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Hardware’s Double Duty

The dual role hardware plays drives trends in both aesthetic and functional design.

authors Elizabeth Richards 

Hardware may not be the first thought in kitchen or bath design, but it shouldn’t be an afterthought. As a key element in both the look of a space and the way things work, the role of hardware is vitally important.

Decorative hardware can pull a design together, adding a cohesive feel to the overall space, and functional hardware is essential in making sure cabinets, drawers and organizational tools work exactly the way the homeowner desires.

J. Ulrich Hauser, CEO of Scottsdale, AZ-based Schwinn Hardware, Inc. says the common reference to hardware as the ‘jewelry of the kitchen’ is off base. “Jewelry has no function other than beauty. Hardware must function in many ways. We prefer to compare it more to the function of fabric in upholstery. It determines a great deal of the overall look and feel of the furniture/cabinetry and it has to function silently, reliably and [be] unimposing.”

That’s a tall order to fill with elements that are often concealed or designed to integrate seamlessly with the surrounding décor.

“Hardware is the single most important element of any functional space,” says Billy Peele, marketing representative for Doug Mockett & Co., Inc. in Manhattan Beach, CA. “The devil is in the details, as they say. [Hardware] not only adds critical functionality to furniture, but it provides the finishing touches that make the design look stunning. Conversely, poor hardware selection can mar the furniture’s harmonious relationship with the rest of the room. Functional hardware is essential for modern amenities like convenient power access on countertops.”

William Zhang, creative director and industrial designer for Emtek/Schaub & Co. in City of Industry, CA agrees: “Hardware selection can be a critical element to execute a cohesive kitchen by choosing the right finishes, style and shapes that match or add contrast. There are so many creative applications for hardware, but selecting proper hardware will greatly improve the user experience in a space.”

Current trends see both decorative and functional hardware blending in to create coordinated design and a clean appearance. Darker finishes are on the rise, especially matte black finishes. Functional hardware must help optimize storage space, and technologies that allow for smooth operation of drawers and doors are in demand. That’s according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

Simple and discreet

Current kitchen trends lean toward clean lines and simplicity in décor, and trends in hardware are following suit.

“More people are starting to look for ways to conceal hardware, hence the growth of hidden or flush doors that require hinges that are concealed into the door frame and door, minimizing the visibility of these components,” says Curtis Nakamura, v.p./sales and marketing at Sugatsune America, based in Carson, CA. “Influenced by European trends and the evolution of push latches and closing mechanisms, many high-end designs are moving toward concealing or even eliminating handles and pulls for cabinetry as well.” This move away from handles or pulls brings more requests for edge pulls that minimize the visibility of hardware, he adds.

Hauser also sees demand for full-length edge-mounted pulls and says that handle-free options with recessed channels are growing.

Greg Sheets, decorative hardware category manager at Häfele America Co., based in Archdale, NC, agrees that edge profiles are making their way into U.S. kitchens, stating, “Although very popular in Europe, more Americans are requesting the beveled, aluminum profiles applied to the top edge of their cabinets for easy grasping. This allows for less wear and tear on the cabinet door and drawer edges themselves, access from any angle and cleaner, sleek lines.”

Functional hardware technologies that help declutter the space and keep things clean are seeing increased demand as well.

“We’re seeing a shift toward the ‘invisible kitchen.’ This kitchen is one that blends perfectly into a living space,” says Karen Smith, brand communication coordinator for Stanley, NC-based Blum, Inc.

“Consumers also love products that are completely concealed within a cabinet or door,” says Karen Armour, functional hardware category manager at Häfele America Co.

Peele adds, “Pop-up power outlets are a very popular alternative to wall duplexes that tend to interrupt the flow of a beautiful backsplash. They are great because they hide away into the countertop when not in use and can be installed anywhere, wherever power is needed.”

Sheets notes that consumers want a clean look in the kitchen and bath. Slim, long decorative hardware without ornate detail is what they gravitate toward, he says. “Consumers want [hardware] to blend in with their cabinetry rather than contrasting with the cabinets. It’s become more of a subtle accent in today’s kitchen and bath spaces.” 

Yves Savignac, marketing director at Richelieu in Montreal, Canada agrees that some consumers are looking for contemporary hardware with crisply defined lines that will easily blend in with a design rather than stand out. “Deco hardware in the contemporary kitchen area is integrated into the door and tends to disappear as if there isn’t any, but it is still there,” he explains.

Decorative Details

Decorative hardware trends vary more widely than those in functional hardware due to the personal taste and style of homeowners. “Some people are looking for pieces to stand out with more attention to details, such as having very textured pulls and knobs,” Savignac says. “Decorative hardware is the finishing touch to all designs,” he adds. “Each piece has the function of protecting the finish of the cabinetry as well as enhancing the user experience either with its visual impact or simply by allowing for a comfortable grip to make the opening of a cabinet or drawer a pleasure.”

Zhang maintains, “Hardware is more of a design statement than ever before; it’s more common to see designers going toward the extremes, using either larger or minimal trims.” He adds that there is freedom to mix and match styles, mixing finishes and details that coordinate with lighting and plumbing design trends.

Hauser says designs are incorporating both large and small decorative hardware, such as D-Pulls with a 6mm diameter or large stainless steel handles with knurling or Art Deco-inspired patterns.

Stephanie Lowe, product manager – decorative products at Hardware Resources in Bossier City, LA says that using all pulls in a kitchen can add to the design aesthetic, particularly in smaller spaces. “Pulls mounted vertically on doors add height, and longer pulls fitting the width of the drawer help give the illusion the cabinets are larger than they are compared to breaking up the line with two separate pulls on a wide drawer,” she says.

Coordinated finish

Hardware finishes, particularly on the decorative side, convey a sense of the homeowner’s style. That makes the choice very personal. With the wide variety of finishes on the market, designers can help their clients find the specific look they desire.

Although finish choices vary widely, manufacturers see a trend toward coordinating pieces with other elements in the kitchen, and in the home as a whole.

Zhang says that cohesive hardware suites are showing up throughout the entire household. “Entry matches the interior sets, matches the cabinet hardware, matches the accessories,” he says.

Peele sees decorative hardware, especially drawer pulls, taking on a more consistent theme. “A recent interior design trend we loved involved mixing metals to create some really interesting blends and finishes for a varied palate, but now we’re seeing more consistency in matching styles and finishes throughout,” he says.

“Hardware is a decision that is becoming more important to the homeowner as well as builders, architects and interior designers,” states Nakamura. “It is being used to tie together all spaces throughout the home, especially in the kitchen and bathroom.” He also cites continued demand for satin and polished silver finishes that match stainless steel appliances.

Savignac adds, “The finishes are very important. From matte black to high-gloss chrome, golden champagne hues, brasses and pinks, more vivid colors [are being offered to] coordinate with the new kitchen appliances.”

Darker, warmer tones

Tried and true finishes like satin nickel and stainless steel are still popular, but manufacturers are currently seeing a trend toward warmer finishes and darker colors as well.

“Black gives an industrial feel to the design with a serious tone and is typically pretty forgiving when it comes to fingerprints and blemishes,” Peele states. But that doesn’t mean the standards have fallen out of favor. “Stainless steel and satin nickel are always a home run on any surface, too. What’s so unique about these highly versatile finishes is they encompass both a classic, traditional look and a modern, contemporary style all at once for a truly timeless blend.”

“Satin nickel is still like the little black dress…it goes with everything,” agrees Lowe. “We’re seeing a drop in the traditional brushed oil-rubbed bronze finish with customers opting for the darker, more sleek finish of matte black, or the slightly rustic, mimicking vintage gun metal,” she says. “The gold tones are also a draw for consumers,” she adds.

Sheets concurs that matte blacks are coming on strong. Grey cabinetry also means that graphites and dark greys are rising in popularity, he notes. And white cabinetry, which is still in high demand,
is being paired with soft gold or brass knobs, handles or pulls, he says. “Brown finishes such as oil-rubbed bronze tend to be darker in tone,” he adds.

The preference for black is often driven by that desire to conceal hardware and offer a blended look. “Matte black finishes, specifically, are becoming popular as they provide a more modern appearance that blends into cabinets, furniture and the like,” says Nakumara.

Darker tones aren’t just showing up on the decorative side. “In functional hardware, we are seeing products offered in a darker finish,” says Jan Fitzpatrick, customer & market relations manager at Kernersville, NC-based Grass America Inc. “We call it Night. This is to better blend with the cabinetry. This has become more popular in the furniture-style cabinetry that serves in areas other than the kitchen.”

Accommodating storage needs

Homeowners want to use every inch of available space for their storage needs. Organization is key, and hardware that allows for easy access to stored items is important.

“As housing designs become more compact and consumers continue to purchase more and more things that need to be stored, the use of space is becoming even more important,” Nakamura says. “Therefore, we are seeing a lot of growth in demand for drawer organizers, pull-out shelving, undermounted drawer slides and especially unique door opening functions to allow access and provide maximum usage for space.”

Sliding door systems are becoming more popular as a way to hide accessories, outlets and more, says Savignac.

“Organization is taking over in functional hardware. Any space that is wasted is considered an unnecessary evil. Kitchen manufacturers are paying more attention to creating the right size cabinetry, manufacturers are paying attention to storage accessories and homeowners are paying attention to storage solutions that will utilize their space,” says Fitzpatrick. “Roll-out drawers are still a very popular item, with accessories that meet most every need.”

“Design shouldn’t stop with layout and finish choices,” believes Smith. “Customized storage is a trend that’s seemingly here to stay. You can make drawers work harder with organizational systems.”

Easy to operate

Functional hardware such as hinges and door slides might go unseen, but their presence is central to efficiency and ease of use. User experience is even more important than how the room looks.

“Choosing the right hardware can be the difference between a kitchen you love to look at and a kitchen you love to use,” says Smith.

“A kitchen can be beautiful on the outside, but the inside is what makes a homeowner’s lifer easier,” adds Fitzpatrick. “Homeowners want drawers that are easy to open and close in a soft, gliding motion. They want full-extension drawers with full access to their drawer contents and to not lose items in the back space that cannot be reached. They are tired of their cabinet doors slamming; they want a gentle close.” Touch-to-open solutions are gaining in popularity, and not just for waste bins, she adds. “The newer streamlined look lends itself to touch-to-open door hinges and drawer systems.”

Lifter systems, which offer quick, easy access to interiors, are worth a mention as well, Fitzpatrick says. “In one smooth motion, doors lift up, providing full exposure to the cabinet contents. Depending on the type of lifter used, one can accommodate a variety of door sizes and weights.”

“I believe that the real innovation is in a company’s ability to incorporate Universal Design into the function of hardware so that it provides enhanced ergonomics and easier access for people,” states Nakamura. Lateral door opening systems and hinges that incorporate “lift assist” are good examples, he notes. “Companies are starting to introduce electronics into hardware; sensors to automatically open drawers or cabinets, for example, are some of the latest developments.”

“Innovation is in constant motion to bring about new ways for hardware to facilitate the lives of the people who use them,” states Savignac. The trend toward home automation may have a significant impact on decorative and functional hardware. “These innovations and more are on the rise. Hands-free opening systems will facilitate how homeowners open their cabinet doors. Stay tuned for more to come!” Savignac says. ▪

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