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Brushed Metal Finishes: Back & Better than the 90's

February 24, 2016

No matter how pressured we might feel, in this modern design world of muted colors and unfinished finishes, to always choose the matte paint or the unglazed platter above something glossier, there is a little bit of possum in every person. Shiny things: Every now and then you have to have some.

In the world of metal home goods, a little shiny goes quite a long way—it gets borderline-flashy very quickly—but a brushed metal finish is an excellent option that's halfway between the two extremes. Here's a little bit more about it, why we love it so, and how to work it into your overall design:

Brushed metal canister! Photo by James Ransom

It has direction.

Brushed metal is made by polishing the surface—first with a higher grit belt and then with a smoother one (you can even DIY the look yourself, using a sander). The process is all done in a single direction, so that the finished surface is directional rather than haphazardly scratched. It's a little bit more sleek-looking than, say, a piece of shiny metal that you loved a little too well and is now scratchy and dull.

It's just throwback enough.

Computer geeks will remember when, in 1999, Apple's new Quicktime V.4 application had a "brushed metal" border. At first users cheered—what a refreshing break from basic white boxes! how clever!—and eventually the internet collectively groaned (or "::groaned::" as our very own geeks might say)—how faux, how overdone, how heavy.

The same thing basically went down with refrigerator doors and bathroom fixtures: The trend in the 90's was to have these surfaces in brushed nickel or brushed stainless steel, which got very old very quickly. But in modern silhouettes that aren't at all recognizable from those clunky shapes, brushed finishes have been done up for the modern home. (Used to be that a trend from 15 years ago wasn't old enough to qualify as vintage, but I think it's high-time for this one—on your real desktop, of course, not your computer screen.)

Brushed metal press! Photo by James Ransom

It warms up what's normally cold.

Even metals that we think of as warm—gold, brass, copper—can feel chilly in a room (as opposed to, say, leathers and sheepskins and wools). A brushed surface on these materials warms them right up, almost giving the illusion of a textile where you're expecting to see something cold.

It's actually even more polished than a glossy finish.

By no means will a brushed metal finish repel fingerprints—but it's certainly a little more resistant to them than a shiny metal finish, which gets smudgy just by being in the same room as a human being. Brushed finishes aren't so sensitive, and they're far easier to get squeaky clean anew.

Basically, we love it.

Is brushed metal back? We say yes, because we love the look of the examples we're seeing, and we're hoping that means more is on the way! Here are some brushed metal highlights from our Shop.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

Professional trespasser.