I was reading an article from a local magazine about decorating with style in which the opinions of three different people involved with furniture and design were shared. All three emphasized that you should fill your home with pieces that you love… and I couldn’t agree more! However, when it came to the subject of tone, the article really grabbed my attention. The first person directed readers to “honor design principles: don’t mix wood colors and keep your metals in the same family.” I had an emotional reaction to this advice, which I will get into a little later. Feeling a little disheartened, I pensively continued on with the article. When I arrived at the final design profile, it was delightful to see a bullet point that said “mix materials: natural and painted wood, shiny aluminum and rusted steel.”
I found humor in the fact that these two perspectives were sitting side by side in the same magazine article. But humor aside, it also makes an excellent point about the rules of design… and knowing when to break them.
Early on I definitely came from the school of thought that metals and woods should all match. And I aspired to this clean and perfected cohesion in my home with an obsessive-compulsive efficiency. I loved the look, I loved how coordinated everything was, and to this day I can’t say that there’s anything wrong with wanting that kind of cohesiveness in your home. But then marriage happened to me…
Suddenly I found myself faced with a new home, new to me anyway, and a new person with attachments of his own to the things he had gathered around him throughout his life. There was no question we would live in his home. Both of us love this house! It is a 20-year-old custom home that my husband designed. The outside is inspired by the ivy-covered flagstone buildings that grace the campus of the University of Colorado in Boulder… truly one of the most beautiful campuses in America. The inside… well… the inside was a monument to late 80’s-early 90’s design. As I assessed the situation, the budget, and the priority list it became clear that there were two elements in this 5,500 square-foot home that I would need to work with: honey stained oak and brass. They were everywhere!
Had I followed the rules of the first person in the article I was reading, I would need to fill my home with brass, put in honey toned floors, and stain my furniture honey. Um… no! The circumstance facing me meant that I needed to embrace layering finishes. Not every wood color would work in this space… grey barn wood, or cherry (as examples) would have been an uncomfortable contradiction to what was here. I decided to incorporate black and very dark brown/black wood colors to mix with the traditional oak cabinetry, trim, and doors. We used a combination of new furniture and existing pieces that I updated with a mix of dark walnut and ebony stain (literally mixed… to obtain the desired color), and a rocking chair and credenza downstairs received a black paint finish. The home has wide open, soaring spaces and was able handle darker pieces without feeling weighted down or dark. To further offset any heavy feelings, I brought in earthly neutral and light colored upholstered furnishings and accessories, and winter white sheer linen drapery panels were hung on oil rubbed bronze rods near the top of the wall to highlight the height of the rooms, and coordinate with the darker wood furniture. A fresh coat of light earthy grey or brown color was painted on all the walls to further balance the space.
Throughout the house, I also mixed metal finishes. Fortunately, almost all of the brass was good quality, and had aged beautifully over the past 20 years. But I still wanted to tone it down a little. As you can see from the photo posted with this blog, in the bathrooms I decided to mix metal finishes. I removed brass drawer pulls from all of the bathroom drawers, and replaced them with oil rubbed bronze. In one bathroom, I kept all the brass fixtures, and in four others I did a mix of aged brass and oil rubbed bronze. In some instances, I also used an antiquing glaze and a blow dryer to age bright brass and tone it down in places (like the shiny brass frame around the mirror in this photo). The key to making the mix work is striking the right balance. In the bathroom pictured here, I used an aged brass faucet and replaced the shower fixtures and towel racks with oil rubbed bronze to match the drawer pulls. Lastly, I sprinkled in dark bronze, aged brass, and silver among the accessories throughout the home.
As a result of layering these finishes, the home has a cozy dimensional quality that has exceeded all expectations. I have always admired homes that feel traveled and curated (topic covered in a previous blog post). But in earlier years I wasn’t able to put my finger on what it was that made those homes feel so appealing. In part, that answer is in the layering of wood and metal finishes.
None of this is meant to say that a perfectly matched home is a bad thing. It isn’t at all! My message is for those who don’t have that option. You shouldn’t feel like your home can’t be beautiful, harmonious, or balanced if things don’t match. Don’t be afraid to experiment, mix your metals, and refinish a piece of furniture or two. Layers are a beautiful thing!