authors Elizabeth Richards | December 2, 2019
When planning a kitchen or bath space, paying close attention to the hardware can help to create a unified feel, coordinating with appliances, cabinets, countertops and other elements.
Decorative hardware can bring a design together, adding just the right finishing touch and a sense of the homeowner’s personality to the space. Functional hardware is essential in creating a well-organized, easy-to-use space.
“Hardware can be a big differentiator in home design. It’s often easy for people to look at hardware from a purely functional standpoint, but a well-thought-out approach to hardware can make a big difference in a room,” says Beth Basch, marketing and public relations manager at Stone Harbor Hardware in Appleton, WI. “Using hardware that coordinates with the lighting or plumbing fixtures can help bring a design together, adding a cohesive feeling to a room. Bold hardware pieces – which could be anything from large pulls to sparkling crystal knobs – can make a statement and bring a special, personalized touch to the home.”
There are many factors to consider when selecting hardware. “Hardware is the interface between user and furniture/cabinet,” says J. Ulrich Hauser, CEO at Schwinn Hardware, Inc. in Scottsdale AZ. He says hardware needs to incorporate many important aspects: It needs to be intuitive, hygienic, durable, climate appropriate and universal in design. Hardware also needs to feel good to the touch, he adds. That’s a tall order to fill, which makes careful selection even more important.
“The decorative hardware is a game changer when used properly,” notes Véronique Romaniuk, marketing coordinator – Showrooms & Communications at Richelieu, based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. “It creates a statement, an emotion, a revelation of style…and it can change the value perception of a piece of furniture or an entire space. Decorative hardware is an integral part of the overall design of a piece of furniture or a space, as it brings together the vision behind the design and anchors it within the grander scheme. You can change the look and feel of a concept by simply changing the hardware. Whether the hardware is enhancing or complementing a design, with so many choices, the options are limitless.”
Function is equally important. Jan Fitzpatrick, customer and market relations manager at Kernersville, NC-based Grass America Inc. says, “High-performing hinges and drawer slides are critical to the functionality of the cabinetry. To promote quality of life, a homeowner [needs] things to be easy, with full-extension drawers for total drawer access, soft-closing cabinets that don’t ‘bang’ shut and drawers that glide closed with a slight push.”
Hardware trends are moving toward custom, personalized solutions, as well as a sleek, minimalistic style on the decorative side. Longer drawer pulls are on the rise, and finishes across the full spectrum – from white to greys to black – are in demand. Electronic components that make cabinets easier to open and close are increasingly desired. While variety is key, hardware styles are leaning decidedly toward transitional or modern design. This is all according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Design Bath News.
Transitional and modern designs that feature sleek, clean lines are currently favored over heavy traditional, ornate designs. “Anything that lends to the simplification of the visual lines seems to be preferable in the current market,” says Jamie Gregg, CEO at Colonial Bronze Co. in Torrington, CT. “Sleek, simple, yet elegant shapes are dominant, especially ones that are not only beautiful, but ergonomic,” he adds.
“Consumers are shifting their tastes away from traditional pieces and opting for contemporary or modern handles, knobs and pulls,” says Karen Armour, Functional Hardware Category manager at Häfele America Co., based in Archdale, NC.
“Minimalistic and Modern are two of the biggest buzzwords,” says Dee Maher, National Dealer Group manager for Kessebohmer, located in Wilmington, NC. “Designers are following European trends and either doing away with decorative hardware or utilizing decorative hardware that makes less of a statement and are more-so accent pieces that create a holistic design,” she adds.
Greg Sheets, Decorative Hardware Category manager at Häfele America Co. says that long, slim decorative hardware is a consumer favorite. “It allows for easy grasping while still being aesthetically pleasing. In lieu of pulls, edge profiles are becoming increasingly popular,” he adds, noting that, “These aluminum profiles are applied to the top edge of the cabinet for easy grasping as well as less wear and tear on the cabinets.”
Gregg also sees trends leaning toward longer pulls, driven by increased use of wider drawers. “In the past, if a drawer was wide, the only choices were to double up on the handles – one left and one right. It never did look quite right. With the advent of longer handles, however, the large-scale drawers really look better with a longer handle more to scale with the size of the drawer.”
With the design of decorative hardware constantly evolving, Romaniuk sees new trends constantly arising. Currently, these include “vintage” reproductions that evoke different eras, some in original form and some with contemporary touches; “glamour” finishes like crystal and Murano glass or gold and silver; “modern farmhouse” with black on rustic and industrial styles or patinaed finishes with traditional materials, and “bohemian” using unconventional shapes and an artistic “hand-crafted” look for finish, among others.
Basch agrees that the demand for contemporary finishes and crisp, linear shapes continues to grow, but also says trends vary by style. “In some cases – especially with modern, European-inspired designs – consumers tend to want sleek, minimalistic hardware that isn’t distracting or overpowering. In more transitional or rustic settings, consumers seem to prefer larger, more rustic pieces that can hold their own against the various textures and finishes in the design,” she states. “As a manufacturer, it’s important for us to provide hardware in a variety of styles, sizes and finishes so consumers can create a look that’s perfectly suited to their tastes.”
Fitzpatrick notes, “Functional hardware that is less noticeable in the cabinetry is playing a new role in hardware.”
Sometimes, this desire for minimalism means less hardware on the outside of cabinets and drawers. “Since consumers are gravitating toward a more minimalistic look with their kitchens, we are seeing a shift toward cabinets and drawers that do not include any types of handles or pulls,” says Karen Smith, brand communication coordinator at Blum, Inc., based in Stanley, NC.
Hardware is increasingly used to enhance overall design as well as create kitchens that look – and work – exactly as the consumer wishes. That means that the ability to customize is important for both decorative and functional hardware.
“Consumers want options that allow them to create a custom look for their homes,” says Basch. “They may get ideas from influencers on Instagram and Pinterest, but they want to create a space that conveys their own personal style and taste.”
Custom cabinetry drives the need for customized hardware, as well, Gregg believes. When a cabinet has been designed to fit a specific space, it can end up fabricated in unusual dimensions, he says. This creates demand for handles that will fit the customized space.
“Because our customers are demanding customized solutions, we are getting calls for an incredible range of both center-to-center and overall length modifications,” Gregg notes.
Comfortable, Convenient, Easy Access
On the functional side, hardware that makes access more convenient and allows for use of all the space inside cabinets and drawers is important.
“Choosing the right cabinet hardware can make or break a space,” says Smith. “Choosing full-extension drawer slides for base cabinets, for example, makes finding items easier, without consumers having to get down on their hands and knees and dig through layers of items to find what they’re looking for – ultimately saving time and effort. Planning wide upper cabinets with lift-up doors makes things easy when unloading a dishwasher or preparing a meal, so you’re not constantly dodging doors having to duck your head.”
Armour agrees that accessibility is key. “Functional hardware gives full accessibility, allowing the contents to come out to the user. Ease of accessibility also allows for aging in place, which is now often top-of-mind with today’s consumers,” she says.
Drawers must hold up to the demands of modern users as well. Armour notes, “Consumers today have more things to store, which has pushed manufacturers to increase drawer slides’ load-bearing capacity.”
“Homeowners are creating the demand for more convenience hardware/interior storage in their new kitchens in order to stay organized, as well as to create easy access to all of their cooking tools and ingredients,” says Maher. “Empty cabinets are becoming a thing of the past as we see more pull-outs, spice racks and drawer organization. Pull-down shelving for wall cabinets is also on the rise.”
Interiors, and the hardware that allows for access to these interiors, are becoming increasingly important to design. “Greater attention is being paid, not only to the blended look of the cabinet finish, countertop and decorative hardware, but to the interior contents of a cabinet or drawer,” says Fitzpatrick. “Utilization of space within the cabinetry is a key issue for kitchen designers today. It’s a toss-up of which is worse, unnecessary waste of space with the standard shelf and drawer setup, available space that is too small for some of the larger items, or [being] too big to properly organize the contents. When cabinet and drawer space is wasted, consumers feel they have not used their money wisely. Homeowners are keen on looking for smart storage solutions within the cabinetry, from drawer dividers to roll-out trays to waste bin options.”
Manufacturers cite a surge in less reflective, matte finishes. Black, white and many shades of grey are popular choices, along with softer shades of other finishes.
“All black or dark grey finish options, whether polished or brushed, are on the rise, as are finishes in satin gold, copper and bronze,” says Romaniuk. “White is making a statement, gaining in popularity as more designs become available to accent cabinetry color trends. The most popular finish and material remain the brushed nickel applied on zinc or steel,” she adds.
Maher notes, “The trends in finish and color are leaning toward the industrial look, with a strong trend toward anthracite grey for interior storage. The trending style coordinates with the darker cabinet interiors that we’re seeing, along with the popularity of grey, and now black, as an overall color in cabinetry, countertops and appliances.”
“White is highly sought after, even more so than silver grey or graphite,” maintains Armour. “Drawer slides are smooth, glossy, sleek and clean looking – they don’t have texture to them.”
Many manufacturers mention matte black as a finish that has taken off. “Matte black continues to be our fastest-growing finish,” says Basch. “It’s a versatile finish that complements many styles, from modern to rustic.”
She is also starting to see interest in pewter, gunmetal or black stainless finishes. “It’s likely that these finishes will continue to grow in popularity, especially as more appliances are available in the black stainless finish,” she notes.
Sheets cites matte black and brushed or matte gold/brass as popular decorative hardware finish choices. He also says there are materials like metal, acrylic, glass and leather being incorporated into hardware pieces.
Gregg sees a surge in softer, less reflective finishes. “Matte black came on strong, and is still strong,” he says.
Hauser points to a desire for authentic designs and authentic materials, such as leather and real glass, rather than acrylic. While stainless steel is still the most popular finish, he sees this declining.
Gregg says that brass is still a top material due to its versatility. Zinc also has a place, but doesn’t convey the same heft and quality, he believes. “We occasionally see requests for materials such as tile or stone, but the difficulty in working with such rigid materials with little geometric adaptability limits the depth of the penetration. Stone has the other limitation of maintaining a consistent coloration,” he adds.
Some manufacturers say technology is having an impact on hardware, especially when it comes to how cabinets and drawers open and close.
“Touch-to-open technology can be a game-changer for the aging-in-place population,” says Smith. “Arthritic hands can make it tough to grasp a knob or pull to open a cabinet. With electronic-assisted opening, users can simply press the front of the cabinet and have it open for them.”
Maher says electronic components give designers an option; they can choose convenience hardware over decorative hardware for a clean, sleek look. In fact, these components can allow the user to open and close cabinets without ever touching them.
Basch believes developments in technology have more people wanting to incorporate smart technology into their homes. Currently, this is most noticeable in door looks and home automation devices, she says. “While cabinet knobs and pulls don’t fall into the ‘smart’ category, it’s still important for consumers to have hardware that coordinates well with their electronic door locks and touchless faucets.”
Not all manufacturers believe electronic components are impacting trends, however. Armour, says, “While electronic may sound better, mechanical solutions work faster, are more reliable, less expensive, easier to install and you don’t have to mess around with running wires or bear any additional installation expense.” ▪