If you lived in a comfortable home in 17th-century France or 19th-century England, your chairs might well have been embellished with nail-head trim. It was a clever, decorative way for craftsmen to secure materials to upholstered furniture.
Another old fastener, the rivet, also was commonplace in manufacturing and shipbuilding centuries ago.
Now, both nail-heads and rivets are having a moment in contemporary decor. On some pieces, they reinforce traditional elegance. On others, they offer an urban, edgier aesthetic.
“We’re seeing nail-head trim – this 400-year-old detail – in lots of new applications, creating bold looks,” says Seattle interior designer Timothy De Clue.
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Lisa Ferguson, an interior designer in Toronto, trimmed a pair of armless coral chairs with a decorative, antique-brass nail-head design along the skirt. She says both brass and warm satin detailing evoke classic glamour.
“It almost always gives the perception of a more luxurious piece, while adding texture,” Ferguson says.
But be mindful of inexpensive trims if you want a luxe look, she adds.
“Attention to detail and craftsmanship is what differentiates the good from the best. Pay special attention to the scale and spacing of the nail heads in relation to the piece of furniture, and always go for metal individual heads over rows of plastic if it is in your budget,” she says.
Designer Jonathan Adler is also a fan of the nail. His Channing screen, named after Bette Davis’ character in the movie “All About Eve,” is a white lacquered room divider studded with polished nickel nail heads. He also plays with the motif in an irreverent tabletop confection: a clear acrylic obelisk filled with construction nails.
“Nail heads hit just the right note for today. They’re the perfect combo of twinkly glamour and edgy attitude,” Adler says.
Nail-head trim works well with textured materials; Jayson Home’s Bretton shelf unit is covered in burlap and trimmed in brass nails (www.jaysonhome.com).
Jayson Home also plays off the vintage industrial vibe in today’s decor with rivet detailing on distressed-iron and steel side tables, reminiscent of turn-of-the-century or shipboard tables.
The retailer’s Warp and Weft accent tables, made of riveted, recycled woven aluminum, reference World War II aircraft.