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All that glitters is not gold. Indeed, these days it is more likely to be brass. After years of stainless steel and chrome dominating as the must-have metals, the trend, led by the US and now moving to the UK, is swinging towards the warmer and softer shades of brass, burnished gold and hammered bronze.
Many manufacturers have reported rising interest in the yellow metals – colours which were previously considered to be rather old-fashioned.
Victoria Redshaw, of the trend forecast agency Scarlet Opus, which focuses on the interiors sector, says warmer, earthier shades are back in vogue. “There has been a move away from the high shine, perfect finish of gold towards metals with a warmer aesthetic that have a pleasing patina,” she says. “Brass is glamorous without being ostentatious and that is what feels more palatable for consumers right now. Gold still has a place, but it tends to be ‘affected’ in some way – hammered, brushed, blackened or etched.”
There has even been a return to the greatest of interior faux pas; the gold tap, as manufacturers, including Vola, Aston Matthews and Barber Wilsons, reintroduce them to their ranges.
Peter Sallick, chief executive of high-end US bathroom company Waterworks, which opens its first UK showroom in west London this year, has included a number of brass taps in the store’s range. He believes the economic crisis has contributed to the re-emergence of brass. “People have wanted their homes to feel warmer and more relaxing given everything that’s going on in the world outside,” he says. “Brass is a soft colour with a sense of inherent quality. We have been seeing it more in hotels and restaurants – and when it comes to the fore in public places it ends up in more intimate spaces.”
Sallick believes that one reason brass fell out of favour was that it can be hard to clean, unlike stainless steel and chrome. “People were concerned about maintenance, so brass was often lacquered, which made it easy to clean but very shiny. Now it’s about using a raw metal which will gain a lovely patina with age and become more attractive over time without the high shine.”
Howard Birch, director of bathroom specialist Aston Matthews, is keen to reassure customers that there won’t be a return to the shiny gold taps of the 1980s. “Forget the ghastly swan-neck taps,” he says. “The new generation is more about style and less about bling. Both brass and gold finishes are more subtle this time around with warm rather than yellow tones. Antiqued and brushed finishes are also popular and the taps are being used to work with the decor rather than to create a bold statement. I have seen some very effective bathroom designs with gold taps and glittering glass tiles used against anthracite walls.”
It isn’t just bathrooms where brass is taking over. One designer at the forefront of the metallic trend is Tom Dixon, who taught himself to weld while trying to fix his motorbike.
Dixon, whose ball lights are perhaps the most recognisable of all metallic lights, points to last year’s Olympics as an explanation for the UK’s current love of metal – not least, of course, gold, silver and bronze. “Copper has definitely been the colour of the decade,” he says, “but gold, which has been niche, is coming. Brass is a great metal – it doesn’t corrode but it’s harder to maintain than chrome. It has a bit of life to it and it’s also associated with quality. Lots of touch points like door knockers, handles and handrails have traditionally been made from brass.”
An alloy of copper and zinc, brass was for many years used in the invisible plumbing of a house, just as copper was. Copper piping was buried under the floors and brass taps were coated with shiny chrome finishes. It has now emerged from hiding.
British designer Tom Faulkner, who makes handcrafted metal furniture, has noticed rising demand for his pieces in gold or brass colours. “Customers really want that warm, less clinical look,” he says. “It’s permeated into kitchens where there was a trend towards rather cold laboratories full of stainless steel, metal and concrete. Now it’s moving towards a warmer look and more earthy feel.”
One US designer who has readily adopted brass is Kelly Wearstler, who has created entire rooms sheathed in the metal. “I have been using [brass] for the last seven years,” she says. “It is the warmest of the metals and makes everything feel so elevated and rich. In addition to that, brass goes with any other colour. When it’s used in furniture it works amazingly well in smaller spaces where the reflective texture can make a room feel bigger.”
These light reflective qualities are also drawing other designers. Daniel Kostiuc, of interior designers Intarya, recently completed an apartment in London’s Hyde Park where brass was used extensively. “Much warmer than chrome or nickel, brass brings a sense of modernity, heritage and comfort,” says Kostiuc. “We have been mixing it with darker metals, such as oil-rubbed bronze and copper, for a more eclectic, less formal look. In London especially, the trend towards monochromatic, neutral interiors is long gone . . . Many of our clients have recently chosen brass over nickel, an old favourite, and I can see this trend lasting for quite a while longer.”
Ikea, never slow to jump on a trend, is restocking its Ranarp white and brass lamps, which come in floor, table and pendant versions. The furniture group says brass details, such as door handles, are also popular.
West Elm, the upmarket interiors store, agrees that brass is “back with a capital B”. “In a bright polish or a burnished glow, brass introduces a warmer, richer tone and softer reflections into a room,” says Vanessa Holden, the store’s creative director. “Unlike the cool simplicity of silver, warm metals speak to a much more diverse and varied design heritage – everything from Moroccan tea kettles to Italian hardware.” Holden says the store plans to increase its range of brass in its spring collection. “Our signature Martini side table was recently introduced in brass and has quickly become the favourite option.”
It is not just on the high street where metallics are enjoying a renaissance. High-end store Soane Britain has also seen brass soar in popularity. Lulu Lytle, founder and creative director, says the company’s brass owl lamp, which retails between £4,000 and £9,000, is one of its most popular lines. She is also preparing to launch the Helio light; a wall light made in brass that is a more contemporary version of the store’s best-selling Aten light.
“I have always loved brass and there is no doubt that customers are now very receptive to its enlivening glow. There is a magic and warmth to brass that is right for now,” she says.