Style and Substance

by Ashley Lapin Olian
gold cabinet finish

Whether part of the functional structure that makes a drawer or door operate, or the final decorative feature, hardware is an essential component of the overall design story. It requires both style and substance, and the pieces selected are a clear representation of the homeowner’s unique personality.

Functionally, features that increase efficiency and ease of use are important. “Choosing the right hardware can be the difference between a kitchen you love to look at and a kitchen you love to use,” says Karen Smith, brand communication manager for Blum, Inc. based in Stanley, NC. “Choosing full-extension drawer runners for base cabinets makes finding items easier, saving time and effort.”

“Hardware provides the final finishing touch that ties together the overall design, and its importance cannot be overstated. These are the details that can take a great design and make it look stunning,” says Billy Peele, marketing representative for Doug Mockett & Co., Inc. in Manhattan Beach, CA. “Finding that perfect blend of complementary style and thoughtful, practical execution for functionality can make all the difference.”

Mihai Subran, decorative hardware product manager at Richelieu Hardware in Montreal, Quebec, Canada says that decorative hardware can change the value perception and design orientation of the furniture it adorns. “It can achieve several roles – it can create classy, elegant, unique, distinctive, extravagant or daring looks,” he says.

This versatility is a key factor in satisfying the demand for a range of looks to complement the design of the home and to allow homeowners to make their own uniquely personal statement.

“With open-concept living spaces, the kitchen is now more aligned with the overall style of the home, creating a need for cabinet hardware that coordinates with lighting and home accessories in these same finishes. As sleek and modern styles become more popular, the hardware finish is really important to make it pop off the cabinet,” says Michelle Zeller, chief marketing officer at Rockford, IL-based Amerock. “The era of matchy-matchy has officially ended,” she adds. “Today’s homeowners approach their interior as a space where they can express their individual preferences, aesthetics and style.”

A large overall trend in the kitchen and bath market is the move toward clean and simple lines, and modern design. Hardware is no exception. This focus on a crisp, clean look allows for a dual approach – designers can blend decorative hardware seamlessly into the overall look, or use functional hardware to get the job done – or both. Finishes are trending toward warmer tones and, regardless of the chosen style, products must work smoothly and efficiently to allow easy access to storage spaces, according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.


Pinpointing any specific material, size or style of hardware as the top trend is difficult due to the wide range of options available. This variety is important, manufacturers say, to keep up with an increasingly educated consumer base.

“Millennials are beginning to influence trends in cabinet hardware design due to their use of social media inspirational platforms like Pinterest and Instagram providing them access to international trends,” says Zeller. Not only are there requests for clean and contemporary European styles, but there is a pull toward updated retro styles like those in their Glacio Collection, which is a nod to vintage crystal door knobs. “The smooth glass reflects this timeless look, but moves it from traditional to transitional and even contemporary, depending on the overall design of the kitchen cabinetry.”

“Hardware helps to tell the story of the design; sometimes subtle and other times bold, it provides dimension and acts as the glue to hold all the pieces of the design together,” says Shari McPeek, marketing manager at Rev-A-Shelf, LLC in Jeffersontown, KY. Just what that design looks like varies widely. Some are looking for modern hardware featuring straight, clean lines in brushed steel, she says. Others choose a vintage look, mixing knob styles and choosing bold colors to add their own personal statement to the design. According to McPeek, the rustic look is also moving forward, particularly in smaller kitchens, with the handcrafted distressed look allowing hardware to stand out and add another visual dimension.


Diversity is vital when looking at hardware finishes. Stainless steel and satin nickel are longtime top choices, but warmer tones, black, and even a mixing of finishes are all on the rise.

“Brushed Satin Nickel and other silver tones have remained the most popular finish choices, but we’ve also seen strong growth in our warmer, gold tones and matte black finishes,” says Christine Zimmer, product manager/decorative products for Top Knobs in Hillsborough, NJ.

“Stainless Steel and Satin Nickel are still the safest play for most kitchens since they have a very natural feel and tend to settle into any color scheme with ease. They can also easily complement a compilation of mixed metals and materials,” says Peele. He adds that matte black is experiencing a surge in popularity, as it is able to both create a striking contrast against whites and neutrals, and settle into darker finishes.

Greg Sheets, decorative hardware product manager for Häfele America Co. in Archdale, NC, sees both brass and gold as popular, but notes that they don’t have the same look they always have. “The brass and gold knobs and pulls now have a satin or matte finish to give them a softer look. Matte black is also popular. Stainless steel continues to be popular and those who are moving away from zinc material prefer a solid brass or bronze material at a higher price point – they want the real thing,” he says.

Karen Armour, functional hardware product manager at Häfele, says a popular finish for hinges is titanium with a dark, bronze look that allows it to blend in with dark wood finishes on cabinets. “When it comes to metal drawer slides, white and gray are easily the top finishes,” she adds.

“Golden Champagne started solidifying as a new finish last year and continues on this year,” says Zeller. Matte black and polished nickel are also top choices, she notes, because they can blend well with stainless steel and matte black or black stainless steel appliances and faucets.

Subran adds, “We saw an explosion of new finishes the past three years but champagne bronze is leading, followed by a variety of golden tones, mostly satin or matte and some caramel shades of bronze.” Brushed nickel also dominates, and is followed by various shades of gray, such as satin chrome, pewter and charcoal, he says. And, he adds, “the rose gold and the colors of the ‘60s are popping again this year.”


Room designs are as varied as the homeowners they are created for, but recent years have seen a shift toward more modern elements and increasingly clean and simple lines. In hardware, that often means pieces designed to blend seamlessly with the surrounding elements, or using functional hardware to get the job done rather than adorning the front of cabinetry with knobs and pulls.

“We are seeing a shift toward the ‘invisible kitchen,’ says Smith. “This kitchen is one that blends perfectly into a living space.” Components like Blum’s Aventos lift systems, which can be used to help hide countertop appliances, and touch-to-open technologies that decrease the need for a handle, can help meet this demand, Smith notes.

Armour states that, at Häfele, there is a focus on “clean cabinetry,” where decorative hardware is hidden or eliminated when functional hardware is put into play. “Consumers are integrating soft-close or push-to-open features at a higher price point to add style and functionality,” she says.

But that isn’t to say that decorative hardware has no place. Plenty of consumers still want these finishing touches to accent – but not overwhelm – their room design. And a modern, streamlined look is important.

“Hardware is typically meant to serve as an accent rather than taking center stage, so the idea of blending it into the design is key in most cases,” notes Peele. “Details are important, but the beauty comes from its subtlety.”

“Traditional styles with a modern twist seemed to have held their popularity, but in the past year we’ve also seen a push for more clean lines and minimalistic looks,” Zimmer points out. “Our designs mostly feature clean, soft and geometric lines that can easily blend in any space. While no specific shapes or sizes seem to dominate the market, we’ve recently seen more interest in larger-sized knobs and pulls,” she adds. “A long pull can make drawers and cabinets appear taller and longer, which can make the entire room feel more spacious.”

Sheets agrees that consumers are gravitating toward long, slim decorative hardware. “Rather than reaching for the center of the cabinet to pull, having a clean, straight, long and geometric piece of hardware gives the consumer a modern look and functionality that extends beyond one center point in the drawer front or cabinet,” he says. New options in decorative hardware include C and J channels, which are integrated into the cabinetry, he notes, adding, “A consumer may not want a handle or knob but can still have the reach and pull effect. This product line recesses into the cabinetry so fingers can get behind the channel to pull it out.”


Hardware, whether decorative or functional, needs to offer top performance in its intended function. Knobs and pulls allow the user access to the cabinets, says McPeek, and the individual needs of owners – like any limits they may have in grasping a specific handle – should come first in design. In the functional realm, like slides, it’s essential that they work properly and offer easy open/close solutions, she adds.

“Having the right hardware is key when using the kitchen to its optimum potential,” Armour believes. “Features such as soft-close and push-to-open give consumers the opportunity to use the space more efficiently with just a nudge of the drawer or trash can.”

There are many small ways to enhance the functionality of hardware, and many applications that change as kitchen use changes. “The traditional kitchen table is moving out, and islands and standing-height surfaces are moving in. Desks and home office spaces are moving into kitchens, too. In fact, nearly two-thirds of new kitchens are implementing this new concept.

“Carving out this new workspace calls for new convenient power options,” says Peele. “Power Grommets can be easily integrated into any type of furniture for convenient power access at the surface level.”

Soft-close features on slides and hinges are still in high demand, McPeek notes. “Additionally, you are starting to see more ‘Assist’ hardware like Blum’s Tip-On Technology, which uses a spring mechanism to open a cabinet with just a ‘tip’ of the finger,” she adds.

Electric components are also starting to show-up more on the market, she says, from electrical open/close systems to the addition of electricity into components such as charging drawers and pop-up outlet stations built into the countertops. ▪

To see more decorative hardware, go to our Product Guide.

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