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Brass Is Back: Architects and Designers Embracing Brass

Brass Is Back: Architects and Designers Embracing Brass

Brass, once thrown aside by designers, is making a comeback.  Gone are the days of silver, chrome, and mirror steel clogging up architectural magazines and opening up a cliché world of design.  In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled “The Brass Revival in Home Décor,” author David Keeps looks into the trend promoted in home design that has brought brass back into the limelight.

Leading designers from Jonathan Adler to Michael S. Smith, Kelly Wearstler to Celerie Kemble, all offer products in brass: burnished chairs, glowing desks, honeyed chandeliers, lamps, barware, desk accessories and more. Brass is also entering the mainstream, prominently featured in catalogs from such retailers as Crate & Barrel and Restoration Hardware. Relatively affordable, brass is speaking to a 21st-century desire for luxury, timelessness and artisanship.

How Can You Incorporate Brass into Home Design?

Metal finishes are signifiers, said Jonathan Adler, leading interior designer. “Silver tones are cool, high-tech, Calvin Klein simplicity,” he said. “Brass equals warmth, English clubbiness, Moroccan craft and Italian mid-century fantasy.” In other words, brass has a more colorful past.

The new brass age arguably began nearly a decade ago with designer Tom Dixon. A Brit with fond memories of growing up in North Africa with the region’s polished brass cookware, he began to experiment with the metal to enhance lighting designs. “It’s human nature to get bored,” he explained of his decision to use a warmer material. “Brass felt like a more human alternative to hygienic and cold stainless steel kitchens, chrome cars and aluminum electronics.” Launched in 2006, his Beat series, a collection of vessel-shaped pendant lights made in India from blackened brass with polished hammered interiors, has sold in the tens of thousands and become iconic—primitive yet decidedly modern.

The taste pendulum has swung from cooler to warmer metals, or vice versa, before. “Brass was a big look in the Victorian era,” noted English designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard, “but it lost favor to chrome in the Art Deco period.” The tawny alloy reasserted itself in the mid-20th century (see Italian modernist Gio Ponti and Austrian brass smith Carl Auböck), but by the ’60s, “anything that stood still long enough was chrome-plated,” said Los Angeles-based designer Michael Berman. Furniture innovators like Milo Baughman and Karl Springer re-popularized brass in the mellow ’70s, but, soon after, silver tones began their dogged four-decade reign.

Brass evokes the pre-digital era of hand-wrought craftsmanship. “In a traditional setting, nothing authenticates a room like brass,” said Atlanta-based designer Stan Topol, who particularly likes brass sabots on the feet of chairs. “It is the hallmark of a quality piece of furniture.” In more minimalist design schemes, brass adds romance. “There’s a history to brass that can feel unbelievably classic, like an old French hotel,” Michael S. Smith, a Los Angeles designer, observed.

Brass is an essential component of what is being called organic modernism, a more textured, luxurious look that is rooted in natural materials such as leather, stone and wood.

How Are Modern Architects Embracing Brass?

As the home-furnishings market gets brassier, designers are finding other applications for the metal. Manhattan architect Matthew Bremer recently upgraded from standard stainless steel to a brushed brass elevator for a 160-year-old townhouse. “This is not the shiny polished brass of past decades that appeared showy and fake,” he explained. “It’s contemporary but has the authentic beauty of an orchestra instrument that shows its wear from hours of practice.”

Increasingly, manufacturers of bathroom fixtures are offering warm metal finishes again, and many designers are specifying shower door frames in brass instead of nickel. Even in the kitchen, where copper pots and sinks are status symbols, brass, which is naturally germicidal and antimicrobial, is making inroads. Los Angeles custom homebuilder John Finton, author of the 2013 book “California Luxury Living” (Images Publishing), recently completed a kitchen inspired by a black-lacquer and brass La Cornue range. And Kelly Wearstler installed a 1/8 -inch-thick brass countertop with an integrated sink basin in the glossy turquoise kitchen of her client Cameron Diaz’s Manhattan apartment.

Will You Take Part in the Brass Revolution?

Mac Metals, a fully integrated brass mill in Kearny NJ, produces custom brass and bronze extrusions for many markets including architectural openings, stairs and railings, builders hardware, elevators, lighting, furniture, house wares, fixtures and displays and industrial applications.

Mac Metals Inc couldn’t be happier about the revival of brass in architecture and modern furnishings.  Those markets that early designers influence most—high-end hardware, furniture, lighting and plumbing markets are beginning to respond.  Get out those brass candlesticks!  Better yet, buy a new pair.