vibrant brushed nickel hardware finish

Making Sense of Metallic Hardware Finish Options

There are so many choices to make in kitchen renovation. It’s hard to feel confident that you’ve made the “right” choice.  Deciphering the code used to describe the options makes it even more difficult. One of the most confusing set of terms describes metal hardware finish types for cabinet hardware, plumbing fixtures, and appliances. 

Let’s review the basic finish options available on the kitchen and bath remodeling market today.

Polished Silver Hardware Finish Options

The most confusing is probably the difference between polished chrome, polished nickel, and French gold.  The simplest way to tell the difference is by simply comparing them side by side.

Polished Chrome

Polished Nickel

French Gold

Really close, right?  Look again…there is a very subtle, yet distinct difference in the tonal quality of these hardware finishes.  Polished chrome tends toward cooler, blue tones. The polished nickel finish is clearly warm with gold undertones. Go another step on the warm chart and you come to French gold.  This is a beautiful and elegant finish.

Which polished silver hardware finish is right for your space? 

There are three things to consider when you chose a polished silver finish.

Style – Typically, you’ll find chrome used in contemporary designs for its crisp straightforward aesthetics.  Polished nickel and French gold are often found in transitional and traditional spaces. 

Durability – All three are durable. However, you should never use any abrasive cleaners on these finishes. A wet cloth is the best cleaning option. 

Cost – Chrome is by far the least expensive. So, if budget is a concern, this is the best option.

Matte Silver Hardware Finish Options

Now let’s look at the next confusing group of hardware finishes:  satin/matte silver.  This group includes stainless steel, brushed chrome, and brushed nickel. 

Here are some examples from Kohler.

Vibrant Stainless Steel

Vibrant Brushed Nickel

Brushed Chrome Finish

Brushed Stainless Steel Finish

Keep in mind, every manufacturer has its own sets of finishes.  The polished group is relatively consistent across brands, but the brushed versions vary.

If you look at the vibrant options, you may be hard-pressed to see a difference. The brushed nickel is slightly more gold-toned.

The difference between the brushed versions is a bit more obvious. The brushed stainless hardware finish has a gold tone. It’s just not as pronounced as the vibrant finishes. This is definitely a case of nuance and can be a bit tricky.

Specialty and Living Finishes

Now let’s look at the last group of common hardware finish: specialty finishes.  Here are a few examples.

Bright Brass

Polished Gold

Satin Gold

Brushed Brass

Venetian Bronze

Oil-Rubbed Bronze

These finishes offer some unique options that add sophisticated final touches to any design. The most important thing to remember is that most of these finishes are considered to be “living finishes”. Living finishes are going to change or evolve over time. For example, portions of the fixture will become darker with age. Areas that are handled often (i.e., the handles) will typically show a bit of wear and tear. In other words, what you purchase today, will look more worn within a short period of time – usually a few months.

Living finishes do not have a protective sealer so they will take on a definite patina. For this reason, these finishes are typically used in very traditional settings, except for the polished gold, which may be used in more transitional designs.

Also, it’s important to remember that these are the most expensive finishes on the market, so if you’re budget-conscious this is probably not the best option.

It will always come down to your personal preference. But listen to your designer. He or she will inevitably have the overall finished project in mind, and will be best able to steer you in the right direction.

Can You Mix Finishes?

The answer to this question is, yes! Just because you have stainless steel appliances, does not mean you must have all the other metallic elements of your kitchen be stainless as well. The right combination of finishes is purely an aesthetic preference. Having said this, though, there are a few things to keep in mind.

First of all, take the stainless steel appliances out of the picture completely. It is perfectly acceptable to use other finishes in conjunction with the large blocks of stainless steel found in most new kitchens today. So, don’t agonize over it!

Secondly, it’s important to consider the underlying tone of the other finishes being used. For example, if you choose to use polished nickel handles on the drawers, it’s probably not a good idea to use a polished chrome knob for the doors. When placed side-by-side, the different tonal quality from the warm tones to the cool tones will be extremely obvious and create a visual disconnect.

Lastly, it makes sense that all the hardware in one finish group be purchased from the same manufacturer. One company’s version of satin nickel may not look exactly like the version from another company. The differences from company to company are very subtle, but you might pick up on them if placed close to each other. 

Where this becomes a problem is when you need a beverage faucet.  Not all fixture models offer a matching beverage faucet, so you may have no choice but to mix these.  You should rely on your designer to steer you in the right direction.  Each year, plumbing manufacturers are coming out with more options for these fixtures. So this is probably only a short-term problem.

With so many choices to make, it is truly an asset to have your designer guide you through all your hardware finish decisions.  It is important for you to have a better understanding these terms so you can have an educated conversation with your designer.

Brigitte C. Fabi CMKBD