I'm building a new house and I'm worried about the consistency of hardware and lighting finishes throughout the house. Do you think everything needs to match or is it OK to have variation?
Sincerely, Finished with Finishes
Dear Finished with Finishes, I understand your dilemma completely-there are so many choices to make. First you worry whether or not you can put bronze and polished nickel in close proximity to each other. Then you wonder if you can put one manufacturer's bronze next to another manufacturer's bronze! To get around the latter issue, I always try to order a sample of the finishes. Usually, a company has samples available by mail or at a local showroom, and if they don't, you might consider ordering one small fixture as a test. You can always return it if you need.
As far as blending distinctly different finishes, I like to consider how these finishes have historically been applied to help me decide where one finish goes versus another. I think having multiple finishes within a space can add lots of desirable character if done correctly. If you tour a big, old, classic American house, you'll notice that all of the bathroom finishes tend to be polished nickel. Even if a doorknob is brass outside the bathroom, on the other side it will be polished nickel to match the rest of the bathroom. This is because this finish is actually more resistant to water and corrosion. Unlacquered brass was the norm prior to polished nickel and is still beautiful, but requires more maintenance and cleaning. Later, chrome replaced nickel due to its durability, but in recent years we have returned to nickel because it is a warmer finish. I like the concept of all the bathroom fixtures being polished nickel because it's a finish that never seems to succumb to the winds of trend.
Say your faucets in the kitchen are also polished nickel, but you want to incorporate some oil rubbed bronze light fixtures as well. Your questions are (A) will your light fixtures and faucets clash, and (B) what finish should your drawer pulls be? In answer to question A, I feel you are always able to do up to two finishes in a room without concern of clashing. In answer to question B, remember that there are other hardware possibilities beyond different metal finishes. When I was a kid, my family's beach house had pink and green depression glass drawer pulls. I've renovated a few kitchens with wooden handles, one with leather pulls and some with no door hardware at all. Doors free of hardware don't belong only in the most modern settings; they can lend a classic kitchen a more taut, architectural look that feels brand new.
Don't try to put a finish where it hasn't been before-there are other ways to be creative that do not involve going against decades of practical knowledge. And don't fall for black stainless steel as I am sure it will be out of style in less than five years.