The expression "the little things mean a lot" holds true in many aspects of life. In the kitchen and bath, it's often the "little touches" – such as decorative and functional hardware – that help to finish a design.
As we emerge from a difficult economy, many consumers remain cautious with their purchases – yet after a long, hard few years, they also long to "spruce up" their living spaces. And those little touches are just the way to update the kitchen without breaking the bank.
"People today seem interested in doing modest kitchen updates," rather than full-scale remodeling, notes Daryl Nauman, key accounts manager for Hafele America Co. in Archdale, NC. "This may be limited to updating decorative hardware and installing a few highly functional accessories into existing cabinetry."
But, just because a total remodel isn't always in the works doesn't mean that decisions aren't well thought out. "Both the design community and the American consumer remain very interested in their kitchen hardware, as the kitchen is a very active room. Thus, a lot of time is spent getting it right," stresses Bob Schaub, owner of Schaub and Company in Grand Rapids, MI.
Jessica Wolma, director of marketing for Amerock in Huntersville, NC, concurs that, with the current state of the economy, many homeowners are looking to "reinvent" their rooms with small renovations that will create a more satisfying space. This often includes "unifying the design and décor within their homes," she stresses.
"Investing in small changes that make a big impact – such as tying together a home with coordinated hardware from the windows to the cabinets – is a perfect place to start," she continues. "These types of projects are expected to continue fueling the need for a wide variety of finishes and styles to more easily coordinate across multiple categories."
Nauman agrees that there is now a much greater interest in coordinated offerings when it comes to decorative hardware. "This encourages designers to use mixed materials, such as wood ornamentation with coordinated metal trim pieces that match cabinet handles and knobs," he notes.
Wolma believes it is becoming increasingly important for hardware manufacturers to supply a range of coordinating options, "because this is essential for fulfilling desire for coordinated design throughout the home as the popularity of the open floor plan grows."
While many are coordinating their looks throughout the home, most are doing it with transitional-style pieces.
Kevin Dewald, product and marketing manager, Belwith Products in Grandville, MI, notes that transitional styling – the integration of traditional style and contemporary into one design – is steady right now.
"'Safe' designs – not bold and fussy – will continue to be the trend over the next two to three years, as we continue to move past the current economic climate," reports Warren Ramsland, president of Top Knobs in Hillsborough, NJ.
"Transitional designs work well in many environments, and offer a safe design that will not fall out of style as some pure contemporary designs will," Dewald offers. "Transitional, classic designs are more timeless, and these styles will withstand the test of time."
Greg Sheets, product marketing manager for Hafele America Co., agrees that decorative hardware designs and finishes are trending toward more transitional styles. "Lines are cleaner and more linear with less ornate detail. More bar type handles are being mounted on square or round rosettes, and matching knobs are often set the same way," he notes.
"Bar pulls, appliance pulls and oversized knobs between 1-1/2" and 1-3/4" in diameter are all gaining in popularity," adds Malon Rogers, senior product manager for Liberty Hardware in Winston-Salem, NC. "Larger hardware allows homeowners to make a bold and distinctive statement."
"Design trends continue to evolve, as does the size of cabinetry," adds Wolma. "As kitchen and bath cabinets continue to increase in size, so does the demand for larger knobs and pulls."
Daniel Tripp, product marketing manager for Hafele America Co., believes that today's clean, straight lines will begin to soften a bit going forward. "The next designs will continue to be very simple and minimalistic, but slightly rounded without the sharp edges," he notes.
While cleaner lines are the call of many, there is still a place for the more traditional, even ornate stylings, particularly at the ultra high end.
"In the last few years, we have seen a revival in French and early Italian period hardware, and also requests for special finishes such as two tones and patinas to enhance the detail," remarks Nestor Rasi, sales manager, Fersa by Fontaine SRL in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Fersa's clients have also requested custom hardware with semiprecious stones, he reports.
Ramsland sees demand for Asian-influenced designs, in brushed satin nickel as well as transitional finishes. "Additionally we have been receiving requests for cabinet pulls that are significantly longer than what has been traditionally used on cabinets," he notes.
"Decorative hardware trends are the tales of two cities," Schaub observes. "Very ornate parts with exquisite details are quite popular at the high end, and these parts have two-tone finishes to show the highlighting within. Additionally, very simple parts with very contemporary looks are strong. These are often based on simple Italian designs, almost devoid of design, but with very thin profiles," he adds.
"Drawer pulls, in particular, have taken on many shapes recently, including squares, semi-circles and some hard-to-describe organic shapes," states Susan Gordon, president of Doug Mockett & Co. in Manhattan Beach, CA.
THE FINISH LINE
With regard to finishes, the battle rages on between warm and cool.
"There is a continued interest in formal finishes such as polished chrome and polished nickel," notes Schaub.
Gordon reports that stainless steel, satin nickel and satin chrome are still very popular, "and these coordinate well with popular fixtures and appliances."
Polished nickel has gained in popularity over the last several years, manufacturers agree. "This finish is warmer and typically a little less contemporary than polished chrome, and appears a little softer and more inviting," explains Sheets.
"Silver tones continue to be a strong color in today's designs," stresses Wolma.
On the warm side, oil-rubbed bronzes remain very popular with mainstream America, notes Schaub.
"We continue to see sales for warm finishes grow, particularly bronze tones such as Venetian bronze and oil-rubbed bronze," states Rogers.
Sheets reports, "There continues to be some evolution of oil-rubbed bronze finishes – from very dark to lighter shades. In many cases, the finishes are highlighted to reveal more of the copper or bronze undertones."
Gold tones are also beginning to emerge, evolving from brassy tones to rich, textured looks, notes Wolma.
"Finishes are being introduced that we have never seen before," remarks Dewald. "And, we're also seeing new applications for existing finishes, as well as the resurgence of a lesser finish to a more prominent trend status," he notes. "An example of this would be the bronze tones, which keep gaining momentum in popularity and variations – deep rich brown tones that complement many wood finishes," he offers.
"Another would be a resurgence of classic finishes such as chrome, shown on a rustic-styled item, which produces very desirable effects," he continues. "Take a hammered mission knob, for example; if you finish it in reflective bright nickel or chrome, it creates a dramatic effect on all of the planes or facets of the hammered texture. This application would actually create a transitional style item from a traditional mission hammered knob by adding a contemporary finish."
"Many people are looking for unique finishes that include color layering, providing a rich textured element to decorative hardware," remarks Wolma.
Mixed materials are still another way to distinguish decorative hardware.
"Leather and glass are becoming more common in both bathroom and kitchen hardware and are often used as an accent material," reports Gordon. "Leathers are now available on hardware in many colors, not just the standard black and brown."
SOFT AND EASY
It isn't just the look that kitchen and bath designers are focused on, however. Hardware that improves functionality is key to a successful design.
"Functional hardware is now a big design element, not just an afterthought," stresses Gordon.
"Expanding the classic decorative functional offering is a major growth area today," adds Dewald. "People are always looking for something new and improved."
"Homeowners continue to show interest in advanced closing technologies, such as self-closing drawer slides and door dampers that eliminate the noise associated with cabinet door slamming," reports Rogers.
"Undermount drawer slides with soft-closing action are still increasing in popularity," agrees Jan Fitzpatrick, marketing manager for Grass America in Kernersville, NC. "Continuous improvements in slide technology are important, as the trend lends itself not only to the self-closing action but the desire for wider and deeper drawers as well as pot and pan drawers."
"Soft-closing hinges, drawer slides and lifters are among the hottest trends for today," continues Fitzpatrick. "People want smooth-closing action for doors, drawers or any mechanism that offers a movement system."
Blum has had success with its newest CLIP top Blumotion, its Euro hinge with Blumotion soft close built into the cup. "Our sales here in the U.S. have been twice what we expected," comments Dennis Poteat, marketing communications manager, Blum, Inc. in Stanley, NC.
As the finish and style coordination continues to influence product development, "the range of finishes, styles and sizes across current and existing collections of hardware is expected to increase," states Wolma.
Gordon agrees that variety is the way of the future. "Bathrooms and kitchens become highly personalized with the addition of unique hardware. For the budget minded, interesting hardware will add a custom look to standard cabinetry and appliances at a reasonable cost."
The customer will also have more influence over the hardware choices made, believes Fitzpatrick.
"In the future, customers will continue to be more demanding and more particular about quality," stresses Fitzpatrick. "As they become more educated, they will want functional improvement and design improvements – sleek, elegant design. Today, hardware has to be functional, trendy and maybe even sexy!" KBDN