Form Meets Function
When it comes to hardware, consumers are demanding both form
and function that meet their increasingly specific needs, say
BY BARBARA CAPELLA LOEHR
Optimum functionality and personalized style are the name of the
game when it comes to decorative and functional hardware these
Consumers want hardware that allows them full access to every
drawer and cabinet in the kitchen and bath, as they continue to use
every inch of storage space to better organize their lives. And, to
adorn their super-organized cabinetry, they want hardware that
offers a decorative look that mirrors their personalities and makes
an aesthetic statement while still blending with the overall style
of the room.
That’s the word from manufacturers recently interviewed by
Kitchen & Bath Design News.
The Look, the Feel
Although hardware choices vary widely based on consumers’ style
preferences, there are still a few noteworthy trends.
“More and more people are using decorative hardware to
accentuate their kitchens and create a unique design statement,”
believes Bill Payne, sales/operations manager for TFI/Avante
Hardware, in Chico, CA.
He notes that, “Customers are moving away from simple designs
such as a ‘brass mushroom knob,’ to more ornate designs and
finishes,” and he believes the availability of more cabinet
finishes, decorative options, design and material selections have
contributed to this trend.
Meanwhile, Patsy Nickum, co-owner of Rocky Mountain Hardware in
Hailey, ID, believes “People are paying more attention to the
details in their homes these days. [To that end], hardware is not
just a functional piece, but an integral part of home decor.”
“Consumers are looking for a ‘wow’ factor, a point of difference
in hardware and other accents which go for the unexpected to make
their homes striking,” adds Ann Marchetti, product
manager/decorative hardware for Amerock Corp., Rockford, IL.
There’s “an increased desire for hardware that is low
maintenance and offers lasting durability,” she states.
“Decorative hardware is really reflective of personal tastes
So, we’re actually not showing huge numbers to say there is one
trend. It depends on what part of the country and what market
you’re selling to,” notes Donna Flack, marketing manager/OEM
division for Liberty Hardware Mfg. Corp., in Winston-Salem, NC.
“Texture seems to be a big trend. So much of the style now is
Old World, Tuscany and Mediterranean that the natural material of
ceramic is a natural. Shape and style are varied depending on the
mood the client is looking to create. I see many people actually
starting with the hardware first,” says Susan Zimmerman, owner of
Nifty Nobs, in Urbandale, IA.
Even a few companies who have traditionally been known for their
functional hardware products have thrown their hats into decorative
hardware ring. For example, “Grass America offers a line of
decorative hardware that complements our Alu-Style aluminum frame
line,” says Tom Reinbold, director of marketing for Grass America
Inc., in Kernersville, NC.
And, functional hardware stalwarts Häfele America Co.,
based in Archdale, NC, and Hettich America L.P., located in
Alpharetta, GA, have joined the decorative hardware ranks.
“We are seeing a lot of stainless steel, a lot of specialty
items,” notes Mike Gambill, Hettich’s director of marketing for
North and Central America. Hettich offers more than 1,100 pieces of
decorative hardware in its ProDecor line.
Meanwhile, Greg Sheets, Häfele’s product manager, believes
the lines between decorative and functional hardware are blurring,
which makes it important for functional hardware manufacturers to
offer decorative choices.
Decorative hardware looks that fit traditional styles and that
complement contemporary styles are both hot now, note
Consumers will always demand traditional styles, but more
whimsical designs, transitional looks and contemporary styles have
made headway over the past several years, and will continue to do
so, as consumers’ design taste continues to broaden, say
“I think the demand for traditional and contemporary hardware
will remain fairly stable or equal within the kitchen realm.
Typically, the design look is either one or the other. However,
casegood manufacturers and commercial builders seem to be focusing
on the more modern looks and finishes. I believe that this trend
will continue,” says Payne.
“Again, whimsical is still one of our strong points, although we
are doing more and more kitchens and baths with our newer
sophisticated shapes,” adds Zimmerman.
Marchetti notes a rise in nature-inspired designs. “Many of our
newest designs pick up on elements of nature,” she explains.
However, while Marchetti feels contemporary styles are
continuing to grow in share, the predominant market drivers
continue to be traditional styles. “Perhaps the one point of
difference is that the traditional styles we’re seeing today are
more sophisticated, more ‘designed’ in the sense that they create
their own new looks, not merely reflect period styling of another
era,” she says.
“The style of hardware chosen depends largely on consumers’
personal style. That means we are doing a little of everything.
We’re still doing a lot of rustic looks and iron-forged hardware,
and doing a lot of ceramics because there are people looking for
bold color. Whimsical looks are still in, as well,” believes Flack.
“Really the trend is, ‘Have it your way,’ like the old Burger King
commercials told consumers…I think what is being done is that
manufacturers are trying to appease everybody’s tastes.”
Finishes for decorative hardware vary depending on the style of
hardware and the overall interior design. However, metallic
finishes are hot now, say manufacturers.
“Antique nickel and satin nickel finishes are definitely among
our most popular finishes,” says Marchetti. “These neutral finishes
go well with a liberal use of stainless steel and chrome in kitchen
appliances and faucets. Nickel hardware finishes also work nicely
on most wood tones.”
“We see that stainless steel is still very popular. This stems
from the fact that consumers tend to want the decorative hardware
to complement or match the stainless steel appliances and accents,
which are so popular,” says Sheets. “This is not to say that the
hardware has to be real stainless steel. Often people will accept
steel, zinc or brass that is nickel-plated and brushed to give it
the look of stainless Other popular, more traditional finishes
include various interpretations of pewters or rustic silvers.
“Another rustic finish growing in popularity is oil-rubbed
bronze. This is a rich, dark bronze finish, which is being seen
more often on kitchen fixtures/faucets and decorative hardware,” he
“People have been definitely moving away from the simplistic
designs and standard brass finishes, and are embracing more unique
designs and finishes,” believes Payne.
At the same time, Nickum is seeing more hand-made hardware looks
with more living texture. “We’ve found the lacquered, powder-coated
and polished brass finishes are being replaced by a more organic
look and feel,” she says.
However, hardware is not just about aesthetics anymore. Consumers
are more educated about the functionality of hardware, say
Overall, “The prominent trend we see in functional hardware is
the increase of function in each product line,” says Doug Edgerton,
director of sales and marketing for Ferrari America, in High Point,
Edgerton feels functional hardware improvements are driven by the
input of hardware manufacturers, cabinetmakers and consumers alike.
“In the years to come, we see a continuation of functional
improvements that will be become more refined aesthetically,” he
“You’ve got to be able to organize your cabinetry, and make it
still look good,” concurs Phil Sheridan, director of kitchen and
bath sales/OEM for Knape & Vogt Mfg. Co., in Grand Rapids,
That’s why he believes the biggest movement in functional
hardware materials has been from plastic to wood and chrome,
thereby giving way to a more refined appearance.
“But, overall, people want function Looks that are barely
functional are not in vogue,” notes Sheridan.
This is especially true for Baby Boomers, who want function,
organization and accessibility from their hardware choices, he
“I believe we are quickly evolving toward even more
multi-functional solutions, [as] population dynamics tell us that
the Baby Boomers are heading toward retirement age, and hardware
solutions for these needs will become ever increasing,” notes Kevin
Aronhalt, Häfele’s product and marketing manager/kitchen,
bath, closet and lighting.
According to Hettich’s Gambill, functional hardware is now all
about full extension and full accessibility, as well as
accommodating drawer capacities of up to 150 pounds to allow for
the storage of pots, pans and food stuffs.
“[Consumers] need to have full accessibility to the full
contents of the drawers,” says Gambill. “Space utilization is a key
driver now.” He also sees quiet closing mechanisms gaining in
popularity, and cites Hettich’s new self-closing mechanism, the
Silent System, as an example.
“For hinges, the cam adjustment is a primary feature. For
slides, a quiet ride, ease of installation and the new shock
absorbers that pulls the drawer shut, giving it a soft, quiet close
are key,” says Grass’ Reinbold.
In line with these functional hardware trends, “The newest item
that we are introducing to our hardware products is a function we
call BLUMOTION, [an improved] self-closing feature By using an
additional mechanism we are able to slow down the closing rate so
the door or drawer doesn’t slam. This is a hydraulic device that
will be incorporated into our TANDEM runners, TANDEMBOX drawer
system and a plunger that will be used to control doors that mounts
to the cabinet frame,” notes Marte Yerkins, marketing and
communications manager for Julius Blum, Inc., in Stanley, NC.
Just as manufacturers feel it is important to anticipate the
ever-growing list of consumers’ functional needs, it is equally
important to offer easy-to-install products.
Indeed, “Cabinetmakers are looking for hardware that is easy to
assemble, simple for the installer to adjust and flawless in its
performance,” concurs Reinbold.
“Ease of installation is what everyone is striving for,” agrees
Edgerton. “A hinge or slide that has multiple functions must be
user-friendly at the factory and the home.”
“We think ease of installation is an important factor in selling
our products. You can have the best product and the best price in
the world, but if the person doing the construction can’t install
it easily, then we haven’t done our job,” says Gambill.
Another factor that has had an impact on functional hardware is
the growth of entertainment centers and home offices, say some
In Aronhalt’s view, the home office and entertainment center
markets have significantly impacted the functional hardware market.
Why? “[Because] the multi-function concept impacting designs and
solutions within this arena are due to the kitchen becoming more of
a multi-task center for families. It is becoming increasingly more
common to see kitchen designs incorporating a desk, computer, TVs,
music, etc., and these [bring forth] new needs and [require new]
solutions,” says Aronhalt.
“Drawer slides must [also] integrate into office applications
and adapt to filing and storage systems, central locking devices
and anti-tilt mechanisms. Products must be designed to fit these
systems,” stresses Reinbold.
Peering into their crystal balls, manufacturers believe functional
hardware technology will take a detailed turn, allowing them to
create more precise hardware options in the future. They also
believe technology that allows users to open and close doors and
drawers quietly and easily is the wave of the future.
Reinbold believes that noiseless, self-closing mechanisms are
the new technology that will change the functional hardware arena.
Meanwhile, Edgerton sees hinge technology becoming more
As for decorative hardware, manufacturers believe no matter what
the style, personalization is paramount. But, they do feel that
metallic finishes, contemporary styling and traditional looks that
go beyond period styling will continue to grow in popularity.