Mixing Metals in the Kitchen: Four Mistakes To Avoid

Eddie Talbot

Matchy-matchy décor may at first seem a safe choice, but the latest trend of mixing metals adds a new level of dimensionality and personalization to living spaces. It’s a stylish strategy that can elevate design in any room in the home through tone, value, reflectivity or the lack of it. Mixing can be especially effective in exploring the dynamics of variation, complement and contrast in rooms that are based around metal fixtures like kitchens and bathrooms. With updating fixtures a key component in kitchen renovation, making bold but tasteful choices like mixing metals can give the heart of your home fresh depth and character. If you need a few helpful guidelines for mixing metals in a kitchen, we’re offering a few suggestions to get you started.

1. Don’t rule any finish out. Instead, be open to exploring all of your options as you plan.

Metals are available in a host of finishes. Each offers characteristics that are unique to it. The level of reflectivity, color, tone of warmth or coolness, texture and pattern are all specific attributes that a manufacturer gives a finish, and they all work together to give a fixture a particular aesthetic. Because engineering and processing techniques are often proprietary, finishes can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. A stainless steel or chrome finish from one manufacturer, for example, may be darker or lighter than a similarly labeled finish from another manufacturer.

Being able to compare finishes and learn what is pleasing to your eye is often simply a matter of becoming familiar with the terminology used to describe metals and their finishes. In addition to actual metal names like gold, brass, bronze, copper, silver, chrome, stainless, nickel and aluminum, you’ll also find descriptors like brushed, oil-rubbed, antique, oxidized, bright, polished, satin, hammered and matte, for example.

2. Don’t concentrate metal finishes in one area. Instead, make sure metal finishes are balanced throughout the kitchen.

A key part of being able to make a mixture of metallic finishes work is distributing them throughout an entire room. You may even use them for transitions into adjacent living spaces. That means realizing all of your opportunities to add that soft glimmer of brushed nickel or that grounding silhouette of matte black, for example.

While sinks and faucets are often metallic focal points in a kitchen, so are appliances, their handles, housing and control panels. Survey any kitchen, and you’ll start tallying an extensive list of fixtures that could carry a metallic finish: cabinet door handles and drawer pulls, cabinet trim or insets, shelving, decorative panels, overhead lighting, undercabinet lighting, switch plates, backsplash tile insets, exhaust hoods, vents, pot racks, hooks and bars, door knobs, and even flecking in countertops or flooring. The idea isn’t to use as much metal as possible but to ensure that the metal fixtures that you do decide to incorporate are balanced throughout the kitchen to create a pleasing, flowing aesthetic.

3. Don’t use too many different metals. Instead, create a controlled, themed metal palette that works together and with the rest of the room.

Incorporating multiple metal finishes without purpose or plan can result in a busy, stressed feel for a room. Just as designers often select a dominant paint color and then accent it with carefully chosen complementary colors to create a certain style, you can choose a dominant or primary metal finish and balance it, for example, with one or two complementary or secondary metals.

The dominant or primary metal finish needs to be a match for all of the other color and style choices you’ve made for your kitchen. It will be the finish that you use the most and the finish that is most prominent.

The complementary or secondary metal or metals you choose should set off the dominant metal without competing with it. If you choose correctly, it will make the whole kitchen pop. The perfect places to use complementary metals are when continuing to use the dominant one would just be too much of a good thing. By using the complementary metal, you can complete the aesthetic without overdoing and instead enhance it.

Consistency and contrast are what make a mix of metals work. Choosing metal finishes that are similar but not quite a match can create a disjointed feel that doesn’t establish a dominant or complementary metal. The dominant metal color and tone should be consistent, and the secondary choices should offer a significant degree of contrast.

4. Don’t forget about the power of tone, texture and pattern. Instead, use those attributes to achieve the effect you’re after.

Every color—even neutrals—will have a tone or undertone that falls somewhere on the warm-to-cool color scale. Metals with a visually warmer appearance tend to have undertones with a hint of yellow, orange or even red while metals with a visually colder appearance tend to have undertones of blue or silver.

A good example is the difference between plain silver and sterling. The former will have a blue-gray undertone while the latter has a warmer, creamier tone. A similar comparison might be the difference between a cool stainless or cold chrome versus a warmer satin or brushed nickel.

Similarly, a polished brass or gold-type finish may be too hot and bright, but using a brushed or oil-rubbed version might tone it down to the visual temperature you need. Copper is another warm metal that offers an entire range of tones, from bright, clear fire to softer, cooler patinas.

Even blacks and whites come in cool and warm versions that any associated trim on the fixture will tend to accentuate.

Texture and pattern are elements well worth considering because they exert such an effect on tone and color. Why does a dent in a car fender stand out so much? Every break in the smooth surface creates another edge and another surface for light to strike at another angle. Some metal finishes will create light and may even appear lighter than they really are while others will absorb or soften light and appear darker than they really are. Compare, for example, how a hammered surface versus an etched one versus one with deeply cut grooves will catch light. Depending on the look you’re trying to achieve, you might have to go lighter, darker, warmer or cooler than you might have first thought. Those contrasts may also be key in helping you find the perfect secondary metal to mix with the primary one.
In truth, mixing metals might not be as novel as some may claim. It’s always been a mystery design element that can add that extra-something-special that completes a space. If you’re thinking of diving into a kitchen renovation or are ready to build a new home, Coburn’s kitchen design specialists are a great starting point for advice, ideas and assistance—especially for mixing metals in a kitchen. Stop by your nearest Coburn’s Kitchen & Bath Showroom, or explore our website today.