Simple Accents

While hardware may not be the first thing a designer thinks about when beginning a kitchen or bath project, it is an integral component to the look of the finished product – and the functionality of the space.

Hardware is also the finishing touch that unifies the space, according to manufacturers recently surveyed by KBDN. “[Hardware] is the last piece of detail that can pull everything together,” says Warren Ramsland, president of Top Knobs, Inc. in Hillsborough, NJ.

Daniel Tripp, product marketing manager for Hafele America Co. based in Archdale, NC, agrees: “Hardware within a kitchen or bath often is a functional accent. The hardware needs to both serve the intended purpose and complement the room.”

Doug Mockett, founder and CEO of Doug Mockett & Co. in Manhattan Beach, CA, notes, “The hardware serves to complement the furniture or cabinetry without becoming a distraction. A truly effective piece of hardware will not go unnoticed, but will blend seamlessly with the overall design.”

Stacey Singer, general manager for Alno in Sylmar, CA, concurs: “It’s time to say goodbye to the gimmicky hardware. Consumers are looking for enduring, classic styles, whether they are contemporary or traditional.” She adds that coordinating appliance and larger pulls with cabinet knob designs is a growing trend.

Hardware can also play a major role in personalizing a design, according to Kevin Dewald, marketing and product manager for Keeler Hardware, a brand of Grandville, MI-based Belwith Products LLC. “From a decorative standpoint, the hardware will express homeowners’ personality and taste, an expression of their inner self.” Of course, hardware must also meet the functional needs of the homeowner, he adds, which is where designers must consider size and scale to determine the best choices.

Clean and Simple

Trends are moving away from complex styles toward a cleaner look, manufacturers say, with transitional and contemporary designs leading over traditional.

“Customers are also looking for clean and simple designs,” says Ramsland.

Greg Sheets, product marketing manager for decorative hardware at Hafele America Co. agrees that the trend is toward less ornate products. He states, “It used to be, especially when it came to wood ornamentation, people were looking to put it anywhere and everywhere in a kitchen. That trend has diminished and we’ve refocused our products on cleaner [looks].”

Lisa Koskela, manager of the Keeler Design Studio for Belwith, LLC says, “Simple contemporary and rustic designs are popular among our high-end customers. The desire for hand-detailed ornamentation still makes a classic refined statement, which we’re also seeing on the high end in a variety of finishes. Mainstream design needs are more streamlined, though, and soft contemporary designs are still most popular.”

At Alno, Inc., simplicity is also very important. “The trend seems to be streamlined toward effortlessness in appearance and sophisticated sleek in style,” says Singer.

Mockett offers a different perspective on the trend, however. Rather than choosing simple or fancy designs, he asks, why not all in one? “Typically the fanciest designs are, well, simple. One of the most attractive features in modern design is the ability to blend seamlessly with the overall design,” he says, adding that convenience, subtlety in design and functionality are the key components of any classic design.

Economic Impact

The slow economy continues to impact hardware trends, with many consumers updating their spaces rather than doing full remodels. This has an umbrella impact on styles and finishes, according to Mary Nichols, senior product manager for Baldwin Hardware in Lake Forest, CA. “For the first time in years, we’ve seen an increase in brass finish products. This is mainly because consumers will stay within a finish/style that is already within the home when replacing products versus when they are remodeling and can start with a blank slate.” Additionally, she says, “Consumers are doing a lot more research before making a purchase decision. And they’re not only looking for inspiration but also how they can achieve a particular look at a more accessible price.”

Singer says that contemporary minimalist designs continue to be the strongest trend due to the economy.

Ramsland believes customers are choosing “safe” design because of economic issues. “In the past, kitchens were designed based on consumers’ wants. Now they have in the back of their mind, ‘what would happen if I need to sell…what is the safe option for positioning my home for future sale?’” he says.

Mockett believes that the economy affects trends only in the sense that designers and consumers are keeping a closer eye on costs. “In the end, there’s really no substitute for great design. Even in times of economic hardship, consumers recognize a good product with an ageless design and know that it will last much longer in the end than by cutting corners and using cheaper materials,” he says.

Sheets sees a demand for products that are made domestically or in Europe, however the economy creates more pressure for competitive pricing, which sometimes forces people to look to the Far East for product.

Design and Finish

Design demands are different depending on whether the hardware is primarily functional or decorative. For functional hardware, it’s all about discrete solutions, according to Dennis Poteat, marketing communications manager for Blum, Inc. in Stanley, NC. “Concealed hinges and drawer runners have always been the preferred product in any kitchen,” he says.

Jan Fitzpatrick, customer and market relations manager for the Kernersville, NC-based Grass America, Inc. agrees. “In our industry of functional hardware, consumers still like the look of a wood drawer box,” she says. “However, they’re more educated about how the hardware should function and are aware of the difference in the movement of the drawers. They have learned the difference in roller slides versus soft-closing undermount slides. They are more aware of full-extension giving full-drawer access vs. partial extension leaving 1/4 of the drawer under the countertop. The consumer is more educated and wants high-quality, high-performance hardware.”

On the decorative side, while cleaner designs are in demand, there’s more variety in what people may be looking for. Sheets says, “A lot of people are trying to blend looks and designs throughout the home. Hardware can pull it all together.”

Singer sees the shape of decorative hardware changing as well. She states that square, rectangle and oval hardware is fashionable.

As far as finishes go, the choice varies by style, but stainless, satin and brushed finishes still top the list, according to most manufacturers.

Nichols says, “For finishes, the trend is toward satin nickel or white bronze, which is more mainstream. These finishes accent the product well, but can soften the impact within a room.”

Singer says that minimalist designs in combination with texture and different kinds of materials such as Swarovski crystals, leather and brass are very popular. At the high end, she sees “ornate designs of crystal combined with traditional or contemporary styling gaining market momentum.”

Mockett adds, “Darker, antique finishes are a popular new trend that gives an aged appearance. English Antique and Antique Brass finishes in particular are becoming more and more popular on drawer pulls and bathroom fixtures.”

Koskela says, “Coordinating of finishes between faucet, cabinet and accessory hardware remains challenging for designers and drives our development of new finishes. We are seeing the emergence of a finish we call Vintage Brown Nickel and have exclusive high-end products to satisfy this new trend.”

An interesting trend in Europe that Sheets expects to see making its way to the U.S. is that people are using more raw finishes, such as rough sawn wood with a rustic appearance, or unfinished zinc with a clear lacquer for a raw basic look.

Custom Made

While unique pieces can set a design apart, the demand for customized hardware seems to have waned in recent years due to the economy. Nichols sees some requests for custom hardware – either a totally new style or a style in a finish not currently offered – but these requests are less frequent than in years past.

Mockett says there will always be a market for custom hardware since every job is different and may sometimes require special attention. “Custom hardware tends to be more expensive due to the nature of the work involved, so it may be beneficial to seek an alternative that is a standard piece and readily available to reduce costs. But if the job calls for an uncompromising specification, there may not be any other option,” he says.

Koskela agrees: “Due to people’s creativity in designing kitchens and our capabilities, custom is still in our company’s vocabulary.”

Ramsland, on the other hand, says “I haven’t had a customer request custom hardware in years.”

Technology Trends

Technological advances have a big impact on the functional hardware market, manufacturers say. Soft-close and touch-open systems have become more standard than unique, but other areas such as electrical components are expanding.

Poteat says, “Successful designers, dealers, manufacturers and cabinetmakers are all looking to differentiate themselves from everyone else; to offer something that no one else can.” For Blum, this means having the soft-closing mechanism built into the hinge for a more discreet look, touch-to-open waste/recycle bin drawers, and lift doors in upper cabinets, which according to Poteat is Blum’s fastest-growing product.

Fitzpatrick says that soft-close is the “hot ticket” on the market currently. “On drawers and doors, everyone loves the smooth, quiet closing action. It just makes you feel good to give your door or drawer a little tap and it closes automatically.”

Fitzpatrick adds, “Some trends are moving away from visible decorative hardware so the ‘touch’ systems for doors and drawers come into play.”

According to Tripp, “Touch-open hardware is often used due to the desire to not see the hardware and have a cleaner design…in this case, the hardware is allowing for the design to work, rather than dictating the design.”

Dewald sees technology having a profound impact on hardware, and adds that on the functional front, consumers have migrated to higher-quality soft-close features on both drawers and hinges. “Customers want more from their products, and technology will continue to play a defining role in meeting those needs,” he says.

Mockett states that electrical components, for items like coffee makers, and technology in the kitchen, are seeing the most growth. “Power and communication systems are really beginning to take flight. While the convenience of having power and data options at your fingertips on the desktop has always been a popular idea, it is now essential in the kitchen and other areas. We are constantly expanding our line in order to accommodate the growing world of technology,” he says.

The trick is to incorporate this technology into a sleek and modern design, he adds. “With basic convenience and functionality in place, the biggest challenge is creating a design with a clean and unobtrusive look. Recessed models or spring-loaded, pop-up models are a very popular way of hiding the power and data components when the unit is not in use.”