Functional Simplicity

Decorative hardware has long been valued for its ability to give kitchens and bathrooms a stylish update, tie a design together, or help provide the perfect finishing touches to a space. While often neither seen nor heard, functional hardware is vital to making the kitchen or bath space work more efficiently.

Ergonomic issues, open floor plans, streamlined design trends, new technology and consumer demand for ease of use and silent functions are all influencing current trends in both decorative and functional hardware. That’s according to manufacturers recently recently surveyed by KBDN.

While the trend in decorative hardware is toward a cleaner, simpler look, the use of decorative hardware to instill homeowners’ personal style into their kitchens and baths is also on the rise. “Homeowners are using decorative hardware as a way to add some personality to their kitchens. Our newest designs do exactly that – unique touches that will enhance the personal feel of a kitchen,” says Wendy Haynes, product designer for Hardware Resources in Bossier City, LA.

While many manufacturers see a trend towards simplicity in decorative hardware, there is still some demand for the ornate, lush look. “Simple is in for the young and ornate and decadent is for the last home of the retiree,” says Marte Yerkins, v.p./market development for Grass America Inc. in Kernersville, NC.

“It’s like choosing an accessory to accompany an outfit,” says Haynes. “Decorative hardware is a simple touch that can change the entire look of the room.” She adds that the real push, from a design perspective, has been toward developing truly unique designs. “Everyone has seen a wire pull and mushroom knob before. Why would a homeowner get the same old hardware as every other house on their block? Consumers want to find that new, unique design, and go for the most impact,” she notes.

With kitchen size increasing, the trend for kitchen hardware leans toward “bigger is better.” Jon Forbes, chief operations officer for Alno, Inc in Sylmar, CA says, “We also continue to see a demand for larger and larger cabinet pulls as they are used on larger cabinets and appliances.”

But while long, wide handles appeal to many homeowners, John Pelka, v.p. of marketing for, Hickory Hardware in Nashville, TN, adds that his firm is also seeing smaller appliance pulls used on cabinetry. “The whole area of appliance pulls is one of the growth areas in the overall market,” he says. Hickory Hardware is working to bring more design and unique finishes to that part of the market, building several product families that include appliance pulls, he notes.

Functional Ease

On the functional side, larger drawers and doors require hinges, slides and closing hardware that are heavy duty to handle the load. “It’s kind of behind the scenes, but it’s important that the capacity of functional hardware actually increase from what it has been in the past,” says Pelka.

Manufacturers also see demand for hardware that functions with ease. As the population grows older, Pelka says, people are looking for easy-to-use, easy-to-grip designs. To that end, levers are becoming a popular alternative to knobs, he says. At the same time, designers and consumers are looking for items with style. “One of the major things is the whole idea of functional simplicity with style. That’s really going to be important in the future,” Pelka says.

Dennis Poteat, marketing communications manager for Blum, Inc. in Stanley, NC, sees motion as a key driver to the trends in functional hardware. This shows up in silent-close options for doors and drawers as well as touch open/close for drawers without pulls. Blum offers solutions for both of these – BLUMOTION for the silent close and TIP-ON and SERVO DRIVE for the touch open/close features.

The rise of televisions, computers and sound systems dispersed throughout the home creates a need for motion in another area as well. Calvin Luce, director of sales distribution for Accuride International Inc. in Santa Fe Springs, CA says, “Media is now throughout the home. The need for frequent access to the support components of that media has created the need for hardware which makes access easy.” For Accuride, this is the MAC, a pull-out cabinet which swivels 90 degrees in either direction to allow for easy access to the rear audio and video components.

Advances in Technology

Advances in technology have significant impact on many aspects of design in the kitchen and bath, and hardware is no exception. In recent years, soft/silent closing has been a highly touted innovation – so much so that manufacturers say it is now considered standard, even at lower price points. “Soft and silent closing slides and hinges are becoming standard in not only custom cabinetry, but showing up in the semi-custom and even trickling into the stock cabinetry,” says Karen Armour, product manager for Hafele America Co. in Archdale, NC.

Luce adds, “While at one time the soft-close feature was only available on the most advanced undermounts, it is now available at most quality and price levels.” At the same time, soft close alone isn’t enough. “Manufacturers and consumers are beginning to look beyond the feature itself and back to more traditional standards such as the stability and movement of the slide,” he says.

Philip Martin, senior manager, business development for Hafele America Co. says, “Soft and silent technology has grown to be more than the slide or hinge. It has evolved that the technology is incorporated into lift doors, kitchen accessories and sliding doors. The experience a consumer has with drawers and doors can be utilized throughout the home and offer a quieter environment.”

Armour adds, “If customers are demanding noise-free drawers and doors, why should they not expect the same from their accessories as well?” The ARENA Champagne collection by Hafele integrates the soft and silent closing in all the runners, along with non-slip trays. “No more clanking of pots against a wire tray, no more sliding of cans on a plastic lazy susan. With the non-slip surface, the noise is eliminated,” she says.

As soft close becomes standard, what are the next developments in technology that are impacting hardware trends? Haynes states, “The other functional technology trend has been in adjustable installation and use features – plates, hinges and slides that can be adjusted during and after installation to get a perfect fit. This feature is immeasurably useful to cabinet manufacturers, installers and end consumers doing their own home upgrades.”

Yerkins says, “Soft closing of drawers has quickly become an expected feature, so the next innovation that will get the attention of designers and consumers is self opening and closing drawers that operate with a light touch.” Grass America offers the Nova Pro Sensotronic drawers, which have an electrical drive mechanism controlled by a small computer, which also turns on lights inside the cabinet to illuminate the contents of a deep drawer. “While this may seem to be a feature that only James Bond would appreciate,” says Yerkins, “it offers tremendous accessibility for persons that are disabled and confined to a wheelchair.”

Another advantage of the light touch opening, according to Yerkins, is that there is no need for drawer pulls, which he says supports the current trend in Europe of the “handle-free kitchen.”

Manufacturers also see a rise in demand for lift systems, which lift cabinet doors up rather than opening out, for easier access. Blum offers the AVENTOS lift systems, which Poteat says work well in areas where cabinet doors would hit a wall or appliance when opened. “They also allow the kitchen user to open all the cabinets at once while working in the kitchen without the worry of hitting their head,” he adds.

Technology in other product categories has an impact on hardware as well. “The trend is for technology and cabinetry designs converging to create new functional hardware needs,” says Luce. For example, he says that flat screen TVs have created new cabinet design possibilities throughout the home. “The narrow depth of these TVs allows for storage in areas by means of an electronic lift, which can have multiple uses,” Luce points out. For instance, a TV in view position can quickly become a bookcase or bar in the stored position.

Big Finishes

When it comes to decorative hardware, there’s a broad spectrum of finish options. While many manufacturers agree that stainless steel, oil-rubbed bronze and satin nickel are still leaders, they see growth in other finishes as well.

Pelka says, “Stainless steel and satin nickel are still the most popular, but a move toward darker, warmer finishes has really happened over the last couple of years.” He has also seen some gold finishes begin to gain in popularity, prompting Hickory Hardware to come out with some finishes with gold hues. “It’s got a depth to it, layers of finish, a translucence you don’t see in silver palettes and darker finishes,” he says.

Greg Sheets, product manager for Hafele America Co. says, “Oil-rubbed bronze is very strong and antique bronzes and brasses are growing in popularity. Stainless steel and brushed or satin nickel finishes are continuing to sell well. Polished chrome is making a comeback in contemporary applications.”

Haynes says, “While satin nickel is still incredibly popular, we’ve seen the most movement in the bronze colors – darker browns with a copper patina. This color has even been popular in our more contemporary hardware. Consumers in search of transitional style want kitchens with the clean lines of modern design, but with the warmth of traditional. The bronze finishes do this beautifully,” she says.

“For many years we have seen satin or brushed nickel as the number one finish with polished chrome often right behind,” says Forbes. “This is still very true in the markets that favor mostly contemporary styles. However, we are seeing more of the bronze and antique English finishes becoming popular.” These finishes, he says, are more sophisticated than they once were. “Today, the consumer wants the antique finishes or distressed finishes to look natural like they have truly aged. This requires the manufacturers to develop new techniques to meet this demand and do it consistently.”

Variety of Styles

As the desire for personalization continues to grow, it should come as no surprise that popular hardware styles vary widely, with manufacturers seeing a demand for different options, rather than any one particular style. “To really be successful, the hardware industry has to offer people lots of different options,” says Pelka.

Poteat agrees that variety is more important than any particular style. “In the past, contemporary kitchens were mainly in the metropolitan areas of the East Coast, California and Florida. Now many traditional manufacturers are coming out with contemporary lines and this may open doors into regions of the country that were formerly all traditional. The variety in kitchen styles is what defines the U.S. as a market,” he says.

Yerkins says, “Traditional cabinetry is still strong, however, contemporary minimalist styles are becoming more mainstream. The young generation who are now buying homes or remodeling a loft are looking for cabinetry that goes with their iPods, flat screen TVs with sleek bases and cool phones. Moldings, glazes and raised panels really don’t blend with tattoos, spiked hair and that sharp bright red mixer from Williams & Sonoma.”

Haynes adds, “It’s really all about consumer choice. There is simply no such thing as a style that will appeal to everyone.”

Whole-House Concept

Hardware choices are coordinating from one room to the next, manufacturers say. “We are seeing this more and more with the upscaling of bathroom cabinets and closet organization,” says Poteat. “Designers and consumers are seeing the benefits of hardware in the kitchen and realizing [they would like to enjoy the same kind of accessibility, style and ease of use] in other areas of the house,” he adds.

Haynes agrees. “Custom cabinetry can now be found in almost any room of the house,” she says. “Homeowners who want a unified look and feel to their home are incorporating their favorite hardware wherever it fits.”

Forbes says, “This is all over the map. Consumers may want the entire home to be one design theme. They may use different styles in each room, but stay with the basis theme. However, we often see product used in each room that can be ornate in one room, contemporary in another, and traditional in yet another.”

The open designs that are popular today have an impact on this trend, as well. “Hardware almost needs to transcend the different rooms because there are fewer walls separating them,” says Yerkins. “From a seat at the kitchen bar stool, you have a view of the living area and office/computer area. In a bathroom, you can create a different décor because there is definitely a door.”

Pelka believes that hardware is coordinating throughout the house, but not necessarily matching in finish and design. “We’ve really found that people want the flexibility to have a little of their own style there. They don’t want to be told ‘you have to put in the same exact style, the same exact finish.’” Coordinating hardware allows for personal taste, while at the same time creating a nice flow from one room to another. Hinges, however, should match the door or cabinet hardware, Pelka says.

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