was near impossible to ignore that powerful gray-trend.  It’s in magazines and Instagram posts and fixer-upper TV shows, so it becomes the look that many clients think they want.

Expand your horizons.  But keep it balanced.

So where does that put us with all these new finishes?  Well, one thing that I think is here to stay is the concept of multiple finishes.  Who knows if the “brushed silver” of tomorrow will push out the “champagne ice” of today – but the fact that we are going to be seeing lots of different finishes is here to stay.  I’m betting on a few to become new classics that will stand the test of time, like black for instance.  But I think some of those very yellow golds may already be marching their way down to the sale aisle.

For me, the biggest problem with that yellow gold finish is that is just so GOLD.  It’s very in-you-face and can have such a strong opinion that it wants to be matched with more gold, everywhere.  This can be problematic.  If you use gold for your faucet fixtures, you may then feel trapped into using it for your vanity hardware, lighting, mirror trim, towel bars, and even the hardware on your glass shower doors.  And suddenly your bathroom is tilting a little Liberace.  Which, don’t get me wrong, can be a great thing!  But maybe not as a surprise.  So lean into that look or proceed with caution.

What are the workarounds?  Well, you can use it in smaller rooms, like a half bath, because you won’t see as much of it.  After all you don’t have shower fixtures or glass hardware or multiple towel bars, so already you’ve lessened its impact.  But you’ll still need to swap out your toilet lever and maybe the visible water-supply line too.  Generally small bathrooms like their finishes to be super matchy-matchy, so you really have to see it through.

For larger bathrooms, I usually don’t want my finishes to pop too much.  If I’m using gold, I’m using one of the softer variations that tend to recede into the background.  Of course, it’s a tricky business because each manufacturer uses different names, like champagne bronze, or brushed gold, or tumbled brass.  

And even more confounding is that if you do happen to find two manufacturers that actually each have a “champagne bronze”, you’ll find that their colors still don’t match.  So, you have to keep an open mind
about the whole thing and be ready to pivot on game day.  Definitely hang onto those receipts.

Another way to de-emphasize that gold finish is to mix it up and combine two (but not three) different ones.  This needs to be done thoughtfully however, so do your due diligence.  Black is a great, fairly ubiquitous companion, for instance. It can be friends with chrome or gold or graphite or brass.  So maybe you have a graphite faucet fixture and cabinet hardware, but you use black in your mirror and sconces.  If you get it right it can look really great.

Research what works for your personal design.

Google is your friend here.  Look at what other people are doing and see what you like.  Some designers will actually offer you their approved combinations.  And that’s good because there are some unexpected pairings that I am partial to as well, like brushed gold with satin nickel.  It sounds odd but they are both brushed finishes and they seem to like each other just fine.   Another is copper or brass with oil rubbed bronze. But all designers are different, so take their recommendations (and mine too) and then see what you think.

Untreated brass, or unlacquered brass, is a newer finish that I love.  I say newer, but It’s been in homes around here and in Europe for centuries.  Using brass can scratch that itch I may have for gold but is more organic and timeless.  It’s got a beautiful finish that develops a patina over time and becomes packed with character.  Because of this, it is said that brass has a “living finish,” which is a term that makes sense.  Some clients are impatient of course, and that’s understandable because right out of the box it has an alarmingly bright (dare I say brassy?) gold shine. It takes a few years to really develop its patina, and I love the journey. But if you don’t, there are products that can hurry the aging process along.

Another, more subtle, way of getting the warmth of gold without the gold is to use polished nickel.  It’s that higher-end finish that is similar to chrome but has a subtle and soothing warmth in its highlights. It’s everywhere, and you’ve definitely seen it.  It’s beautiful, but popular, so it’s not unique.  Unfortunately, this is another one of those finishes that can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, so stick with the same brand if possible, or keep a careful eye when you are reviewing your purchases.

And I can’t leave the topic of finishes without giving a shout-out to the workhorse, the underappreciated, the timeless, most flexible finish of them all and its name is chrome! It’s the least expensive of all the finishes and an added bonus is that all chromes match.  So, you can splurge on your faucet and then bargain hunt for your towel bars, and no one will be the wiser. I’ve used it in utilitarian mudrooms, laundry areas and outdoor showers, as well as in very nice primary bathrooms and kitchens.  So, in this land of excessive finishes, don’t overlook something that is so tried and true.

Lastly, if you are struggling with where to put your maybe-faddy, maybe-trendy details? Put them in places that are easy to change.  Like towel bars, cabinet hardware, paper towel holders or vanity accessories.

Because Liberace can sometimes be best enjoyed in small doses.

Jennifer Coles is a local interior designer. Her website is: