Hardware is the finishing touch in a room design; it’s what pulls the space together, both aesthetically and functionally. Decorative hardware adds personality and helps create a cohesive design. On the functional side, the way the hardware works is crucial to efficiency and utility of drawers and doors.
“Hardware can play a vital role in design and is certainly not limited to complementary or utilitarian function,” says Billy Peele, marketing/PR representative for Doug Mockett & Co. Inc. in Torrance, CA. “In many ways, it can act as the catalyst for the entire overall aesthetic. Simple adjustments to the accents can shift the entire feel of the design. The details are much more important than they appear,” he says.
Though decorative elements are more visible, the slides and hinges that control motion on doors and drawers are just as important to consider. “Functional hardware plays a crucial role when designing; the quality of the hardware used will determine how beneficial the kitchen or bath proves to be years down the road,” says Debbie Cannon, marketing services and communications manager for Blum Inc. in Stanley, NC.
Jan Fitzpatrick, customer & market relations manager for Grass America Inc., based in Kernersville, NC says, “Homeowners are demanding a high level of functionality in their hardware: a smooth gliding action, higher weight-carrying capacities, adjustment features a consumer understands, soft-closing action on doors and drawers and, of course, a finish that will complement the cabinetry itself.”
Manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News say top trends include sleek designs, slimmer profiles, interesting combinations of materials and finishes and products that provide easy access and high functionality.
“Hardware is not only functional, but also a decorative element that can accentuate a designer’s composition with cohesion or visual contrast,” says William Zhang, creative director – industrial design for Emtek Products Inc. in City of Industry, CA. Decorative hardware can set the tone for a room, evoking a sense of style and personality unique to the individual homeowner.
Amy Tagle, senior product manager, decorative hardware at Liberty Hardware Manufacturing Corp., based in Winston-Salem, NC says consumers have really embraced the concept that hardware acts as the perfect finishing touch for a room. “We have really seen huge growth in higher-end crystal knobs on bathroom vanities, and these pieces really help create a style statement. In kitchens, matching the hardware to appliances or lighting fixtures really gives the room that seamless, polished look,” she says. At Liberty, the firm continues to see luxury materials, like crystal, leather and marble enter the marketplace. “These materials are trends to watch in 2016,” she says.
In functional accessories, there is a surge in items that have a customized use, says Shari McPeek, marketing manager at Rev-A-Shelf, LLC in Jeffersontown, KY, such as storage designed specifically to hold food storage containers, or designed for use in a beverage center. “It seems people are starting to really look inside the cabinet at trouble areas and are requesting specific fixes,” she says.
Rather than a clear move toward one particular style, manufacturers see a desire for blended styles that maintain a sleek and clean design.
“In terms of decorative hardware trends, transitional styles are taking the top spot, but we are seeing more and more modern/minimalistic looks selling well,” says Christine Zimmer, product manager at Top Knobs in Hillsborough, NJ.
Pulls and hinges play a large role in the overall design of the kitchen and bath, says McPeek. “You can have a more traditional kitchen but, by adding a sleeker, streamlined pull, you automatically can give the design a modern look,” she notes. “When thinking of a design and the hardware, I look at it as the ‘little black dress.’ It is the same dress, but when you select different accessories or hardware, you can change it from conservative to edgy.”
Mixing materials is a great way to create balance, says Peele, especially with design trends favoring open floor plans, minimalist design and a mix of modern and traditional styling to create a more warm and comfortable space. “Natural stone and textured materials, quartz countertops and a complementary blend of wood and metal are all key elements of this modern traditional look. Wood and metal paired together gives a very classic look, and thus lends itself to incorporating traditional hardware in classic metallic finishes.”
Mihai Subran, product manager for decorative hardware at Richelieu in Montreal, Canada says that a timeless blend or transitional look featuring updated classic pulls with modest detailing is in demand. Designs are neither too modern nor too classic, he says, but a perfect blend of both. Combinations of materials – metals with stone, wood, glass, concrete, acrylic or leather – are also showing up, he adds.
Functional hardware may be tucked inside a cabinet, but the desire for a clean, sleek look isn’t reserved for the decorative market. Karen Armour, functional hardware product manager for Häfele America Co., based in Archdale, NC says, “There’s a push to make the inside of the cabinet as beautiful as the outside.”
A trend toward cabinetry with a furniture look also impacts the hardware needs. Fitzpatrick adds, “The new furniture cabinetry look with simpler lines lends itself very well to the sleek, sharp design of functional hardware.”
The streamlined look has an impact on the size of hardware as well, and many manufacturers say that hardware design is trim and neat. “Hardware now tends to favor longer, slimmer designs rather than bulky or wide styles. These options follow the European trends and are not as hefty or substantial as past choices,” says Häfele Decorative Hardware Product Manager Greg Sheets.
Design demands cover a wide spectrum, says Cannon, and Blum is seeing growth in the larger sizes. “These larger pulls are great for appliance cabinets, but also offer ergonomic benefits,” she states.
Zimmer adds that handles are moving toward a longer length to accommodate wider base cabinets for a seamless look.
Subran agrees. “The dimensions of the doors and drawers increased and triggered the increase of pull sizes,” he says. “We encounter oversized pulls or appliance pulls in many new collections.”
But Peele believes that pulls and handles are moving toward smaller, low-profile designs. “With a minimalist style in mind for the overall design, tab pulls or continuous pulls that mount to the top of the drawer and essentially hide away into the design are very effective,” he says. “Otherwise, small unobtrusive handles with simple, clean-lined designs can settle into the face of the cabinetry and complement the finish.”
Zhang says that both large and small have their place. “Different types of hardware offer their own unique functionality. Some might be satisfied with the visual appeal of a small cabinet knob, but longer pulls offer better grip for large cabinets,” he says.
Elements of Style
Selecting decorative hardware for a space is like choosing the right scarf or shoes to dress up an outfit. The choice is going to be different for every person, and ultimately makes a statement about the homeowner’s personal sense of style.
“Cabinet hardware is the dressing on a kitchen design,” says Zimmer. “It is the accessory that completes the look.” In finishes, she notes, the choice is brass all the way. Whether polished, brushed or unlacquered, brass is what designers and clients are asking for, she maintains.
Tagle says anything goes in finishes and materials. One of the big trends is a reemergence of finishes from past decades, she notes. “While brushed nickel continues to be the most popular, more consumers are experimenting with both mixed finishes and new warm finishes,” she points out. She agrees that brass continues to grow in higher-end kitchens and bathrooms, but says it’s a rich, brushed brass rather than the yellow sheen of brass in the 1980s. “Today’s brass is ‘not your grandma’s brass,’ as it has a look that is very upscale and pairs wonderfully with rich, charcoal grey cabinetry,” she states.
Decorative hardware can change the aesthetic of cabinets and drawers, adding both personality and style to the kitchen or bath, says Sheets. “Traditionally designed woodwork coupled with the latest hardware can give you a unique, transitional look,” he notes. In finishes, he adds, designers and clients are mainly asking for stainless steel, and brushed and satin nickel, while oil-rubbed bronze continues to hold its own.
Peele sees designers moving away from brass and antique finishes, favoring more traditional brushed or satin nickel looks, as well as satin chrome and stainless steel. “Frankly, these finishes never go out of style since they have a universal appeal on any surface, but there looks to be an even bigger push to go back to basics right now,” he says.
Subran points out several smaller trends that are emerging, including a “glamorous” look with shiny materials, crystals, gold, silver or Murano glass; a rustic look that combines rough elements and aged materials with very modern ideas, and designs inspired by nature. Finishes are varied, he says, from grey tones to bronzes to bold, bright colors and revivals of antique finishes applied on contemporary handles.
Easy Access & Electronics
Functional hardware must be designed to make doors and drawers perform effortlessly, manufacturers agree. “Easy access is imperative and technology drives that,” says Fitzpatrick. “The type of hardware that one chooses for their kitchens and baths can make all the difference in how efficient the space is.” With the functional hardware of today, lifter systems, pull-out shelving and accessories, electronic drawers and soft-closing hinges, the design possibilities are endless, she notes. “Functional hardware no longer limits creative cabinetry design. There is hardware for every application.”
The goal of these easy access products is to make working in the kitchen quieter, more convenient and more ergonomic, says Cannon. “A new product from Blum, TIP-ON BLUMOTION for LEGRABOX, combines the easy opening and the soft closing into one drawer slide – all without the need for electricity,” she says.
McPeek adds, “Kitchen accessories that feature slides make the kitchen/bath function more efficiently by bringing the items to one’s fingertips. The more accessible you can make a kitchen or bathroom, the more efficient using the space becomes.”
“Although [it is] most often out of sight, functional hardware brings the product out and makes the contents of a drawer or cabinet fully and easily accessible. It’s much more efficient than having to sit on the floor and rummage through the recesses of a deep, dark cabinet,” says Armour. In base cabinets, she notes, deep, wide drawers with heavy-duty slides are more often used than doors. And, the upper cabinets are moving to lift-up fittings or slide options for easier access, she adds.
Touch-to-open technology, both mechanical and electronic, is on the rise, allowing for simple opening of spaces despite full hands. And, soft-close options are becoming standard design.
“With functional hardware, soft-close features are becoming almost mandatory on all products now. It’s less something that’s asked for and more of something that is expected,” says Travis McElveen, product manager/functional hardware for Hardware Resources in Bossier City, LA.
McPeek agrees. “Soft close is really becoming more of a staple of accessories versus just a want,” she says.
The popularity of these features impacts not only functional hardware, but also the decorative elements. “Touch-to-open or electronic close components make the use of decorative hardware more strategic,” says Sheets. “The popularity of sleeker designs with more sliding door components means that more people are using mortise or recessed handles as opposed to protruding hardware that may hit adjacent doors or snag on something. And, as internal components become more varied, we’re seeing a need for pulls and handles that live behind cabinet or pantry doors.”
Zhang says that, with new technologies being applied to contemporary kitchen design, knobs and pulls are sometimes not showing up on the outside of cabinets. “We just have to stay on top of these trends and we are constantly developing and introducing new products for this reason,” he says.
Electronic hardware components can add to the overall function of the room, and move beyond door and drawer applications to address other needs as well.
“Beyond simple convenience, the addition of electronic components can offer some great security options,” states Armour. “For instance, electronic locking systems such as our Dialock line can secure cabinets containing cutlery or medicine cabinets,” she continues.
Peele adds that incorporating accessible power for charging mobile devices into the design is also important. “The trick is to hide the electrical components so as not to interfere with the minimalist design initiative. Pull-out drawers with power integration and flip-up and hideaway power grommets are an easy way to satisfy the user need without affecting the overall design. Wireless charging surfaces will also have a very influential impact on hardware design,” he concludes.