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In my opinion, brass is the biggest home design material trend to emerge (or re-emerge, rather) in recent years. It’s been steadily popping up everywhere, including in the bathroom, where I think it works wonderfully. But many homeowners fear the metal might not be a good fit for wet environments. To put your mind at ease about indulging in this coveted look, here are some tips and facts showing that, when it comes to bathrooms, brass is full of class.
What is brass?
Brass is an alloy (a mix of two metals) made of copper and zinc. The in-demand brass look of the moment is a pale yellowish hue, desired for appearing like a toned-down, demure version of gold. However, the line between brass and copper finishes can be very blurry, as the amount of red can vary depending on the specific mix.
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For comparison, bronze is a mixture of copper with various other metals, such as tin or aluminium. It’s a duller gold hue that feels less glam and more earthy.
Bronze is often “blackened” either by mixing in specific materials or by adding a coating for an almost burnt-coal appearance, but unblackened it can be very close to brass in its metallic brown warmth.
Ultimately, the usage of these alloys is similar, with bronze tending to appeal to more traditional tastes and brass reading as more contemporary.
Lacquered vs unlacquered
Like other metals, brass can come in various physical finishes that give the metal a different appearance. The most common variations (for less or more shine) are brushed, matt and polished, as well as faux ageing for an antiqued look.
However, the biggest determiner of how brass will change over time is whether the material is lacquered or has been left unlacquered. Lacquer is a separate finishing coat that can be applied to any metal finish.
Lacquered brass Quality lacquered brass is effectively sealed and won’t age significantly (at least in your lifetime), while unlacquered brass will age naturally, developing spots and uneven tones.
Will brass show water spots?
One of the main concerns homeowners have about introducing brass into the bathroom is how this material will hold up in a wet space. To avoid water spots, some manufacturers suggest gently patting brass fixtures dry after every use.
However, it should be noted that many manufacturers actually suggest this for almost all metal finishes, including the more common nickel and chrome, so take it with a pinch of salt.
Maintaining a spotless finish on your fixtures day-to-day takes some work, but brass is not generally hard to take care of – although the look-at-me finish may command a little more scrutiny.
As brass is still a growing trend, items with a lacquer finish are usually made to order rather than stocked, so this option will typically add to the price and the turnaround time (often by four to eight weeks). Keep this in mind when shopping for brass, because you’ll want to have ordered your fixtures well before any serious construction begins.
Also note that a lacquer finish does not make any material magic; fingerprints can still show on a shiny surface, so if you’re fussy about that, a matt finish may bring more peace of mind.
Unlacquered brass The natural tendency of brass to show some imperfections can be a welcome characteristic for some people, so going unlacquered is not necessarily the lesser option; it all depends on your taste.
Unlacquered brass is often said to have a “living finish”, and the ageing process can bring out a very organic quality despite its being a manufactured material. For this reason, people often introduce unlacquered brass and bronze in an already-aged finish that can grow even more character over time, giving a room a sense of life and history.
Ultimately, these worn-in finishes can work in both traditional and contemporary spaces, depending on whether you apply them to clean modern shapes (like this large-scale wall panelling) or scrolling traditional fixtures.
Perfect pairings for brass
If you’re ready to be bold with a little brass, try one of these styling strategies.
Navy blue Warm brass and cool navy are opposites on the colour wheel, but they’re both neutral. So instead of putting each other on edge, they simply bring out the best in each other.
Try a navy blue vanity unit with brass hardware, or highlight a set of sunny shower fixtures with navy accent tiles.
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Vintage meets modern Want the best of old and new? Try mixing more traditional or vintage pieces in a brass finish with crisp, silvery modern fixtures, like this elaborate mirror and airy vanity unit. Keep the rest of the finishes neutral to let the interplay of old and new be the centre of attention.
Concrete Concrete is a favourite material for designers, but some homeowners find it a little chilly. In a bathroom, a combination of concrete and warm brass makes it welcoming and packed with personality while still feeling clean, crisp and spa-like.
Try a one-piece vanity unit and basin formed in concrete with a wall-mounted, polished brass tap, or simply add some concrete accessories, such as a block soap dish and vase, to contrast a brassy mirror frame.
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Rich grey Similar to concrete, a simple grey paint job (or tile colour) will beautifully offset the warmth and shine of a brass finish. Try rounding this palette out with stark whites and some warm wood to get oodles of interest without introducing a single flash-in-the-pan trend colour.
Silver Want just a little splash of brass? Don’t be scared to introduce just one or two elements of brass, copper or bronze and contrast them against classic silvery fixture finishes.
Lights are a natural place to add some spice, but functional fixtures will never feel out of place in cool metals, so you don’t have to feel pressured to change all your metal finishes at once.
Farmhouse elements Conversely, try using brass for just your plumbing fixtures, and go for a surprisingly traditional style with farmhouse or cottage inspirations (like this decidedly low-tech shower set with exposed piping). The quirky look is perfect for contemporary spaces that aren’t shy about mixing periods, and makes even the starkest shower look welcoming.
Are you a fan of brass? Would you use it in the bathroom? Share your thoughts in the Comments below.