A touch of brass: The magic of metal interiors
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Metal has long been an interiors style staple, and subtle touches of anything from copper to brass are an enduring trend. Richard Burton found out more...
An interiors expert I once visited told me the only metal she’d allow in her house was the RSJs that held the roof up.
It was a bloke thing, she insisted. She saw herself as a little more needlework than metalwork. It was too cold. Too industrial.
I said I wouldn’t stay for lunch as I wasn’t keen on plastic cutlery. It didn’t go down well. I left feeling glad I hadn’t asked where she kept the iron.
What sparked that debate? I’d just come from a salvage yard in Watford and bought the most wonderful radiator: a corroding, two-column, cast iron one taken from a soon-to-be demolished school building.
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It took a small crane to lift it on and off the lorry after it had been dipped and stripped of any sign of rust and then dumped outside my front door. And it took two of us, a makeshift ramp and a lot of rope to get it up two steps and inside the hallway where it remains to this day, I sincerely hope, a signature period piece of a Victorian house.
So, there you have it: metal can be hot. And not just when it’s got a gas-fired boiler pounding 20 millibars of pressure into it.
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Rose gold, for example, exudes warmth like few other metals. Copper, used strategically, can add a certain sense of sheen to a background of white or plain colours. Polished or oxidised, its effect can vary and create many different looks. Brass, a sort of more sophisticated cousin, can up the ante in terms of quality.
Many designers employ a tactic of juxtaposition. Mixing, materials, for example: using the softness of white cotton to emphasise the roughness of a tubular metal bed frame.
And you can mix metals themselves: blending silver and polished nickel, for example, or brass and chrome, antique brass and oil-rubbed bronze.
It’s become quite a trend. Flashes of silver on a stove hood lining up alongside shelves laden with copper pots can appear natural and thought-out as long as they’re set in neutral surroundings and aren’t arranged to clash and compete.
Colours may complement but shape and design can also help to echo a common message. Metals, thanks to their endlessly flexible form, can lend themselves particularly well to this.
Let’s face it, they’re what engineers call ductile (they can be drawn out or hammered flat) and malleable enough to be bent or rolled and, above all, they are dense and strong.
So, taking advantage of this and matching shape and form can convey powerful messages.
Tyrone Joseph, Accessories Buyer at High Street giant Heals is a fan of metals. He told me: “They are a great way to add warmth and texture to your room.
“Warm coppers and burnished gold products are really effective in achieving this; the look is industrial and makes a strong statement while still being really easy to work into many different interior looks.”
Metals of all sorts can work effectively when used sparingly. Horse-brasses and old copper bedpans dangling from walls may be a little country pub-trying-too-hard for some. But the industrial look is still strong, especially when combined with rugged, open-brick walls.
Metal shelving is always popular, exuding as it does, strength and reliability. So too are curtain rails, especially those in big rooms, holding up thick, heavy materials. Door handles, shiny and silver on plain natural woods, appear functional and efficient.
It was a trend the experts predicted a year ago. Several interior designers told the online interiors portal The Luxe Pad that the warmer metals were expected to endure after a copper-rich 2015.
“Brass and gold will take over as our chosen metallic,” predicted Kimberly Duran of the Swoonworthy blog. “Golds and brass warm up a space and reflective surfaces bounce light around a room.” She advised “bringing in a few gold metal trays, brushed gold hardware or a contemporary brass light fitting”.
Anna van Dongen, who runs the interiors firm Space Matters, speculated that a major trend “will be combining natural materials such as wood, stone, cork, metals - in particular brass and copper”. And Surrey-based designer Hilary J White told them: “We [will] see the emerging trend towards brass and warm gold-tones gathering pace and the popularity of copper, bronze and rose-coloured hues continuing.”
It is a trend but one with roots in medieval time when wrought iron was a favourite of nobility. In the twenties, it was all about chrome fixtures and polished mirrors. the sixties and seventies saw a more brutalist approach with chandeliers, lamps and sculpture torch-cut from sheet metal. In the eighties, gold and brass were all the rage, particularly among the smart set.
These days? More or less anything goes. The only difference is it’s all a lot more subtle. Not so much bold as brass, but still precious.