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The big brass

That ’70s and ’80s gold-colored metal is back, but in a warmer, muted fashion by Helaine Williams | August 22, 2015 at 1:52 a.m.
Love it or hate it, brass — along with other gold home-decor hardware — is back. This towel ring from Top Knobs ($56.95) is available at PC Hardware in Little Rock. Today’s fixtures and home accents are offered in a warmer, more muted, “champagne” brass.

Brass is back.

The home-decor material of the 1970s and 1980s -- the metal that, on shows like HGTV's House Hunters, still makes home buyers recoil in horror -- the metal homeowners eschewed in favor of sleek, brushed-nickel-accented fixtures in kitchens and spa bathrooms -- is popular again.

Photo by John Sykes Jr.
As this detailing from a brass two-light picture light by Woodbury ($678.50 at Light Innovations in Little Rock) shows, brass and gold home decor is back.
Photo by John Sykes Jr.
A hammered bathroom sink by Native Trails ($898.50 at PC Hardware in Little Rock) is among the many options that await homeowners who want to incorporate brass — and other metals in the gold family — into their decor. After years of brushed nickel and other silver fixtures and finishes, brass is back in style, but not the highly polished brass of the 1970s and ’80s.
Photo by John Sykes Jr.
Gold switch plates? Before you go “ewww,” know that brass and other gold accents in home decor have made a comeback. These plates by Emtek ($12-$28) are at PC Hardware.
Photo by John Sykes Jr.
Six-light pendant lights by Rochester ($547.80 each at Light Innovations in Little Rock) come in a gold or silver patina.
Photo by John Sykes Jr.
Gold dominates a sample board displayed at PC Hardware in Little Rock, revealing the various finishes in which faucets and other fixtures by Phylrich are offered.
Photo by John Sykes Jr.
In home decor these days, all that glitters may just be gold — the color, that is. Brass and gold items are back in style, as evidenced by this sample piece for a 52-inch, five-blade, Chateaux ceiling fan ($221.85) at Light Innovations in Little Rock.

Brass, and gold finishes in general, have been creeping back for the past several years -- not just in kitchen and bathroom design, but furniture (think brass and glass tables). Accent pieces. Light fixtures. Doorknobs and handles. Drawer and cabinet pulls. Switch plate covers. It's offered by such manufacturers of classic and modern hardware as Baldwin, Emtek, Delaney Hardware, Edgar Berebi, Hafele, "Creations" by Alno Inc., Schaub & Co. and Jeffrey Alexander, as well as faucet makers Delta and Kohler.

"Right now I see things going full circle as to when I started 42 years ago," says Wanda Lee, who works in sales at PC Hardware in Little Rock. She has been with the company since 1973. "Those things are coming back. Like brass because brass was big then and everything like 30 years ago is coming back around now."

Others have been trumpeting brass' return.

"In contemporary design, all that glitters is no longer silver," David A. Keeps wrote in an Oct. 11, 2013, story in The Wall Street Journal. "Brass ... has been moving in from the margins, showing up on a pendant light here, a table leg there -- exuding a certain cocky, outsider glamour." At Bobvila.com, "brass accents" is included in a slide-show list of home trends that were predicted to take off this year.

Brass is pretty polarizing. Those who still have bad memories of the shiny, highly polished brass of the 1970s and '80s might cringe and -- as did at least one online hater -- question the sanity of brass lovers. But some say around here, it never really went away. "We've always had polished brass. It's the South ... we're kind of traditional," says Martha Cross, who works with Lee at PC Hardware.

North Little Rock interior designer Terry Williams encouraged clients with high-end brass to keep the metal. "Think of gold. Would you throw out your jewelry? That's what I compare it to -- gold."

NOT SO BOLD

The brass of the 21st century doesn't look like it did in the Brady Bunch or Dynasty eras. It has a warmer, more subtle look, commonly called a champagne finish, that is designed not to turn or tarnish. It's a close cousin to champagne bronze (a combination of copper and tin), also now proliferating in home plumbing and hardware items.

"The champagne finish ... we call it a 'noncommittal finish,'" says Mike Akers of Light Innovations in Little Rock. There's a brass base, but silvers and bronzes can be paired with the this new brass -- "and they all work together."

He says the uptick in gold-seeking customers here started 12 months ago. These customers are "more modern -- by far more modern" when it comes to preferred type of decor. "The [customers who prefer] traditional stylings are generally ... going with the oil-rubbed bronze and the darker finishes."

And sure enough, brass

customers have been on the increase at such obvious purveyors of it as Fabulous Finds Antique Mall in Little Rock's Riverdale district.

"Every once in a while we would sell maybe some brass candlesticks" when brass was out of style, says Larry Jordan, mall owner. "But the price really went down." People who were still buying it wanted distressed brass pieces. "We actually sold a product that would make the shiny brass look like antique brass."

Now, Jordan says, he's seeing people buying shiny brass in the form of brass-and-glass coffee tables and side tables, brass tea carts, and large brass planters for dining table centerpieces, along with the perennially popular double-candle lamps.

The status of silver decor depends on whom you're asking.

According to Jordan, "silver is just dead" when it comes to decor pieces. "People do not want to clean the silver. [I have] people coming in every day wanting to sell me the silver because their children do not want it. Silver is beautiful when it's clean, but you have to keep it clean. ... Tarnished brass is OK, but the tarnished silver is just not very pretty."

With fixtures, it's another story. "Silver finishes are still as popular as ever -- maybe more so, because gray as a color scheme is hugely popular," Williams says. "Oilrubbed bronze is also [still] very strong."

MIX IT UP

For those who consider gold, silver and bronze to be winners, mixing metals is acceptable.

"Gone are the days of people matching the finishes throughout the house," Akers says. "It's about having that eclectic mix."

Williams likes to mix metals "particularly if, say, doorknobs are in bronze and are of a vintage design, and silver or champagne finishes are [on] the faucets and hardware on cabinets," he says. "Sometimes a single-style knob has two metal elements used together that marry all the finishes together."

And metals-mixing is a way to save money when remodeling.

"It [saves] the cost of having to take everything out," Lee points out. "They get a metal that will still go good with the brass. ... I tell them, 'If [you've] got chrome faucets, you can pretty much put any other finish you want ... and leave the plumbing because the plumbing is an expense."

Metals mixing is also a viable solution when, for instance, a home-owning couple is divided between brass hardware and another finish. Lee will suggest brass on the exterior of the home, and nickel or bronze inside.

RISE AND SHINE?

Ah, but is there any chance shiny brass will come back? Especially those brass Williamsburg chandeliers, the multiple-armed, circular-bottomed darlings -- or demons -- of shiny brass decor?

"I think eventually all things do come back, so hopefully it will," says Jordan, who has had a Williamsburg fixture for sale at the mall for a while.

If you've still got one up, that's perfectly fine, Williams says.

"I think they have never gone out," he says. "They are a classic. They are still used in the White House and Monticello. They're not taking them down there."

And again, there are those for whom brass has never been a no-no.

"I'm a brass person," Lee says. "I love it. It's like, as we say, that simple black dress that you can dress up or dress down."

HomeStyle on 08/22/2015

Print Headline: The big brass

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