Form Meets Function

Form Meets Function

When it comes to hardware, consumers are demanding both form and function that meet their increasingly specific needs, say manufacturers. 

BY BARBARA CAPELLA LOEHR

Optimum functionality and personalized style are the name of the game when it comes to decorative and functional hardware these days.

Consumers want hardware that allows them full access to every drawer and cabinet in the kitchen and bath, as they continue to use every inch of storage space to better organize their lives. And, to adorn their super-organized cabinetry, they want hardware that offers a decorative look that mirrors their personalities and makes an aesthetic statement while still blending with the overall style of the room.

That's the word from manufacturers recently interviewed by Kitchen & Bath Design News.

The Look, the Feel
Although hardware choices vary widely based on consumers' style preferences, there are still a few noteworthy trends.

"More and more people are using decorative hardware to accentuate their kitchens and create a unique design statement," believes Bill Payne, sales/operations manager for TFI/Avante Hardware, in Chico, CA.

He notes that, "Customers are moving away from simple designs such as a 'brass mushroom knob,' to more ornate designs and finishes," and he believes the availability of more cabinet finishes, decorative options, design and material selections have contributed to this trend.

Meanwhile, Patsy Nickum, co-owner of Rocky Mountain Hardware in Hailey, ID, believes "People are paying more attention to the details in their homes these days. [To that end], hardware is not just a functional piece, but an integral part of home decor."

"Consumers are looking for a 'wow' factor, a point of difference in hardware and other accents which go for the unexpected to make their homes striking," adds Ann Marchetti, product manager/decorative hardware for Amerock Corp., Rockford, IL.

There's "an increased desire for hardware that is low maintenance and offers lasting durability," she states.

"Decorative hardware is really reflective of personal tastes now.

So, we're actually not showing huge numbers to say there is one trend. It depends on what part of the country and what market you're selling to," notes Donna Flack, marketing manager/OEM division for Liberty Hardware Mfg. Corp., in Winston-Salem, NC.

"Texture seems to be a big trend. So much of the style now is Old World, Tuscany and Mediterranean that the natural material of ceramic is a natural. Shape and style are varied depending on the mood the client is looking to create. I see many people actually starting with the hardware first," says Susan Zimmerman, owner of Nifty Nobs, in Urbandale, IA.

Even a few companies who have traditionally been known for their functional hardware products have thrown their hats into decorative hardware ring. For example, "Grass America offers a line of decorative hardware that complements our Alu-Style aluminum frame line," says Tom Reinbold, director of marketing for Grass America Inc., in Kernersville, NC.

And, functional hardware stalwarts Häfele America Co., based in Archdale, NC, and Hettich America L.P., located in Alpharetta, GA, have joined the decorative hardware ranks.

"We are seeing a lot of stainless steel, a lot of specialty items," notes Mike Gambill, Hettich's director of marketing for North and Central America. Hettich offers more than 1,100 pieces of decorative hardware in its ProDecor line.

Meanwhile, Greg Sheets, Häfele's product manager, believes the lines between decorative and functional hardware are blurring, which makes it important for functional hardware manufacturers to offer decorative choices.

Multiple Styles
Decorative hardware looks that fit traditional styles and that complement contemporary styles are both hot now, note manufacturers.

Consumers will always demand traditional styles, but more whimsical designs, transitional looks and contemporary styles have made headway over the past several years, and will continue to do so, as consumers' design taste continues to broaden, say manufacturers.

"I think the demand for traditional and contemporary hardware will remain fairly stable or equal within the kitchen realm. Typically, the design look is either one or the other. However, casegood manufacturers and commercial builders seem to be focusing on the more modern looks and finishes. I believe that this trend will continue," says Payne.

"Again, whimsical is still one of our strong points, although we are doing more and more kitchens and baths with our newer sophisticated shapes," adds Zimmerman.

Marchetti notes a rise in nature-inspired designs. "Many of our newest designs pick up on elements of nature," she explains.

However, while Marchetti feels contemporary styles are continuing to grow in share, the predominant market drivers continue to be traditional styles. "Perhaps the one point of difference is that the traditional styles we're seeing today are more sophisticated, more 'designed' in the sense that they create their own new looks, not merely reflect period styling of another era," she says.

"The style of hardware chosen depends largely on consumers' personal style. That means we are doing a little of everything. We're still doing a lot of rustic looks and iron-forged hardware, and doing a lot of ceramics because there are people looking for bold color. Whimsical looks are still in, as well," believes Flack. "Really the trend is, 'Have it your way,' like the old Burger King commercials told consumers...I think what is being done is that manufacturers are trying to appease everybody's tastes."

Finishing School
Finishes for decorative hardware vary depending on the style of hardware and the overall interior design. However, metallic finishes are hot now, say manufacturers.

"Antique nickel and satin nickel finishes are definitely among our most popular finishes," says Marchetti. "These neutral finishes go well with a liberal use of stainless steel and chrome in kitchen appliances and faucets. Nickel hardware finishes also work nicely on most wood tones."

"We see that stainless steel is still very popular. This stems from the fact that consumers tend to want the decorative hardware to complement or match the stainless steel appliances and accents, which are so popular," says Sheets. "This is not to say that the hardware has to be real stainless steel. Often people will accept steel, zinc or brass that is nickel-plated and brushed to give it the look of stainless Other popular, more traditional finishes include various interpretations of pewters or rustic silvers.

"Another rustic finish growing in popularity is oil-rubbed bronze. This is a rich, dark bronze finish, which is being seen more often on kitchen fixtures/faucets and decorative hardware," he continues.

"People have been definitely moving away from the simplistic designs and standard brass finishes, and are embracing more unique designs and finishes," believes Payne.

At the same time, Nickum is seeing more hand-made hardware looks with more living texture. "We've found the lacquered, powder-coated and polished brass finishes are being replaced by a more organic look and feel," she says.

Function Junction
However, hardware is not just about aesthetics anymore. Consumers are more educated about the functionality of hardware, say manufacturers.

Overall, "The prominent trend we see in functional hardware is the increase of function in each product line," says Doug Edgerton, director of sales and marketing for Ferrari America, in High Point, NC.
Edgerton feels functional hardware improvements are driven by the input of hardware manufacturers, cabinetmakers and consumers alike. "In the years to come, we see a continuation of functional improvements that will be become more refined aesthetically," he says.

"You've got to be able to organize your cabinetry, and make it still look good," concurs Phil Sheridan, director of kitchen and bath sales/OEM for Knape & Vogt Mfg. Co., in Grand Rapids, MI.

That's why he believes the biggest movement in functional hardware materials has been from plastic to wood and chrome, thereby giving way to a more refined appearance.

"But, overall, people want function Looks that are barely functional are not in vogue," notes Sheridan.
This is especially true for Baby Boomers, who want function, organization and accessibility from their hardware choices, he adds.

"I believe we are quickly evolving toward even more multi-functional solutions, [as] population dynamics tell us that the Baby Boomers are heading toward retirement age, and hardware solutions for these needs will become ever increasing," notes Kevin Aronhalt, Häfele's product and marketing manager/kitchen, bath, closet and lighting.

According to Hettich's Gambill, functional hardware is now all about full extension and full accessibility, as well as accommodating drawer capacities of up to 150 pounds to allow for the storage of pots, pans and food stuffs.

"[Consumers] need to have full accessibility to the full contents of the drawers," says Gambill. "Space utilization is a key driver now." He also sees quiet closing mechanisms gaining in popularity, and cites Hettich's new self-closing mechanism, the Silent System, as an example.

"For hinges, the cam adjustment is a primary feature. For slides, a quiet ride, ease of installation and the new shock absorbers that pulls the drawer shut, giving it a soft, quiet close are key," says Grass' Reinbold.

In line with these functional hardware trends, "The newest item that we are introducing to our hardware products is a function we call BLUMOTION, [an improved] self-closing feature By using an additional mechanism we are able to slow down the closing rate so the door or drawer doesn't slam. This is a hydraulic device that will be incorporated into our TANDEM runners, TANDEMBOX drawer system and a plunger that will be used to control doors that mounts to the cabinet frame," notes Marte Yerkins, marketing and communications manager for Julius Blum, Inc., in Stanley, NC.

Easy Installation
Just as manufacturers feel it is important to anticipate the ever-growing list of consumers' functional needs, it is equally important to offer easy-to-install products.

Indeed, "Cabinetmakers are looking for hardware that is easy to assemble, simple for the installer to adjust and flawless in its performance," concurs Reinbold.

"Ease of installation is what everyone is striving for," agrees Edgerton. "A hinge or slide that has multiple functions must be user-friendly at the factory and the home."

"We think ease of installation is an important factor in selling our products. You can have the best product and the best price in the world, but if the person doing the construction can't install it easily, then we haven't done our job," says Gambill.

Another factor that has had an impact on functional hardware is the growth of entertainment centers and home offices, say some manufacturers.

In Aronhalt's view, the home office and entertainment center markets have significantly impacted the functional hardware market. Why? "[Because] the multi-function concept impacting designs and solutions within this arena are due to the kitchen becoming more of a multi-task center for families. It is becoming increasingly more common to see kitchen designs incorporating a desk, computer, TVs, music, etc., and these [bring forth] new needs and [require new] solutions," says Aronhalt.

"Drawer slides must [also] integrate into office applications and adapt to filing and storage systems, central locking devices and anti-tilt mechanisms. Products must be designed to fit these systems," stresses Reinbold.

Looking Ahead
Peering into their crystal balls, manufacturers believe functional hardware technology will take a detailed turn, allowing them to create more precise hardware options in the future. They also believe technology that allows users to open and close doors and drawers quietly and easily is the wave of the future.

Reinbold believes that noiseless, self-closing mechanisms are the new technology that will change the functional hardware arena. Meanwhile, Edgerton sees hinge technology becoming more detailed.

As for decorative hardware, manufacturers believe no matter what the style, personalization is paramount. But, they do feel that metallic finishes, contemporary styling and traditional looks that go beyond period styling will continue to grow in popularity. KBDN

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