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The Midas Touch

For years the go-to metal tone of choice was silver. Think polished chrome, as de rigueur in a Hamptons kitchen as a Braun coffee maker. But the modern kitchens and bathrooms so prevalent here now beg for a measure of warmth. Whereas silver is cool, gold is warm. Moreover, gold elements add opulence to otherwise stark rooms.

Brass has gotten a reputation for being, well, brassy. However, since brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, the proportions of each can be varied to create a range of brasses with differing properties. Then there are the finishes – from bright polished brass to the more subdued unlacquered version. Highly polished brass results in an extremely reflective surface that makes the metal almost look golden. Antique or distressed finishes are less reflective and oxidize to create a range of patinas.

These latter brasses are not your mother’s 1980s brass. Nancy Davis, founder and principal of Fixtures & Fittings, Ltd., specializing in kitchen and bathroom design, waxes rhapsodic about burnished brass, which has been buffed out to a handsome and subtle matte finish. When used for a pull or knob, for instance, the oils from your hand will help it oxidize. “The more you touch it, the more that natural patina of pinks and greens comes out,” says Davis. “It begins to look old and aged.” Further adding to its beauty is that “not all unlacquered metal ages in the same way.”
Davis, who is also a supplier of decorative hardware, plumbing fixtures and bathroom accessories, has worked extensively with burnished brass – a variety of the metal that is buffed at high speed or chemically stripped to make it appear brown. She had all the cabinetry hardware for a Bridgehampton home custom-made in burnished brass by The Nanz Company, makers of hand-finished handles, hinges, locks and fittings hardware.

Davis is a proponent of mixing a variety of patinas. While other designers might default to what she calls “matchy, matchy,” she enjoys layering a variety of hues and finishes. In her own Sagaponack home her stainless steel appliances play nicely with burnished nickel faucets and oil-rubbed bronze lighting. Her evolved aesthetic has resulted in creative collaborations with such distinguished design clients as Steven Gambrel, Vicente Wolf, Arthur Dunnam, and Peter Cook.

Kristen Farrell, design whiz at the Farrell Building Company in Bridgehampton, has observed the current brass craze. “Everyone is exhibiting brass. It will be trending for the next three to five years,” she predicts. However, she is introducing the material slowly into the company’s high-end spec homes so as to ease homebuyers into it. One design strategy has been to use tiles with brass edges.

Brass is not just limited to kitchens and baths, but is popping up in home décor too. Jason Phillips, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at the Phillips Collection, is seeing a strong demand for “brilliant golds and brasses. We have a whole series of tables that employ polished gold bases. My personal favorite is our bangle leg, which pairs beautifully with our award-winning, sustainable Origins Collection.”

Beyond brass, other non-silver metals are rising in popularity. “We have noticed many clients moving towards more unusual metal finishes like copper, bronze, and there’s a big uptake in gilded iron finishes, especially in lighting fixtures and furniture hardware,” says Zoe Hoare of English Country Home in Bridgehampton.

While silver tones are still the predominant Hamptons metal, brass has a definite advantage over it. “Silver only exists in a cool palette whereas gold can be either cool or warm depending on the tint,” says Phillips. “Silver is a one-trick pony…with gold there’s so much more to explore.”