The hottest decorative hardware highlights metal finishes with
natural patinas, while multi-functional hardware with options such
as the ‘soft-close’ feature continues to be strong.
Today’s decorative hardware comes in a nearly limitless array of
shapes, sizes, colors and finishes, dovetailing consumers’ growing
interest in personalizing their spaces. As “the jewelry of design,”
it can make an elegant design statement, bring a touch of whimsy or
blend quietly and tastefully with the overall look of a room.
But, if decorative hardware is truly the jewelry of design,
functional hardware acts as the nuts and bolts that hold a design
together, making it work easily and seamlessly.
Functional hardware maximizes storage by allowing full access to
drawers, carries more weight to better accommodate the
ever-increasing number and types of items being stored away, and
provides safety and ease-of-use with soft-closing hinges.
For many years, hardware fashion and function were considered
two entirely separate areas, yet today’s consumers want all of
their hardware to look great, function well and even provide
emotional benefits, such as ergonomic features. So say
manufacturers and dealers recently interviewed by Kitchen &
Bath Design News.
Manufacturers agree that
multi-functional hardware is becoming the norm, and companies such
as the Archdale, NC-based Häfele America Co. are striving to
devise the next generation of multi-functional hardware, which will
accommodate today’s ever-growing storage needs.
“People are demanding better functionality. Probably the biggest
change, and the biggest trend, is the one toward soft-closing
hardware,” says Mike Buechner, product manager of functional
hardware for Häfele.
“I think it’s the natural evolution of the product. Even
pantries have soft-closing hardware on them I see it more and more
in all products It’s especially important on lift-up hardware on an
overhead cabinet door. You don’t want it to slam for safety
“In my opinion, the term ‘functional hardware’ no longer
captures the scope of consumer demand for cabinet hardware.
Function is a requirement, of course, but becoming increasingly
important are design and emotional aspects larger opening angles,
total access to interior of drawers and cabinets, soft-closing
systems for a quiet kitchen, differentiation possibilities, etc.,”
believes Wolfgang Branner, v.p./marketing for Blum, Inc. in
Stanley, NC. “Functional hardware should not be seen as an
‘accessory’ for kitchens, but should be valued for the important
role it plays in guaranteeing the kitchen user more comfort, more
ergonomic efficiency, more organization and more fun. Quality of
space and quality of motion will become driving parameters in the
design of kitchens.”
Steve Hirasawa, marketing spokesperson for Sugatsune in Carson,
CA, also sees a European influence on functional hardware design.
For example, “You tend to see newer products with drawer slides
built in. Before, there were more dovetail boxes with drawer
slides. Now, there are drawer boxes with drawer slides together,”
Along those lines, another notable trend is the use of larger
drawers, which requires drawer slides that will carry the extra
weight. “Drawers are becoming wider and larger, and are carrying
more weight, so slides need to be even sturdier,” says Buechner.
“They are changing along with the increased size and weight
capacities of drawers.”
Even entertainment centers and home offices are impacting the
functional hardware arena. “That’s exactly what I’m working on
right now,” says Buechner. “We’re just starting to see the changes
with the plasma-screen and wide-screen TVs. They are wider than
they are taller 42” is a really popular size and the doors have to
be wider instead of taller, making pocketing more difficult. This
is testing the limits of the hardware on the market now.
“So we, along with others in the market, are in the process of
devising new hardware that accommodates the new TVsWe definitely
need more products to accommodate these trends We need to be able
to accommodate different size drawers, and doors in the kitchen,
and in home entertainment centers,” he continues.
No matter what the functional need, manufacturers seem to be in
sync with consumer demand, and are responding to their need for
hardware that is highly functional and durable, and that is easy to
use and install.
Hirasawa has always seen ease of use, ease of installation and
accessibility as crucial factors in functional hardware design. “I
think that ease of installation is something that’s needed across
the board, whether you are a do-it-yourselfer or the most
experienced [installation pro],” he says. And, especially at the
high end, quality is a key factor in functional hardware, given the
wear and tear it will take over time. “When people spend quite a
bit of money, they expect more from it. They expect it to last,” he
“Ease of installation has always been a factor in manufacturing.
And durability has to be there,” agrees Buechner.
ALONG CAME STYLE
As the demand for function
grows, so, too, does the call for a diverse array of stylish
decorative hardware choices, manufacturers agree. Indeed, in recent
years, more attention has been paid to such details as coordinating
hardware finishes with appliances, countertops or faucetry and
decorative hardware is a great way to quickly update the look of a
kitchen or add a personal touch.
“For the first time, hardware is [being] viewed as art. People
do not leave it behind,” believes Cari Jaye Sokoloff, president and
creative director of Sóko in San Francisco, CA.
“Hardware used to be an afterthought, something functional to
open a cabinet. Now, whole rooms are designed around beautiful and
“For several years now, we have seen more and more people using
decorative hardware in order to accentuate their kitchens and
create that ultimate design statement,” says Bill Payne, national
sales manager for Avante Hardware in Chico, CA.
As a result, manufacturers have been responding with myriad
choices covering a broad spectrum of styles. However, while several
divergent trends are evident, all boil down to the fact that
consumers are looking to make a personalized statement with their
hardware, manufacturers agree.
“We want a unique look, and the same time functional,” says John
Kennedy, director of business development for Belwith-Keeler in
Grandville, MI. “This trend is here to stay I would also say that
three styles are dominant: traditional styles, with an antique
bronze or dark pewter finish; rustic/casual, worn styles that fit
into a Craftsman theme; and contemporary styles with strong linear
themes and brushed steel or matte nickel finishes. Contemporary is
definitely on the upswing. Kitchens are showing long upper
cabinets, some with flipper-style doors that open upward.”
“I believe there are two distinct and divergent trends. The
first and fastest growing is what I like to call the ‘twiggy look’
of informally crafted and rustically finished pieces recalling a
variety of traditional and rural motifs,” says John Baker,
v.p./sales and marketing for Valendrawers in Lexington, NC. “The
second, and much smaller trend in America, celebrates bold
modernism, recalling the classic modern rectilinear forms of the
first half of the 20th century, expressed now in over-scaled, yet
“Typically, the design look or theme is either traditional or
contemporary, and both are in demand,” says Payne. “There really
isn’t an in-between, and the ultimate choice depends on each
customer’s individual preferences.”
“This is the great debate, but clearly traditional designs still
dominate the U.S. market, though individual markets may be heavily
skewed one way or the other,” says Jack Burdick, senior product
manager with the Broadway Collection in Olathe, KS. “While there
seems to be a shift back to classic traditional designs with soft
finishes, contemporary will continue to own a share of the market.
The big winner today is transitional designs. These blend clean,
simple contemporary concepts with traditional shapes and elements.
These designs blur the line between contemporary and traditional,
and represent the fastest growing new design category.”
“Regional tastes in cabinet and furniture hardware still
dominate despite becoming enormously diluted along with the
shifting population. [However], we see a greater demand for
contemporary-style hardware,” adds Harvey Weinberg, owner of North
River Mint in New York, NY.
But, while contemporary and traditional styles duke it out for
dominance in the marketplace, other factors, such as appliance,
cabinetry and faucet design, have emerged as hardware design
“[Indeed], another trend that is influencing hardware design is
integrated appliances. People are experiencing a need for large,
yet beautiful handles for their built-in appliances,” notes
“We actually see a larger trend with hardware influences beyond
appliances, cabinetry, faucets and that is a ‘Whole House’ concept,
with themes that reverberate throughout the home,” notes
“Cabinet design, which includes glazings, has impacted our
designs,” believes Bob Schaub, owner and president of Schaub &
Co. in Ada, MI. “Faucetry, as it has moved to oil-rubbed bronze and
Venetian bronze, has positively impacted our solid brass/bronze
sales. Finally, I believe consumers are apt to match cabinet
hardware to their solid surface or granite countertop, as they are
to their faucets or appliances. The major impact of appliances is
that we aggressively market appliance pulls that match our cabinet
hardware product offerings.”
Dovetailing the myriad
decorative hardware styles available are a huge and growing number
of finish choices, with metal finishes that offer a natural patina
remaining dominant in both traditional and contemporary designs,
according to manufacturers.
“Stainless steel and brushed and matte nickel are still our
strongest sellers,” notes Greg Sheets, decorative product manager
for Häfele. “This goes along with the trend toward matching
stainless kitchen appliances.” He also cites pewter and oil-rubbed
bronze as hot finishes.
“The sleek looks of satin nickel and stainless steel are being
utilized in more modern designed kitchens,” says Payne. “Many of
these finishes can match appliances, sinks or faucets. In addition,
more distressed looks, such as oil-rubbed bronze and antique
pewter, are finding their way into kitchens that demand a more
Arts-and-Crafts or distressed look to them.”
To that end, oil-rubbed bronze, wrought iron and rust are a few
of the newest and most popular finishes Avante has recently
introduced, notes Payne.
“Trends for color include rust looks and bronze variations,”
Schaub notes. “Some of our largest increases have been in materials
of solid brass and solid bronze, without lacquer, with a ‘living
finish’ with a natural patina.” As an example of this, Schaub cites
one of his company’s hottest finishes, Aspen Bronze, which is a
light oil-rubbed bronze, sans lacquer.
“Bright brass is out. Silver-toned finishes are by far in the
highest demand. Brushed steel, pearl nickel, satin nickel are all
strong movers in all segments: cabinets, bath and architectural
door hardware,” proclaims Kennedy, who also notes an upswing in
living finishes that reveal a natural patina as they are used. He
further notes that Belwith-Keeler is “putting its toe in the water”
with a polished nickel finish, which offers “a little more upscale,
dressy look,” in his estimation.
According to Baker, stainless steel “continues to be the most
popular touchstone of modern finishes and colors, and stainless
steel handles made of stainless and their die-cast equivalents in a
matte nickel finish continue as our most popular. What’s
interesting is that manufacturers are highly attuned toward the
stainless steel look.” Additionally, he believes that chrome is
“gaining in popularity,” while “aluminum handles are very popular
in Europe, but have yet to generate much interest here.”
“Currently, there is a niche for the subtle use of vibrant color
reds, blues, yellows and greens. Mainstream finishes like chrome,
satin nickel, oil-rubbed bronze, bright nickel and bright brass
continue to be strong,” asserts Burdick. “A return to the soft,
subtle metal finishes is strong. Copper and brass with a natural
patina look, like a tarnished penny, are likely to become new
rising stars. The use of glass, crystal, porcelain and other
materials to complement metals is a growing trend. New
manufacturing processes that allow the lamination of graphic
images, colors and textures to metal surfaces are beginning to
In addition to finishes, texture is key in decorative hardware
design. “Texture is nearly as important as design: It must look
attractive and feel good. It must be as comfortable and solid from
a tactile perspective,” notes Kennedy.
“[Plus], customers are moving away from simple designs and
traditional finishes such as brass. This trend is continuing, and
people seem to be more interested in ornate designs and unique
finishes,” believes Payne. He says that the availability of more
cabinet finishes, decorative options and design and material
selections have all contributed to this trend, which he also
believes will continue for years to come as “customers try to
differentiate their kitchens and create their own customized and
“[Overall, however], the perennial colors of choice is still
antique pewter, silver, nickel or bronze,” concludes Weinberg.
“And, larger sizes of cabinet knobs and pulls have become more
important in conveying a bolder look.”
Schaub concurs, noting that his company is selling “more 1-1/2″-
and 1-5/8″-diameter knobs and more 4″ and 6″ c.c. pulls.”