The Finish Line: 3 Silvery Bath Hardware Finishes

When picking finishes for a bathroom, the most popular choices by a broad margin are Polished Chrome and Polished Nickel. Yet to the untrained eye, the subtle difference can be difficult to distinguish.  Chrome and nickel are very close silver tones – chrome is a colder blue to nickel’s warm yellow.

Canfield Towel Ring, in Polished Nickel

Canfield Towel Ring, in Polished Nickel


Linfield Towel Ring, in Polished Chrome

Linfield Towel Ring, in Polished Chrome

Pre-1930, Polished Nickel was the preferred “sanitary” finish for bathrooms and kitchens.  Chrome became more popular post-1930 for a very simple reason:  Cars.  Imagine standing in your kitchen, polishing your nickel faucet to a sheen, then going out for a jaunt in your chrome-accented vehicle, still gleaming despite the rigours of the road.  The pragmatic designers who chose chrome for auto parts popularized the finish for the general public, and set the standard for sanitation.


The Pittock Bath CollectionPittock Bath, in Polished Nickel

Nickel can oxidize over time, particularly in moist environments, and can become a little cloudy.  To prevent pitting, polish once a year.

Chrome is much more resistant to corrosion, and requires little to no maintenance.

Is the warmth of nickel worth the elbow grease, or is chrome’s durability worth the chill?  Both are beautiful finishes that have been popular for decades, and will continue to be relevant for decades to come.

And, of course, we can’t forget Brushed Nickel. Not only is Brushed Nickel even warmer and softer finish than Polished Nickel, it has the added benefit of being less likely to show scratches, smudges, and wear than Polished Nickel or Polished Chrome.

Linfield Towel Ring, in Brushed Nickel

Linfield Towel Ring, in Brushed Nickel

Brushed Nickel is simply a Polished Nickel finish that has been hand-rubbed to tone down its sheen and add a touch of texture. Brushed Nickel, like Polished Nickel, may cloud and pit over time if not cared for properly. The key to caring for Brushed Nickel is to always use a very soft cloth and a non-abrasive cleanser.

Still not sure which finish you should choose? The good news is you don’t have to choose just one. Mixing these three finishes is not a no-no. In fact, as you can see in our Winslow Bath (below), Polished Chrome sconces simultaneously brighten and adds depth when layered atop a suite of Brushed Nickel hardware.

Mixed Finishes: Winslow Bath, in Brushed Nickel, with Momo Sconce, in Polished Chrome

Mixed Finishes: Winslow Bath, in Brushed Nickel, with Momo Sconce, in Polished Chrome



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4 Responses to The Finish Line: 3 Silvery Bath Hardware Finishes

  1. Christine says:

    Great post. We live in a 100 yr old craftsman farmhouse in SW Portland. All of the original brass octagonal doorknobs are still in use, and it gave me the idea to seek out aged brass finish bath fixtures. Was this finish in use in 1914? Is it a finish you might introduce to your bath fixture lines? Haven’t had much luck with my search yet….

    • Maud Kelly says:

      Christine, you’ve hit upon the most exciting and frustrating aspect of coordinating with antiques: patina.

      Your doorknobs were most likely installed in an unlacquered brass finish, or a lightly brushed brass finish, and years of use and oxidation have darkened them to their current color, called a patina. While many manufacturers try to replicate this look artificially — our Burnished Antique is our take on it — nothing beats the real deal. That’s why we offer our lighting and majority of our lighting in an Unlacquered Brass finish, which will age over time into a beautiful darkened tone.

      When Burnished Antique is too perfect, and Unlacquered Brass takes too long, I compromise and pick up unlacquered materials and a bottle of brass ager. Brass ager kickstarts the patination process. I dunk the items for a few seconds, and then install. The items will continue to age naturally, but I’ve given them a start. (Our Burnished Antique is applied this way, but sealed with a baked-on lacquer for protection and durability.)

      For perfect coordination, you can hunt down coordinating antique hardware from salvage shops like ours. But be aware that the composition of brass can vary, and the color of aged brass can range from brown to red depending on the amount of copper in the brass.

      While Brass is making a comeback in bath hardware, Polished Chrome is still the popular and easy to clean finish for bath hardware by a ratio of 3 to 1. We’re planning on offering an aged brass on one of our collections in the future, but aren’t there yet. In the interim, you might consider Nickel, which was the popular “sanitary” finish for kitchens and bathrooms during the time your home was built, and has a yellow tone that complements brass hardware.

  2. Matthew Bolster says:

    Is there a particular cleaner and polish that you recommend for polished nickel fixtures?

    • Toby Boyd says:

      Nickel will naturally develop a dull, milky-white tarnish over time – especially in humid environments. Tarnish is easily removed with a soft cloth and a mild solution of household ammonia. Nickel can be waxed to protect the finish surface. Hope that helps!


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