Finishing Touches

While a tighter economy often results in big projects being put on hold, smaller changes that provide a fresh look are regularly embraced. In the kitchen and bath market, changing out hardware or upgrading cabinet interiors to maximize space can reap big rewards.

That’s according to hardware manufacturers recently interviewed by Kitchen & Bath Design News, who report that the continued focus on the kitchen as both a source of comfort and a central gathering place means homeowners will continue to embrace opportunities to upgrade the kitchen. Likewise, the bath’s role as a sanctuary ensures that this room will remain a key focus for homeowners. And when budgets are tight, replacing hardware can be a great and economical way to upgrade the look and function of the kitchen or bath.

“Consumers are spending more time at home,” states Jack Fase, president of Alno Inc. in Sylmar, CA. “As a result, cosmetic changes – such as the replacement of decorative hardware – are a common practice today.”

Claire Parrish, product manager, new product development, Amerock, in Huntersville, NC, believes people will look to simple, classic forms to update and refine their current spaces. “Small and affordable updates, such as decorative hardware, can make a huge difference in the appearance of any kitchen or bath, without the price tag or commitment of other major purchases.”

Personalized Style

When it comes to decorative hardware design, sleek and simple styles continue to reign.

Susan Istwan, national sales manager for Alno Inc., notes that contemporary, clean lines – as well as green design influences – are leading today’s current decorative hardware trends. “The era of the gimmicky hardware is over,” she adds. “Consumers are looking for more enduring, classic styles, whether they are contemporary or traditional.”

And the selection of decorative hardware has become an increasingly important part of the overall design process. Designers and consumers are putting a lot more thought and effort into their selections.

“High-end customers realize that they entertain in their kitchens and Great Rooms, and that hardware in these rooms is very meaningful to their overall designs,” says Bob Schaub, president of Schaub & Company, in Grand Rapids, MI.

The discerning homeowner wants products that are not mass marketed and, perhaps, not even readily available, Schaub reports. They want products that are special, maybe even scarce. “These products will be part of their homes not for years, but for decades,” he states.

“We are seeing demand for custom and personalized hardware for customers who want to have that very special item that is totally different,” remarks Fritz Keck, managing director, Metaltec Innovations in Irwin, PA, which offers 3-D direct metal printing. Metaltec’s technology permits one-offs, personalization of its existing product line to the customers’ requests or the creation of a product that is submitted by the customer, he notes.

“Because of our ability to print from a CAD file, we are seeing requests for product and items that are indigenous to regions of the country, such as sea/ocean, contemporary or western subject matter,” he continues.

More Than Metal

With regard to the tones of metal for hardware, popular finishes from the past several years – including polished chrome, satin nickel and polished nickel – continue to be strong sellers.

“Antique brass is also picking up momentum, but in a more modern, matte finish,” Istwan comments.

Gold tones and muted dark bronzes are making headway in metallic finishes, following what we’ve seen in fashion jewelry,” concurs Parrish. She adds that golden, brown and black tones that are soft, matte and blendable with other hardware fixtures – such as Amerock’s Gilded Bronze and Black Bronze finishes – are appealing to today’s consumers.

For a more modern look, matte black, white and classic modern finishes such as chrome are increasing in popularity, according to Parrish.

Schaub sees an increasing interest in polished finishes. “Although casual living lifestyles remain popular, there is a significant trend toward polished finishes, which reflects a return to formality in the home,” he states.

Two-toned finishes are also in strong demand, Schaub adds. “These finishes can give depth to hardware and highlight the design details,” he notes.

Mixed media offerings are also becoming hugely popular, as people are continuing to search for something unique and authentic, notes Parrish. “The hottest mixed materials we are seeing feature a blend of glass and metal, across multiple tonal combinations,” she reports.

“Leather and all things natural, such as bamboo and glass, are hotter than ever,” notes Adrienne Morea, president of Atlas Homewares, in Los Angeles, CA – so much so that the company is expanding that category with more color choices. “You want to take notice of faux animal skin leathers, too, such as crocodile and snake,” she adds.

“Overall, we’ll continue to see a rise in the popularity of soft and warm finishes that allow for blending with other fixtures, interest in mixed media and unique combinations of hardware, and the need for multiple sizes,” states Parrish.
The incorporation of appliance pulls and oversized hardware that matches cabinet hardware designs is a growing trend that will continue to gain momentum in the future, industry insiders believe.

Parrish notes that, today, a wide variety of size options is crucial. “Enlarged cabinet styles call for multiple size options of pulls, handles and knobs to accommodate the functionality of opening and closing storage spaces and integrated appliances,” she adds.

On the Quiet Side

According to Claudia Tuttle, marketing manager for Accuride International in Santa Fe Springs, CA, since kitchens and baths are areas of the home that are used on a daily basis, “there is a growing expectation for functional hardware that enhances, assists or saves time. Drawer slides with an easy-close feature have virtually become a standard in kitchens and baths,” she comments.

Blum Inc.’s Blumotion quiet closing continues to grow in the marketplace, according to Dennis Poteat, marketing communications manager for Blum, Inc. in Stanley, NC.

“While it was once an upgrade for most cabinet lines and dealers, now it’s firmly entrenched as a standard feature of mid- to high-end kitchens,” comments Poteat.

There is a growing trend toward simpler, knob-less cabinetry in the kitchen, along with varying degrees of automated opening and closing, “ranging from touch latches to elaborate electronically operated drawer systems,” reports Tuttle. Some of the more recent options are slides with assisting mechanisms and electronic components.

Blum’s Servo-Drive touch-to-open feature for Tandem and Tandembox drawer systems is making its mark in the kitchen, especially in a waste-bin application, when the user’s hands are dirty or wet.

Tuttle notes that, “Despite the ‘wow’ factor of some of the products [out there today], affordability and complex installation requirements have curtailed their widespread use.” She sees simpler, more economical options attracting attention, such as Accuride’s Action-Assist and Touch Release slides, geared more toward the middle ground of affordability and ease of installation.

“Another trend in functional hardware is metal wall drawer systems that offer integrated soft close and easy adjustment, and give the designer an option to improve the aesthetic design of the drawer,” comments Daniel Tripp, product marketing manager for Hafele America Co., in Archdale, NC. “This trend began in Europe and now holds a majority of the market there.”

The Hafele Riverso drawer system allows for access of utensils from either side of an island drawer. “Its design allows you to put utensils away next to the dishwasher and then remove them from the dining room side of the island when setting the table,” he offers.

“Trends are still strong for undermount slides with soft closing, in addition to a general movement to concealed slides from visible drawer slides,” offers Mark Mrozik, national sales manager for Hettich America L.P. in Alpharetta, GA. He adds that soft closing is making an impact on cabinet doors, as consumers want to have their doors react in the same way as their drawers – with a soft-closing action.

Hettich recently introduced its Sensys line of integrated soft-closing hinges, which has the Silent System soft-closing device integrated into the hinge line. Mrozik believes that the standardization of soft-closing concealed hinges will play a heavy role in the future of functional hardware.

Upper cabinet doors are also getting a new lift, thanks to the latest in hardware that allows the doors to swing up instead of out. A trend that began in Europe, upper cabinets that swing upwards now hold 80% of the upper cabinet market there, according to Tripp. “We are starting to see this more and more in the U.S.,” he adds.

“Lift systems are becoming widely accepted because of the convenience of upper cabinet doors being lifted up and out of the way,” agrees Poteat. “No more hitting your head on a door while emptying the dishwasher.”

Hardware’s Horizon

There was a time, not so long ago, that cabinet hardware was very basic, and most consumers were okay with this as they didn’t see the benefit of “step-up” hardware, offers Schaub. “Now, however, this has become a design decision and it is important,” he stresses.

Decisions to move from laminate to granite or solid surface are multi-thousand-dollar decisions, as are custom mouldings, states Schaub. “But, ‘step-up’ hardware can be had for multi-hundreds of dollars, and will make an impact for decades.”

“I think we will continue to see the desire for differentiation, not just from cabinet manufacturers and dealers but from the kitchen users,” stresses Poteat. “With regard to function, they want unique and ergonomic storage solutions that make sense for the way they work in the kitchen.”

“We believe mechanical and electronic enhancements to hardware will continue to grow and evolve,” reports Tuttle. “Perhaps biometric or voice-activation is next on the horizon, as well as hardware that is integrated into other automated systems.”

“As homeowners plan to spend longer spans of time in their homes, we expect the requirement for accessories and functional hardware in the kitchens to rise to make the kitchen more user friendly,” concludes Tripp.

For more Decorative and Functional Hardware, please visit Products Gallery.