Chrome Design: 6 Design Tips and Mindset Shifts That Don’t Feel Sterile

Photo: Jonathan Anders Hökklo

Last summer while I was in Copenhagen, I began noticing chrome design details everywhere I turned. In a city that boasts color and playful aesthetics (the tentpoles of Scandi style), seeing subtle pops of chrome felt out of place, yet the duality presented the metal in a way that felt softer than I had ever previously witnessed. The warmth of the colors soaked up some of the harshness of the metal. A pink sink with a chrome faucet sat like a sculpture in Rosy Vintage, stainless-steel shelves displayed A.kjærbede sunglasses at their flagship, and more cafés than I could count paired classic Danish design details with chunky stainless steel tables or funky chrome stools.

I returned to Miami with the urge to brighten up my space with splashes of chrome. Soon, it would become clear though, that it wasn’t just me having a moment, but a full-on movement was underway as industrial minimalism quietly made its comeback. In August 2023, an email from Staud landed in my inbox declaring that a “chrome renaissance” was upon us. Olivia Rodrigo’s cord necklace in her “bad idea right” music video unleashed the internet into a frenzy over the trend, trading in bright beaded jewelry for bold stone or silver pendants. On a trip to my parent’s house in Connecticut, I resurfaced my Tiffany & Co. Elsa Peretti sterling-silver bean necklace that I hadn’t touched since high school, and convinced my parents to pass down their sterling-silver Alessi pepper grinder and expandable trivet, which were originally gifts from their wedding.

But what if you actually do want to take chrome design beyond accessories in a way that feels less like participating in a trend and more like a timeless vignette in your home? What if you want that moment to feel warm and inviting rather than cold and sterile? From homeowners and interior designers to the brand behind those sleek metal shelves on everyone’s moodboard, I took these questions to five people who find peace of mind in metals to gather tangible tips and approachable answers once and for all.

Victoria Ashley’s chrome FRAMA shelves in her Barcelona home are elevated with bursts of bold colors.
Victoria Ashley’s chrome FRAMA shelves in her Barcelona home are elevated with bursts of bold colors.
Photo: Enric Badrinas

Play with color

Victoria Ashley, the founder behind Laundry Day, a line of contemporary cannabis accessories and home objects, has an affinity towards mixing chrome with bright industrial colors (see her ashtray collaboration with Alvaro Ucha Rodriguez for proof). On the FRAMA shelves inside her Barcelona apartment, Victoria mixes “a lot of art books and objects that are in the fluorescent orange that you may see at an airport, or just different, very bright striking colors.” From her POV, chrome “allows your mind to visually jump around, where I think if everything was steel in one tone, it would fall quite flat.” Paulina Melinauskaite, global PR and brand activation specialist at FRAMA, fully agrees with this sentiment. “On one of our Rivet collection units, the burnt orange wheels give this more approachable and more youthful touch.” On the subject of the stainless steel shelves, Paulina suggests adding “meaningful and very warm-to-the-soul, colorful accessories. Be it favorite books, a vase or a pot with flowers, something more organic and livable.”

Layer on the textures

Victoria stands by adding in softer textiles, with items like her vintage Ligne Roset sofa in a crushed cream velvet and a camel leather chair with a stainless steel frame. From Paulina’s perspective, the texture that rugs add has the ability to, depending on your intention, “unite the space or separate the space.” As she further explains, “a rug under a long table sums it up and brings everything together. A rug under a chrome coffee table, next to a couch, or beside a beautiful armchair, has the ability to create a separation of materials.”

Lily Sullivan’s newest home addition, a chrome light sourced from Facebook Marketplace, hangs above her cat Milo, Lichen dining table and Forsyth Art rug.
Lily Sullivan’s newest home addition, a chrome light sourced from Facebook Marketplace, hangs above her cat Milo, Lichen dining table and Forsyth Art rug.
Photo: Lily Sullivan

A little lighting goes a long way

Lily Sullivan, the creative consultant and writer behind the newsletter Love and Other Rugs, lives in Brooklyn, where she recently finished hanging up a recent Facebook Marketplace find (a long tubular chrome light) above a muted gray dining table from Lichen with a set of four vintage red cane chairs. Lily credits this combination to orchestrating “a coolness that’s met with warmth, and then the chrome is reflective of those tones.” She argues that too much chrome can lean “futuristic space kind of robot world, but when it’s combined with things that are warmer, it actually then lets the chrome have warmth to it” which is what her secondhand score has done for her space.

Meanwhile, Victoria has never underestimated the power of the right lighting to transform a space. “Something that makes a huge difference is the Philips Hue bulbs, or bulbs that you can control the warmth and the dimness and the color,” she says. Victoria also recommends playing with how your lighting projects from behind chrome objects like her own Kartell Componibili, “creating really warm cozy corners in something that would otherwise look maybe a little bit sterile.”

Balance heavy metals with the warmth of wood

Sonia Mosseri, cofounder and creative director of Still Here, recently opened her second store on Madison Avenue. With no formal design training, her naivety has given the downtown New York denim brand a “kid in a candy store” effect. When Sonia first saw the space, she knew it needed a major facelift to take on the cozy living room feel she envisioned, but also saw value in what was there. They took down the custom drawer units and wood wall paneling, sanded, restrained, and then put them back up. They modernized the drawers by adding chrome knobs, and wrapped the wood checkout counter in stainless steel sheets.

Victoria is no stranger to the relationship between cozy and cool. “I work from home, so I’m always trying to find a balance between having something that feels very calm and homey, but also something that feels inspiring and a place that I want to work in,” she explains. In order to successfully pull it off, she tries to “combine industrial materials with really soft and earthy materials like wood where there’s a nice marriage together.”

This was the same framework that Liza Chloë van Duyn, a photographer turned self-taught interior designer based in Amsterdam, applied when designing her family’s moody canal house. For the kitchen, she wanted to use chrome, but make it feel “very warm and welcoming.” Initially, her plan was to use oak wood, “but then later we swapped for cherry, so it would become much warmer.” She continues, “we made sure that the balance was very correct in terms of material use. So it's much more wood than chrome.”

When designing her kitchen, Liza Chloë van Duyn made sure “the balance was very correct in terms of material use with more wood than chrome.” She continues, “you can have big bulky chrome elements, but I want it to be sexy, sleek, and refined.”
When designing her kitchen, Liza Chloë van Duyn made sure “the balance was very correct in terms of material use with more wood than chrome.” She continues, “you can have big bulky chrome elements, but I want it to be sexy, sleek, and refined.”
Photo: Liza Chloë van Duyn

Experiment with the unexpected

A particular challenge that Sonia faced when opening Still Here’s uptown location was thinking about how to bring a “young, not so serious brand, to Madison Avenue, next door to the Apple Store, Hermès, and The Row.” Her solution was to focus on raw materials and the possibilities they presented even though she didn’t know their actual function or purpose. She recalls a lot of inspiration coming from trips to Home Depot “I was looking at nuts and bolts and saying, ‘That’s a cool charm.’” Inspired by a latex chair on the moodboard for the space, Sonia and her friend Allie Bernabei designed a lamp with a chrome base which they then wrapped with latex, extending to the base. “I just kept saying, ‘I want to make people sort of feel uncomfortable,’” she admits. “I want to challenge what people think they’re going to see here. And have unusual shapes or an unusual material, and that’s sort of where the latex and chrome fit in together.”

Liza effortlessly walked the fine line between breaking away from tradition and respecting authentic details of her 16th-century home. On the primary bedroom floor, she opted for metal sliding doors with wooden handles, noting that, “everybody that walks up to our bedroom is like, ‘Woah, this is so unexpected,’ but I feel like that gives personality to a home that's already been around for centuries. I believe there are not a lot of rules when it comes to using chrome in a specific type of room or way.”

Victoria points out that “chrome often reflects a lot of what’s around the space,” so she sees “it as a blank canvas to kind of play around with.” Lily’s cork coffee table lined with a chrome edge speaks to this pitch for chrome’s ability to take on a lot of different characters. “You might not think it would work together, but it creates a really stunning fine line where chrome can do a lot of things,” she adds. “It can make some things feel higher end or help opposites attract. It gives the piece a moment to really, no pun intended, shine.”

Focus on feeling and functionality

At Liza’s house in Amsterdam, she and her husband are “big fanatics in the kitchen.” As she further elaborates, “we really like to cook so with the entire process, I really wanted to be very practical and I wanted the space to be welcoming and warm because I have a family and it's a very social space.” For her, chrome is the most practical material in a kitchen and that’s why you “see it in a lot of restaurant kitchens” but then it also needed to feel like a family kitchen, for people to “walk in and have fun.” Liza’s design choice of mixing the cabinet panels pushes further towards warmth, taking on the story that “maybe this kitchen was already around for years and years, and maybe one front panel broke and it was changed it for chrome.”

According to Paulina, at FRAMA “every piece is joined by hand, and raw aluminum is used for it to be cut, so it’s very honest and direct material. The scratches and the imperfections that it gets in time, is one of the aspects that we value and cherish. It makes it more livable and warm.” For Sonia, everything goes back to “intention and purpose.” She asks, “How do you want this room or how do you want the home in general to make you feel?” Recognizing that with chrome you “typically think of these really sterile moments with an uptight material, but pairing it with a good scent, a touch of personality, it’s all antidotes to the cold feeling.” Perhaps the most realistic suggestion is what Sonia says is a simple answer: “Mix life with chrome, that warms it up.”

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest