Faucet Finishes

New technology and an increasing appreciation for purposeful design have made the faucet an important feature in bathroom decor.

By: Jackie Dishner

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Faucet finish is an important design element that once was overlooked. But new technology and the public's widespread appreciation for the overall look in the kitchen and bath have made the faucet an important feature. Any sink in the house becomes another opportunity to introduce a new design element.

Brass, copper, chrome, nickel, gold-plated, oil-rubbed metals, matte or shiny finish, a smooth satin sheen and even faucets with texture are now available to consumers in all price ranges. In terms of sheer sales volume, says Judd Lord, director of industrial design for Delta Faucet Co., chrome is still the leader.

But for aesthetics? "The trend is to customize," Judd says. Special finishes, such as brushed nickel and oil-rubbed bronze, outsell chrome by a wide margin — especially for remodels and do-it-yourself projects, where people typically spend between $100 and $300 on faucets.

"For something you touch several times a day, why not pick a finish for your faucet that will make you feel good? People will notice if you put in an unimpressive faucet," says Peter LaBau, a Charlottesville, Va.-based architect whose book The New Bungalow Kitchen, from Taunton Press, offers great ideas for quality kitchen design.

Peter just remodeled his own master bath, for which his finish of choice was nickel. "I'm a big fan," he says. When bonded to brass, nickel plating reveals a golden luster that standard chrome plating does not.

Prices run from $50 for chrome to $600 and up for nickel. For Peter, it was worth paying more for a product that will outlast, outshine and visually outperform a basic chrome faucet finish.

Whichever finish you choose, designers say there are several things to consider.

Style and Design

Choose an oil-rubbed finish if you want that Old World or Tuscan style, says Barbara Kaplan, an interior designer and principal of Design Dimensions in Phoenix, Ariz. The brownish, burnt tone gives it a rustic look that also works well in a cabin or cottage setting.

If you're going for a Scandinavian style, says Judd, chrome still works best.

For a richer, more elegant look to the faucet, particularly in a powder room where you can experiment more, Peter recommends nickel.

A Suite of Finishes

Aside from the shape of the faucet itself, Barbara suggests looking at the shape of the sink, the edge of the counter, the mirror (if the sink is in a bathroom), the door's style and lighting fixtures. Then ask yourself, "Will the faucet's finish complement the whole room?"

"Designers shoot for uniformity of finish," says Peter. The nickel-plated hardware throughout his master bath creates what he calls a "suite of finishes." On the other hand, you can also create a suite of disconnected elements, he says, as long as you arrive at a purposeful design.

What you don't want is to have the eye head straight for the one thing that is different. Designers know your guests will notice anything out of place.

To avoid that, Barbara says to blend your finishes with other items in the room. Mixing and matching the finishes can work as long as they blend well, she says.

Sensual Appeal

Barbara suggests that you use your senses to lead you to the right choice of finish for your home's kitchen and bath. "Intuitively, you know what you like."

If you prefer smooth or shiny, you might pick a chrome finish. If you're looking for texture, an oil-rubbed product might work.

If water spots drive you crazy, matte finishes can solve the problem. Also look for faucets featuring physical vapor deposition, also called PVD, the latest technology for bonding a finish to the standard brass faucet. With PVD, the finish becomes an integral part of the faucet itself, resisting tarnish, scratches and corrosion and keeping the faucet looking good longer.

Barbara says the sense of smell can also come into play. Through the power of suggestion, she advises, chrome and brass both have a different metallic smell. Only you know which you'd prefer.

Additionally, how the water sounds as it flows out of the spout and when it hits the sink can figure into your choice, but that factor relates more to the actual style of the faucet than to its finish.

In the end, designers suggest looking for quality and integrity in the engineering of the faucet's moving parts. In other words: Install the best possible faucet you can afford.

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