Brace yourself - gold, the symbol of tack, is back in fashion. Just show some restraint, warns GWENDA JOYCE-BROPHY
This autumn could be a tricky time for the style conscious. The reason? Gold, and lots of it. That precious metal that coats taps in the cheesiest bathrooms and bedsteads in the tackiest boudoirs - that we've laughed at for years - is going to be hip, and we're just going to have to learn how to deal with it.

The evidence is all around us. Clayton Monroe, favourite of interior designers, is bringing out a special range of door furniture and fittings in "shiny" gold to meet demand. "There is a definite resurgence," says Jane Nelson for the shop. "People want gold, but with a more imaginative design." Contemporary furnishers Purves and Purves in London is stocking large pendant and table lamps by cutting edge Catalani & Smith, featuring expanses of textured gold.

And this is not just some perverse, fringe, ironic thing. Chic and cheerful Next, for example, has launched an autumn and winter collection that has been given the Midas touch - its current catalogue features entire bathrooms and sitting rooms unashamedly bedecked in gold fittings, fabrics and accessories from ceiling to floor, while kitchen accessory manufacturers Breville, whose chrome and steel kettles and toasters tapped into the now common industrial look, has recently launched a gold-plated kettle and toaster.

Still, several of the designers I spoke to were distinctly uncomfortable when asked what they made of the new gold look. "I was told by another designer that I shouldn't really be talking to you about this," confessed one, nervously. "Gold has had such a naff image." Some, like designer Jonathan Martin, feel that, like the Eighties, it's somehow "seems just too soon" for gold's return.

Yet gold is clearly back, and with a vengeance - just as the sitting room complete with cream sofa, and kitchens with their steel and chrome appliances, have become ubiquitous. "That's exactly the point," says artist- designer Nicholas Alvis-Vega, some of whose creations include large Aztec- style gold chairs which look like they are made of gold ingots. "Everything in the house has become good taste. People are asking, `If I want something new, where do I go?' One route is to exploit what has been seen in the past as bad taste. Now gold is somehow becoming chic."

Breville launched its gold products because it recognised a need for something new. "The chrome look has become mass market, and the gold look will suit people who have to find a different trend once that happens," says Breville's Sue Jowett. "Gold also represents a move away from minimalism, and chrome is now closely associated with that look," says Alvis-Vega.

So is gold set to become the new chrome? "We wouldn't go that far," says Next guardedly. "We are offering it alongside our chrome and black ranges. Gold, though, does have a special role in its ability to add luxury and warmth."

"In a broader sense it could well be the new chrome," says Alvis-Vega. "In effect, the chrome look itself took about 60 years to become mainstream. Now it is seen as very chi chi. The same could be true of gold."

So if you have always had a secret, sneaking liking for gold, or are falling for its attractions for the first time, how can you incorporate it without going too far over the edge into tack? Jonathan Martin advises approaching with caution. "Like any look you've got to be careful with it," he says, "and with gold it is obviously something that could look garish if you get it wrong. "One of the cardinal sins committed by many devotees of new looks is to adopt it wholesale. The key is to personalise it. Tailor it to your tastes rather than the other way round."

In fact, there is no one gold look. You can opt for an ironic footballer style (this one requires excess) or use it minimally in an individual way. "But whatever you do with it, give it a cutting edge," says Martin. "Use it in an ethnic look with Arabian-inspired lamps. Use it not just for itself but for its light-reflecting, shimmering qualities."

And what better time to break into gold than now, as market prices reach decade-long lows. Now more than ever gold doesn't have to break the bank. Alvis-Vega's chairs, at pounds 8,000 a time, might not come cheap, but if you are looking to make a more modest outlay, pounds 50 will get you a gold-plated kettle, and around pounds 20 will be enough for a vase - easily tracked down on the high street.

However you do it, buy early because all the indications are that there will be a stampede. "We showed the gold range at a recent trade fair in Cologne and it went down a storm," says Sue Jowett. "We also undertook market research which makes us think it will be quickly taken on board by those who in marketing jargon are called the `early adopters'."

City finance manager Alan Rogers is already kitted out, although by default. He went for the gold look first time round, back in the Eighties, and has never got round to replacing it. "The taps cost me a bloody fortune," he says. After years of being berated by chrome- laden friends to get rid of the stuff, he is delighted to be re-categorised as an "early adopter" in the style game. "It hasn't been often during my accountancy career that I've been able to say I'm super hip," he says, "but I'm enjoying my new-found status."

ALL THAT GLITTERS

"Choose a few, good quality design items or you will end up looking tacky," says Jonathan Martin. "With the gold look, less is definitely more."

For a relatively understated gold look, choose accessories in the more muted "old gold" finish rather than the brasher versions. Next's bathroom mirrors and accessories, for example, are available in the subtler old gold as well as shiny gold.

Go wild and think rich, decadent and opulent, or control yourself by using gold only to accent particular features. Whatever you choose, remember that the image you are aiming for is loadsataste, not loadsamoney.

"Going for the gold look doesn't mean you have to abandon an uncluttered look," says Nicholas Alvis-Vega. "You can still have a clean look, but one which will be warmer than a minimalist one."

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