Hardware Provides Essential Accents

Though decorative and functional hardware may not top consumers’ lists of design considerations when remodeling kitchens and baths, it is a crucial element in the end product. That’s because hardware provides both critical functionality and a touch of style that can dramatically enhance the look and feel of the space.

In fact, according to manufacturers recently surveyed by Kitchen & Bath Design News, hardware is often the one design element that pulls the entire look together.

“Generally, hardware decisions are secondary to the cabinets, surfaces and other elements in a design,” says Kathy Dustman, owner of Notting Hill Decorative Hardware, in Lake Geneva, WI. “However, when a great deal of effort is put into designing the kitchen…finally choosing the right hardware is critical to pulling the look together.”

Mihai Subran, product manager for Decorative Hardware, Richelieu Hardware in Montreal, Canada, agrees. He believes that the right hardware has the power to change not only the look of the kitchen, but the value perception of the space as well, with quality hardware enhancing the sense of elegance that consumers desire.

Although hardware trends have evolved from elaborate “jewelry” effects to quieter accent pieces, this doesn’t change the importance of its impact, according to Daniel Tripp, product marketing manager for Hafele America Co. in Archdale, NC. He states, “Today, hardware complements the look and design that is going on, as opposed to being the star of the show.” But while he notes that the trend is toward understated hardware, Tripp adds that this accent role still has a significant impact on the room’s design by tying the look together.

Doug Mockett, CEO of Manhattan Beach, CA-based Doug Mockett & Company, Inc. agrees. “The main role of hardware is to accent the overall design. Subtlety is key – encroaching on the design is not the idea. While the role of the hardware is simply to enhance, not to take the spotlight, it is extremely important not to overlook the hardware. A key piece of hardware can turn an otherwise ordinary piece into a stunning one.”

Hardware is also an easy element to change out, creating a fresh look without much fuss. “Designers and homeowners can showcase a variety of styles through their choice of form and finish,” says Katie Hindman, brand manager for Amerock in Atlanta, GA “Budget-conscious consumers will often opt to change out their hardware for a fresh new look.”

David Tyler, v.p./marketing at Top Knobs in Hillsborough, NJ, agrees. “Hardware is such an economical and easy way to update that it should be an after-sale promotional idea for designers looking to draw new business from existing customers.”

Flexible Design

Design preferences vary widely, and while the hottest trends generally lean toward simple, clean lines, there’s still some demand for decorative details, manufacturers say. “Complex designs make for an interesting landscape, but the idea is to keep it clean,” says Mockett. “If even the most complicated designs can still somehow maintain a simple elegance, then it is a very effective tool in enhancing the overall aesthetic. A clean, sophisticated look will always rank more favorably as a timeless classic. Even with the demand for extravagant designs on the rise, it’s important to maintain some level of simplicity.”

Subran says, “Transitional designs are the big thing now, a switch from classical intricate details, because end users are more conscious about their budget and shop for long life products.” He says that Richelieu predicts that “the Art Deco influence of the ’20s and ’30s will be more present in the next two years, accompanied by silver colors.”

Hindman sees forms becoming more simple and clean. At the same time, she says, “Subtle textures and patterns are being used to create interest and balance.”

Chad Wheeler, division manager kitchen and bath for Hettich America L.P., in Buford, GA, adds, “We’re seeing more integrated handles being used that don’t take away from the look of the cabinets.”

Tyler sees multiple trends occurring simultaneously on the design front, from a rise in simple, clean design to a desire for crafted or artisan looks. He says, “The other day I heard a designer say, ‘With all of the options in the marketplace, why is it still so hard to find the one you want?’ This idea of personalization – or finding the pattern that matches your lifestyle – is really relevant.”

Flexibility is also a key consideration. Dennis Poteat, marketing communications manager for the Stanley, NC-based Blum, Inc. says, “[Designers] want to be able to use all of our solutions in [any] type of cabinet and door combination: modern or traditional cabinets, wood or aluminum frame doors, narrow or wide drawers, short or tall uppers, light five-piece or heavy, thick doors. We design our hardware to work with as many applications as possible to give the kitchen professional the greatest possible freedom in designing their kitchens.”

It’s also important to the design for hardware to be concealed, such as undermount drawer slides that showcase the beauty of the drawer box or concealed hinges that give a clean finish to cabinet doors, according to Jan Fitzpatrick, customer and market relations manager for Grass America, Inc., in Kernersville, NC. “Clean lines, small gaps and tight reveals between doors and drawers are the job of functional hardware. Design demand for functional hardware is all about quality products in the kitchen,” she says.

Finish Line

When it comes to hardware finishes, the standards remain the same – nickel, stainless and polished chrome lead the way. At the same time, manufacturers see demand for antique finishes and bronzes, as well as some more modern finishes.

Subran says nickel still sells best, but every variation on the silver color is increasing in demand. They’ve also seen some call for bold, bright colors, such as red, yellow, orange and ruby, as well as a revival of antique finishes applied on large contemporary handles.

Tyler adds, “Of course Satin Nickel is still trending – but we’re offering more modern finishes in white and aluminum. At the same time, crafted Tuscan bronze and antiqued finishes are still holding strong.”

Mockett says polished finishes are making a big push in kitchen and bath hardware. “A polished chrome or polished stainless steel fixture can really enhance the surrounding design, especially in a very modern setting. Polished finishes can help complement any vibrant color schemes, especially white, black or bold primary colors,” he says. In addition, he calls satin stainless steel “a classic stand-by” that can be used on almost anything. “Stainless steel never seems to experience any waning in popularity, mainly due to its versatility, low-maintenance and durability,” he says.

Hindman notes, “Rustic and classic silver tones continue to dominate the market. We are slowly seeing gold tones re-emerge, especially in accent pieces such as hardware.”

At Notting Hill, Dustman says the firm is seeing requests for richer, warmer finishes such as Dark Brass, Antique Brass and Satin Gold.

SIZING UP

When it comes to size, oversized or larger decorative hardware seems to be trending upwards. At the same time, there’s still demand for hardware that is small and unobtrusive, and even some desire for no hardware at all on the fronts of cabinets and doors.

“Variety is the biggest demand we see,” says Poteat. He adds that although 21" drawers are still the standard in the kitchen, Blum offers drawer runner lengths from 9" to 30" to handle all possibilities.

Dustman adds: “Customers appreciate choices in terms of the length of the pulls. If they have tall pantry doors or large drawers…they want a larger-scale pull.” Notting Hill has seen a trend toward larger hardware due to the prevalence of larger doors and drawers in kitchens, she adds.

Hindman also sees oversized cabinet hardware becoming more popular. “It is predominately being used in larger kitchens, but oversized knobs are also being chosen for furniture restoration projects,” she says.

Travis McElveen, product manager for functional hardware at Hardware Resources in Bossier City, LA, concurs: “We are seeing longer lengths becoming more popular, 128mm and 160mm center to center. Some customers are straying away from putting two pulls on one long drawer and like the longer lengths.”

Fitzpatrick adds that the trend toward larger doors and drawers affects both functional and decorative hardware. “The larger drawer is becoming increasingly popular," she says. "The lower cabinets are switching from doors to drawers. In many cases, drawers allow better access to the interior contents and utilize the space better than a cabinet, and the accessories for drawers seem to be endless.”

Mockett says that while there’s a move to make everything smaller, or at least low-profile, the hardware still has to maintain the same basic functionality. In some instances, he says, designers are using hardware that can hide away when not in use, offering a clean, modern look. With the rise in demand for power and data connections in more areas of the house, particularly the kitchen, he adds, “Soft touch, spring-loaded and pop-up designs are all extremely popular, mainly because they hide away when not in use. The added presentation value of the pop-up design has some allure as well, but mainly convenience and accessibility features drive the market.”

Movement Matters

Functional hardware is all about ensuring that products work the way a customer needs them to. On doors and drawers, that means movement – whether sliding, swinging open or lifting up and out of the way.

In design, movement is key to the role of functional hardware, says Fitzpatrick. “One wants to feel the drawers glide in and out with a slight push/pull, or they want to watch as their cabinet doors close smoothly and softly without slamming,” she says. “As our consumer base becomes more and more aware of the various options available, then the movement systems [hardware] will play a greater role. A potential client may love the way the interior of a drawer is outfitted with storage accessories, but if it doesn’t close smoothly or is noisy, interest is quickly lost.”

Using lift mechanisms for upper cabinets is a trend coming out of Europe, says Fitzpatrick. “Bi-fold, parallel and standard flap lifters are all being utilized more in the kitchen environment, opening up all types of design opportunities,” she says.

Another trend that has to do with movement is the rise of sliding doors. Tripp says that sliding doors have come and gone and are now coming back. They aren’t used everywhere in the kitchen, he says, but in a couple of key places where they can help access and keep the work flow going without doors or drawers out in the work space. In the past, he says, sliding door hardware has been co-planer, with one door sliding in front of the other, which didn’t always work aesthetically. Now, new hardware has been developed that keeps the doors on the same plane when they are closed, and when opened, slide out one on top of the other.

Functional Technology

Technology has had an impact on hardware, primarily in opening and closing mechanisms for drawers and doors. Manufacturers agree that soft-close technology is now expected in drawer and door hardware, and touch-open is also on the rise.

Tripp says the demand for soft close is finally reaching the consumer level. Now, however, he says soft close is standard to the point that manufacturers don’t want to bring a product out if it’s not available with a soft-close mechanism,

Fitzpatrick agrees that the soft-close feature continues to dominate the market. “This popular feature is driving more manufacturers and cabinet makers to make the soft-close function a standard rather than an upgrade. In the beginning, everyone wanted a soft-closing drawer but now the attention is focused on the doors.” She says that adjustments to the soft-closing feature, in addition to height, depth and side adjustments, are increasingly important to the installer.

Stephanie Lowe, decorative products manager for Hardware Resources says, “We are seeing more and more movement toward soft-close hinges as well as soft-close undermount drawer slides. People really like the look of the concealed undermount slides.”

Wheeler sees dampening as becoming standard on all drawers and doors. “This feature is more important on drawers than the actual extension of the drawer,” he says.

In addition to the soft-close features, push-to-open is also on the rise, some manufacturers say. Lowe notes, “Push-to-open slides are being requested more frequently in certain applications (i.e. double cutlery drawers, trash pull-outs, etc.) where hands-free operation is desirable.”

Wheeler agrees: “Push-to-open is becoming more popular, whether it is the electrical version or the mechanical version. With the electrical version of push-to-open, you can still achieve the dampening effect on the drawers and this is the direction most high-end manufactures tend to take.”

Custom Considerations

While custom hardware appeals to the very high end of the market, “it rarely affects overall market trends,” says Mockett. “The custom nature of the design often curbs the demand due to long lead times and higher production costs. By offering a vast selection of parts and styles as stock, a good eye for mixing and matching complementing hardware pieces can often turn any job into a custom design.”

Subran agrees that, while custom hardware may appeal to those who want something totally unique, the market is too small to influence overall trends.

Notting Hill offers custom-designed hardware, which Dustman says helps to influence which new designs and/or finishes are added to the firm’s general offering. “There is no better way to survey market trends than by responding to repeated client requests for a specific item,” she concludes.

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