Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.
What is unlacquered brass?
Before I get into the difference in finishes, brass is a metal alloy made of copper and zinc with an unmistakable classic golden hue. Even though unlacquered brass starts off with a bright finish, there is no mistaking it for that shiny gold lamp at Grandma’s house. That wasn’t actually brass but part of an unfortunate design trend where metal was painted to mimic brass without the price tag. Who would do such a thing?
Unlacquered brass is considered raw brass because it doesn’t have any protective coating (lacquer). Without anything to protect it, the once shiny finish will become dull and darker over time. This happens when brass comes into contact with oxygen, water, and even the oils in your skin. It’s what gives unlacquered brass hardware that beautiful patina you see and puts it into the living finish category. If brass is lacquered, it will be protected and no longer susceptible to the effects of moisture or oxygen.
Why choose it over other finishes?
Many retailers offer finishes like honey or champagne bronze as a “toned-down” alternative for those unsure of brass. We don’t know their long-term durability and they certainly don’t have the longevity that brass does. Do they look nice, sure! The problem is they are usually specific to manufacturers making it hard to find matches.
I learned this lesson when trying to hang my drapes. I had an old brass drape rod but the manufacturer didn’t sell matching rings…grrr! It took some trial and error to find what I was looking for. Learn the easiest way to hang drapes if interested in learning more about that.
The only type of brass that will be the same no matter where you find it is unlacquered brass. It all starts out with the same bright beautiful gold color making it easy for you to mix and match pieces in your designs.
“Coastal Grandma” made its way into the fashion world, but the yellow shiny glam look of “80’s Grandma” is the stuff design nightmares are made of. Don’t let this stand in your way of using real, raw brass in your home. It’s a classic design element that adds warmth to any space and gives it a high-end feel. Just peek into any famous designer’s portfolio and you’ll see brass. See, all the cool kids are doing it!
The process of patina
Even though you’ll start to see some changes almost immediately, it may take a year or two for the living finish of unlacquered brass to reach its dull and dark potential. The more you use it, the faster it will patina. Unlacquered hardware in a kitchen is stunning, but you should expect some unevenness in the process. We all tend to have cabinets that we reach for more frequently than others. In my house, it’s the cabinet under the sink and the pantry cabinets – I’m sure you can relate!
Will your unlacquered brass kitchen faucet turn green? Well, it depends on the ratio of material that makes up your specific piece. Just remember that it will probably be the first and fastest thing to tarnish. The constant and direct contact with water will speed things along.
If you are not a fan of having cabinet hardware with varying stages of patina in the same room, opt for something like aged brass. It still has the same beautiful gold color but a matte protective coating was applied to give it a beautiful vintage look.
Why is it more expensive than other hardware?
Faucet and hardware makers boast about the tarnishing of their raw brass products and high-end interior designers work it even into their most modern kitchen and bath creations. It is a desirable material to incorporate into designs that include natural elements like marble countertops. Due to its popularity and association with luxury, unlacquered brass is ever-increasing in price – just like everything else.
As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not new, but more and more people are discovering its appeal which means there is more of a demand. I won’t get into an economics lesson, but I think you get the idea.
What metal can you mix with brass?
Someone started a rumor a long time ago that mixing metals is tacky. It was probably the same people that came up with shiny fake brass. I’m happy to report that this simply isn’t true. The rulebook of interior design clearly states that you are NOT allowed to buy an entire set of matching furniture, and this rule also applies to metal finishes.
I shared an article recently about how to make your cookie-cutter home unique and one of the tips is to swap out the hardware. I have several types of brass cabinet hardware in my home and they go together flawlessly!
Brass has a best friend and its name is polished nickel. Why nickel over chrome? Chrome has a shiny silver finish just like polished nickel, but with cool undertones. Nickel has just a touch of warmth that makes it go hand in hand with brass. The image below is my primary bathroom where I have mixed aged brass hardware and lighting, polished nickel faucets, and black vanity mirrors.
The most universal metal finish to mix with others is black. You just can’t go wrong with a good matte black finish. It’s great for door handles, shower fixtures, and just about everything else.
How to restore the original unlacquered brass finish
If you are a fan of natural changes then unlacquered brass is easy to care for. The purists out there will install a brass bathroom faucet and not think twice about the maintenance of restoring the original finish. If you don’t love the changes of the living finish there are ways for you to turn back time and get back that youthful glow. To polish your hardware or faucets, use a soft cloth and Brasso or Bar Keepers Friend which are specifically designed to remove tarnish from metal surfaces.
The more often you polish it, the easier it will be to maintain that shiny look. Doing this once a week with your regular cleaning should do the trick!