When you’re trying to decide on the right finish, it helps to know what’s hot and what’s not—and how to work with what you’ve got

Just as a faucet is a design element, so is its finish. There are plenty of choices—nickel, chrome, brass, bronze, stainless, to name a few—and many come in light and dark varieties as well as polished and brushed (also called satin) versions. To pick the right tone for your bathroom, consider the following.

Mixing, not matching, is in.

A vintage finish on a classic faucet in a traditional bath is more yesterday than today. It’s fresher to flout the rules. “A big trend is applying old-world finishes to modern faucet shapes,” explains Judd Lord, Delta Faucet’s director of industrial design. A popular twosome: Delta Faucet’s contemporary Vero faucet with a Venetian Bronze finish, which marries coolness and warmth.

You can use more than one finish in the same bath.

Multiple finishes add dimension and contrast—just don’t get carried away. Harmony is the key to pulling the look together. “One way to do that is to choose finishes that are all polished or all brushed,” Lord says. “Brushed nickel and Champagne Bronze, which also has a brushed coating, look good together.” Or stay in the same metal family. If you already have a lighting fixture in oil-rubbed bronze, which has a dark, worn look with silver peeking through, you could go with an inky Venetian Bronze finish for your bathroom faucet.

Neutrals like chrome, nickel and stainless look good on anything.

Think of them as the classic white shirt of the bath—subtly sophisticated and easy to match with other accessories like towel holders and door pulls. Shiny chrome is the most popular bath finish and comes with an affordable price tag. Nickel has a warmer tone and a more exclusive pedigree. Stainless steel, still the leading metal in the kitchen, looks indulgent in the bath, too.

Brushed metals help hide bad things.

If you’re a neat freak, choose a brushed finish—its muted surface helps mask fingerprints and water spots. Also, since it’s not reflective like a polished finish, it’s better at showing off a bathroom faucet’s details, Lord says.

Gold is the new brass.

The latest brasses bear no resemblance to the highly polished metals found in Grandma’s house. Instead of classic green undertones, today’s brasses are warmer with gold tones, like Champagne Bronze. But gold doesn’t just suit vintage décor—it’s also stylish on modern bathroom faucets and fixtures. A popular look: an all-white bathroom with chic gold accents.