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 décor. On some pieces, they reinforce traditional elegance. On others, they offer an urban, edgier esthetic.
"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.
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. (www.lisafergusoninteriordesign.com )
Ballard Designs has a selection of tufted and untufted headboards that you can customize in different fabrics and then finish with brass or silver nail heads. (www.ballarddesigns.com )
Homegoods has some little slipper chairs in fun colours like peony pink, lime green and rich purple, embellished with silvery trim. The trim also edges a svelte bench — covered in a green, white and black classic pattern — perched on sleek black legs. All the pieces have a Palm Beach house vibe. (www.homegoods.com )
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 )
Arhaus has a series of interesting chairs that combine recycled leather seats with backs upholstered in woven fabric; the materials meet at a nail-head border.
The Portsmouth chair and settee incorporate the deconstructed trend in furniture with a more refined, finished look. Exposed framing along the backs and woven, grain-sack-textured upholstery are accented with nail trim. The Alpine Estates ottoman is part of a collection of pieces that put a contemporary spin on western style with cowhide, nail-head and wood trim. Or evoke the early days of ship travel with the Colburn steamer trunk, crafted of chestnut leather and set with antique brass nail heads. (www.arhaus.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. There is a series of Ludlam pendant lighting fixtures here, too, crafted of caged iron slats and hammered rivets.