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the four letter word in decorating


Can we please take down that *bleep* chandelier?  And while we’re at it, I’m going to paint the *bleep* door knobs after we replace the *bleep* faucets and the matching *bleep* light fixtures in the bathroom.

Any idea what the four letter word in decorating is?

I’m going to whisper and spell it out, so I don’t lose sponsors, make little kids gasp or genteel women faint…

B – R – A – S – S

Wait. That’s five letters.  Whatever.  It’s a bad, naughty word in most decorating scenarios.  I’m thinking specifically of the “builder grade” brass fixtures everyone wants to immediately replace in their home.  Tacky brass has made me cringe for years and I would replace it with nickel or bronze in a heart beat.  I think brass’ unfortunate association with cheap fixtures made it a bad word.

A few years ago, something changed for me, though.  I started using more gold (brass, really) leaf.  I had only used silver leaf before, but decided to give it a try.  It looked timeless, classic and elegant and I can’t believe it took me so long to see it.  I started putting subtle gold accents in my rooms.

I bought a piece of furniture with some beautiful brass knobs.  Someone had replaced them with nickel, but kept the original hardware in a bag in a drawer.  The nickel looked so inappropriate for the piece, so I decided to use the original knobs.  They looked awesome.  I had been wrong to throw away every brass knob I came across.  I didn’t even give them a chance.

Now that I had made my peace with brass, I started to notice it more.  Especially brass lamps.  Not garish brass lamps, but the ones that are warm and antiqued.  I’ve been looking for one for a while, so I was delighted when I found this one at a yard sale on Saturday for $4.00…

I’ll take that, thank you.  It’s not old, but it has pretty lines and the finish I was looking for.


As I was preparing for this post, I was surprised at how much brass I have in my home and how lovely it can be…



 I’ll probably always hate builder-grade-brass, but I have definitely found a soft spot in my heart for the four (five) letter word in decorating.


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  1. I have those doorknobs in my house! I love them but they have slowed begun to break/stick/stop holding the doors closed so we have had to replace them. Sad days :(

  2. omg! I watched Candice Olsen today, and the first thing she changed in her room reno was all the BRASS!! HAHAHAH… I looked at my fireplace and was all man… we sure do have a lot of brass in our house. I swear I never noticed it until today! hilarious.

  3. Ooh, your lamp is gorgeous! I love the other photos too! I’ve always loved antiqued brass. One of my first yard sale purchases was a brass candlestick that I still love.

  4. What a funny post. To me, the two metals. The builder grade and the real deal aren’t even the same metal. The builder grade, with the super shiny electro plated finish is just yukky, and worse, it starts to wear off over time from too many hands touching the doorknobs! I am staring at my builder grade brass scroll doorknob as I type. I have made peace with them all for now, but I am warning them tonight that their days are numbered here. I was recently at a client’s home who had replaced all their brass fixtures with oiled bronze, the hinges, and even their deadbolt in the front door. It was all small changes, but had a HUGE impact. They had a contractor do it and it was a done in a day project. I would love to do the same to my home, we can call it a done in a summer project around here.

    I love your “real brass” fixtures. Now that kind of Brass I like!

  5. Yep, there is definitely ‘good’ and ‘evil’ brass. I’m in the middle of re-desigining a space in my home and ‘good’ brass accents are on the menu for sure.
    Luv your new lamp.

  6. I have never been a fan of brass, but this post gives me a whole new outlook!! LOVE your blog!

  7. Karen says:

    What a great *bleep deal on that lamp!! Sooo jealous!!

  8. I have painted out with ASCP most of the B R A S S in the house…even on frames….but here and there it still exists…Still dying to replace the door knobs I so carefully replaced 23 yrs ago….Now I want all oil rubbed bronze…..

  9. I have just re-discovered brass. Martha Stewart did a article on her brass collection in one of her magazines several months back. I have added several brass accents since then. (Pretty easy to find cheap at thrift stores – everyone thinks brass is taboo!)

    • I am re-discovering brass too. I love it and I am finding some great deals at Goodwill and Habitat. I had painted some brass lamps in the past but now I am buying brass candlesticks and lamps and warming up the rooms in my house

  10. The REAL problem with brass is the horrible lacquer that the manufacturers have been putting on brass. It never ages the way it should. And even the high-quality brass looks tacky with that artificial shine and impossible, indestructable finish. Any ideas for how to get rid of the lacquer and let the real goodness show thru?

    Brass never went out of style in my house! Glad to see that someone else appreciates it too.

  11. Hi Marian…yes, I agree that brass did become the four letter five letter word! I’ve re-finished a lot of the old shiny stuff that I had in my house (and for others)…but I still have a few beautiful antique brass pieces – one of which is a large Spanish chandelier that I have in my great room. The patina on it could not be replicated.

    I think that’s what it is – it’s the warmth of the patina that makes it great. The shiny stuff just looks cheap and cold. It’s like everything that all of us vintage-loving hounds long for – the patina of age. Now, if I can only learn to love my own patina!!!


  12. sue pagels says:

    There is so much great spray paint out there – since it’s so expensive to replace everything try spray paint! For my extra garage/work room, I bought cheap brass light fixtures and spray painted them with great results. They have everything from antique brass, nickel satin, hammered aluminum – it’s pretty awesome! I do like the old brass though too (not the shiny stuff!)

  13. Emma Kate says:

    Hey ladies! You need to get some ANTIQUING FLUID – BROWN (TOURMALINE) made by Liberon which instantly ages new brassif it hasnt been laquered. It’s great fun! My bedside lamp is looking very seventeenth century french because of this. X

    • Miss Mustard Seed says:

      Thanks for sharing, Emma! That sounds like a great product. I’ll have to test it out.

  14. Yes, some brass is just too ugly!! I painted the brass plate around our unusable fireplace with white primer/paint and it’s SOOOO much better!! I just can’t get myself to paint our living room lamp that was a wedding gift though: it’s a nice brass from a very nice couple. I just can’t do it. :) I did recover the lampshade though…there was just no hope for that!

  15. Julie Whittington says:

    Oh my gosh the picture of the brass calendar just brought a tear to my eye! My 17 year old son has the same one in his room, it was my daddy’s! I just love when I see that he has moved the date. Thank you once again.

  16. I agree! I hate cheap shiny lacquered brass. When I got married 27 years ago, my mom gave me a beautiful Stiffel brass table lamp. Of course that was during the eighties, the height of the brass craze! Because it was from my mom about $300.00 in 1985 I never parted with it. Now it has the most beautiful patina. I changed out the lamp shade with a PB drum style shade and it’s gorgeous and timeless.

  17. I didn’t read all of the comments but there’s another alternative to vintage brass and builder grade shiny brass. Back in the 80’s I spent a fair amount investing in Baldwin Brass and Virginia Metalcrafters brass pieces for my home…from candlestick to wall sconces/lanterns. They are nothing like “builder” brass, yet don’t have the patina of antique brass. But they are heavy, beautiful and the quality is superb. I still have it everywhere in my home and I love it. Whenever I replace a doorknob in my home, I go with Baldwin polished brass, even today. I just don’t like the contrast of a really dark ORB knob against a white door. I know I’m in the minority but I’ve just never liked that look. Thank goodness we aren’t all the same…be a boring world, wouldn’t it? :)
    Virginia Metalcrafters is my favorite brass maker, but they are no longer in business, so I go with Baldwin now. It feels and looks nothing like builder grade. Quality brass, like Baldwin and VM will never go out of style…they are classic. For many years VM was the official brass maker for Colonial Williamsburg. ORB is pretty, but I’m not sure it will stand the test of time like quality brass. I truly feel each person should use in their home what they love, be it ORB or polished brass or nickle. I even still like brass chandeliers although I’ve changed all mine out for crystal now. I hope the decorating powers-that-be don’t decide crystal is tacky one day. lol If they do, I’m keeping my chandys, just like I’ve kept my brass. :)
    Thanks for a thought provoking post, Marion!

    • Susan, I was so glad to see your post about Baldwin solid brass fixtures. They are so beautiful and timeless. Our home is on the beach and we chose the Baldwin brass because it gives the house a nautical feel. I agree with you 100!!

    • I agree with this comment! Just a year ago, I was working at Home Depot and noticed that all of the Baldwin Polished Brass door knobs were extremely marked down. I recently moved into a house that had the extremely cheap Defiant brass door knobs. They were horrible. So I went around to the area Home Depots to collect all of what was left of the Baldwin Polished Brass door knobs. I was able to change all of my knobs out in the house! I thought it was ironic that I was replacing brass with brass, since everyone that came into the store was asking for ORB to replace their brass. Some customers told me that the “gold” was so ugly. But I feel that I made a good decision and will keep these Baldwin knobs for years and years to come. I feel that it is a “traditional” look – and “traditional” never goes out of style!

  18. So glad to come across your blog piece on brass knobs. I’m building a new home and purchased a Baldwin door set in brass because it was best suited to the exterior colors I chose. But then, what to do about the interior knobs? I do not care for the current trend in satin nickel. So, I decided on brass with white porcelain knobs. Coming across your piece on the topic was a confirmation that I have made the right decision. And, I am sticking with chrome faucets. So, in the end, it seems like I am by-passing trends and aiming for the classics!

  19. It’s not the gold – it’s the shade and sheen of the gold. I love to mix in a little gold even in a contemporary room that is mostly silver or gray. But that nasty, super glossy 80s bright brass is awful. The other problem is that the fixtures themselves are ugly. Even changing the color doesn’t help that much. IMO.

    Though I have had clients successfully respray those 80s 6-arm brass dining chandeliers, replace the bulbs with globe bulbs, and it’s not bad. I suggest spraying them a fun color as a temporary measure, until you can buy the light you want.

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