Flash and Function

In a time when customization is king, both decorative and functional hardware remain integral to the success of kitchen and bath designs. Pulls, knobs and handles have continued their evolution from design afterthought to design necessity, and now come in every size, shape, finish and design style imaginable. Likewise, functional hardware helps to personalize how cabinets are used, creating more accessible interiors that can be customized for the user’s specific storage needs and preferences.

“There is definitely a growing trend in demand for unique design,” says Jack Fase, president, Alno, Inc. in Sylmar, CA. “The market has seen a wide array of new choices enter the market and there seems to be a much wider spectrum of design in the kitchens and bath than ever before. As such, the variety of choices in the market must provide a wider range of styling to meet the need.”

“We’ve seen a continuing desire for both Old World and contemporary designs,” reports Warren Ramsland, president, Top Knobs USA in Belle Meade, NJ. Other manufacturers report transitional styles and unusual finishes are gaining popularity, as well.

“Design trends keep moving toward more contemporary design and evolving in that direction. A lot of traditional styled hardware is being updated with cleaner, bolder lines,” says Doug Mockett, CEO of Doug Mockett & Co., in Manhattan Beach, CA.

Meanwhile, functional hardware continues to prove the old adage that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. From soft-close mechanisms that preserve the quiet ambience of a spa bath, to kitchen drawers that open with only a light tap for the cook who’s got his hands full, innovation marks this hardware category.

“The trends in functional hardware are focused toward ease of use, accessibility and the perceived value the product brings to a project,” says Susan Kearns, creative services specialist for Santa Fe Springs, CA-based Accuride.

“These issues are especially important in remodels that are initiated to address changing needs such as more children, accommodating aging parents or pre-planning for aging-in-place,” she notes. Dennis Poteat, marketing communications manager for Blum in Stanley, NC, reports, “More and more customers are requesting the quiet-close innovation. It is becoming the standard at just about every price point.”

Flourishing Finishes

Manufacturers have seen a continued rise in warm or “rustic” finishes this year.

“The traditional rustic look has given way to more sophisticated styling with the same warm finishes that made the look so popular in the first place,” says Fase. “Polished brass continues to see a smaller demand while the preference for satin nickel and bronze has also continued. Polished chrome has become strong, but is being challenged by polished nickel as a preferred finish.”

Manufacturers are seeing the expansion of the market for contemporary styles, as well.

“Contemporary hardware designs are gaining in strength as are contemporary finishes such as polished nickel, which allows for matching with faucets in vanities and kitchens,” says Bob Schaub, president of Schaub & Company in Grand Rapids, MI. Schaub reports seeing a wide variety of materials and finishes selling strong across style preferences.

“New trends in finishes include Old World influences of two-toned finishes such as bronze with copper relief and bronze with antique brass relief. Material options are strong in cast bronze and forged solid brass. In this time of economic uncertainty, these higher quality base metals are strong sellers,” he says. “As buyers realize they will stay in their homes for a longer duration, we see people committing to high-end products. A decision to include granite rather than laminate in the home makes for an easy decision to step up to cast bronze or forged brass cabinet hardware.”

Ramsland is finding consumers’ desires for warmer finishes driving the current market. “We recently launched a line of polished nickel knobs and pulls due to large demand from consumers. This finish has a warmer tone compared to the cold polished chrome typically found in contemporary designs,” he says.

“The stainless steel look has dominated the market for the past several years. Popular finishes for metal hardware are satin finishes, such as nickel and chrome,” according to Mockett. “Glass is being paired up with cool metals such as satin aluminum on drawer pulls and knobs which, with the popularity of dark woods, adds a nice accent and sparkle to an installation. Another strong up-and-coming trend in cabinetry hardware is Carbon Fibre. It adds a sleek, smart look that is rich and is nice to the touch.”

Mockett, like Ramsland, notes the niche trend of mixing metals in hardware and contrasting unusual metals against conventional materials elsewhere in the kitchen to add options for designers and consumers who are looking for true customization.

“The mixing of traditional mediums such as finished metals – be it plated finishes or stainless steel with a satin finish – combined with materials not typically or historically used in cabinet hardware, such as glass, crystal and leather, is emerging as a very strong trend that will have longevity in the market,” Mockett says.

Mihai Subran, product manager for Montreal, Quebec-based Richelieu Hardware, sees the changes in finish preferences as a return to form.

“The industry is turning again to the polished chrome and polished nickel finishes of ’70s-era contemporary; many manufacturers have exchanged brass and steel for alloys due to extreme material costs in the period from 2006 through this year,” he says.

According to Mockett, the trends are not changing so much as they are “evolving.”

“The trendy hardware from the ’90s is different from what we are seeing today. At the time, it was considered very cutting edge, modern and forward,” he says. “Today looking back at some of those designs, they seem to scream ’90s.”

“However, not all hardware designed in the ’90s was trendy; there are still many classic designs that emerged from that period,” Subran offers.

Defining Decorative

Fase spots the current trend as “a departure from the classic traditional or contemporary styles.” Clean, basic shapes are coming to prominence. “Sleeker, more geometric knob and pull shapes are gaining popularity over the more traditional rounder ‘mushroom’ styles,” he notes.

Mockett agrees, but says the very definitions of these terms are evolving: “Contemporary design is actually evolving into a standard design aesthetic that will one day be considered traditional. What we consider traditional today will be termed out to a style with more of a historical or period appeal.”

“We’re going to see an increasing demand for rectangular shapes, clean and simple geometrical forms and also for transitional designs and finishes. These include contemporary designs with traditional finishes for people who would like to evolve to this design slowly, people who are ready for contemporary designs, but not ready yet for contemporary finishes like polished nickel,” says Subran.

“Basic, clean shapes that are well executed are in high demand,” comments Mockett. “The trend in size is going larger and/or longer. Beefy pulls or handles with elongated lines and clean design that complement furniture and cabinetry are very popular.”

Manufacturers also comment that what influences the choice in styles for decorative hardware is shifting away from traditional sources.

“Cabinet design doesn’t seem to have as much influence as it once did in the choice of a design or style as the appliance selection and finish. It is appliances, countertop materials and colors influencing the style and finishes of kitchen cabinet hardware,” Fase offers. Ramsland notes some of his company’s products are available in expanded materials and finishes, such as oil-rubbed bronze, to match trends in faucets and accessories.

Subran notes an existing synergy between cabinetry and hardware designs, and says, “If one hardware manufacturer is too far from the cabinet design movement, its designs threaten to become a niche.”

He adds that both the cabinet and hardware industries should be trying to adapt to the changing trends to maintain this synergy.

According to Schaub, appliance-style pulls are gaining traction in the marketplace. “Oversized handles to accommodate larger drawers and doors and oversized appliance pulls are a strong trend right now,” he says.

Fase concurs and says, “Larger scale is definitely in greater demand.”

Ramsland identifies it as a designer-driven trend. “Designers have been asking for longer 30" pulls as well as giving additional options for knobs and pulls,” he says.

Mockett is seeing a trend toward customization using eye-catching colors and textures to variegate designs, further personalizing a design.

“The ‘color du jour’ is many shades of violet, though jazzy reds, library greens and cool blues have tended to have more staying power in terms of popularity,” he says. “While finished metals are still going strong, complementing them with colored leathers adds a nice accent and makes hardware ‘pop’ in an interior or on a piece of furniture while not overpowering or dominating the overall design aesthetic.”

Functional Forms

The keys to current trends in functional hardware are simple, according to Kearns.

“Our market is looking for upgrade products that not only appeal to customers, but are easy to install and can be incorporated efficiently into their production workflow,” she says.

Touch-release opening, self-closing capabilities and integrated in-drawer task lighting are hot across the price point spectrum, as consumers become more educated about what’s available.

“With customers/end-users being more educated about the various functionality of drawer slides, they determine the trend with emphasis on the smooth motion of the drawer, the ease of pull when opening a drawer and the automatic closing action of a drawer,” says Jan Fitzpatrick, customer & market relations manager of Kernersville, NC-based Grass America.

“Special features such as these have brought about a new awareness with respect to functional hardware—something consumers typically did not concern themselves with in the past. This awareness expands to the aspect of product value; these special features increase the price of the products and consumers are becoming more concerned with value beyond the ‘wow’ factor of these features. There are increased expectations for product durability and long-term reliability and performance; today, more consumers are concerned with the life cycle costing of products,” Kearns continues.

These products can be retrofit to existing cabinetry as well for an value add-on, notes Fitzpatrick.

“For hinges, this may be as simple as an additional piece placed on the hinge arm, allowing the customer to upgrade for a small price,” she says. “For the drawer slide, the combination of the undermount drawer slide with wood drawers is still a favorite in the industry. The soft-close feature is being offered in many cases as the standard to their drawers, but there is also the option to offer this as an upgrade.”

Karen Armour, product manager for Archdale, NC-based Häfele America, reports that functional hardware requests typically begin with self-closing and dampening features on the runner systems and become more elaborate from there.

“The next option is drawer runners with concealed undermount and ball bearing products: Easy opening and soft-closing. The next level in the kitchen is to fit the upper cabinet doors and leave hinges behind with a whole new world of lift-up systems which include the soft close feature as well,” says Armour.

“Finally, move into the cabinets and specify interior fittings like pantry pullouts, waste bin pullouts, base cabinets and drawer pullouts all with soft closing full extension runner systems bringing the things inside the cabinet outside,” Armour says.

Manufacturers agree these features are on the way to becoming the standard, and say they already are for consumers of high-end products. What lays ahead for functional hardware depends on whom one asks.
Dean Bradshaw of Ferrari USA sees the computerization of self-opening drawers expanding.

“These mechanized drawers are beginning to show up and are finding a niche market. As everything seems to be going digital, it appears it will also have a place in the hardware industry,” he says. “Anything that can add extra benefits and features for the end user and still keep costs low will be a success in the American market.”

Kearns feels the Baby Boomers and the rise of Universal Design will make these products invaluable in a company’s offerings.

“The successes will be through continued ergonomic improvements designed to serve an aging population,” she concludes.

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