Metal Types and Finishes
Updated: Oct 28, 2020
Metals are found in many aspects of interior design and décor. Common applications for metals are plumbing fixtures, hardware, appliances, furniture and lighting. Each metal has its own set of unique properties and attributes that warrant their own cleaning and maintenance guidelines. Some are more common while others are more rare and costly. Metals can also be finished in different ways, allowing for the expression of different textures and reflective properties.
Copper: naturally occurring orange/red coloured metal. It is soft, bendable and a conducting material of heat and electricity. It is used frequently in plumbing, cookware and roofing. It is antimicrobial and corrosion resistant. Over time it can develop a patina of greenish blue due to oxidation especially if used outdoors.
Bronze: alloy composed of copper, tin and other materials. Many bronze products are plated over chrome, allowing for less costly production. This metal is acid sensitive and can age over time and must be cleaned with mild soap and water to keep it looking great.
Brass: alloy composed of copper and zinc with a yellow golden colour. It is a classic metal with great availability and offers a high end luxury look and feel. It is corrosion resistant and anti-microbial which make it a popular choice for hardware. This metal can tarnish if left uncleaned and it is important to maintain with soap and water regularly.
Stainless Steel: alloy of carbon, iron, chromium and other metals. It is corrosion resistant and antimicrobial. This lightweight material is commonly used for low maintenance surfaces and appliances. It has a similar silver sheen like aluminum, but is much stronger like steel.
Steel: common metal used in a wide range of applications, mainly structural. It is very strong and durable, but oxidizes and rusts when untreated. Corten steel is a popular rusted steel look that is becoming popular in exterior as well and interior design applications.
Aluminum: natural lightweight and soft metal. It is used as an alternative to steel for many applications and can be budget friendly. It is frequently used for its silver and reflective properties and ability to form into intricate shapes. Aluminum is often used in outdoor furniture, as well as lighting design.
Wrought Iron: It is a heavy and solid metal, made by the technique of darkening and forming iron through heating and hammering. It is an old technique that is still used to this day. We mainly see this material in rustic and traditional decorative applications such as fencing, gates and railings.
These metals form the basis of most products seen on the market. There exists many different ways of finishing these products that allow for different textures and reflective properties.
Antiqued or Oil-Rubbed: technique to darken or tarnish the metal, making it look old and used. Metals will naturally develop a patina over time, but you can find products that are finished this way to help speed up the process.
Brushed: the surface appears to have been passed over with a brush, leaving a faint linear texture. This gives the surface a more matte appearance and can help reduce the appearance of fingerprints and smudges. When cleaning, it is important to rub in the same direction as these brush strokes.
Hammered: textured surface covered with small dimples as if pounded by a hammer, leaving dents and imperfections to give it a worn out or mottled surface. The surface glossiness is typically not affected.
Polished: high gloss surface finish which reflects lighting conditions. Fingerprints and smudges show easily on these surfaces which require regular cleaning and buffing to retain their shiny properties.
Chrome: one of the most popular contemporary finishes for its vivid and shiny appearance. It is a scratch resistant, low maintenance and inexpensive finish that is plated overtop a base metal.
Nickel: similar to chrome but typically more expensive and with warmer undertones.
Satin: a semi-matte smooth finish that is similar to a brushed finish, but without any textured marks on the surface. It hides fingerprints and smudges quite well.
Matte: non-reflective, flat looking smooth surface that can be made in almost any colour of metal. It hides dirt, fingerprints and watermarks allowing for ease of maintenance.
There is no right or wrong metal and finish to choose from, each brings a unique design style into the space!