Design Guide: Cabinet Hardware
Updated: Oct 16, 2020
Emily Morse, Designer. Emily loves dogs, skiing, and helping her clients make their homes beautiful and functional.
If your kitchen tells a story and don’t they all then cabinet hardware is the punctuation.
Though your cabinet hardware may be the most used aspect of your kitchen, it is often a severely-underutilized design element. It’s usually a late-stage decision, which makes it far too easy to reach for that discount contractor pack of knobs from the big box store and call it a day. You’ve made a hundred choices already and you’re running on fumes and the thought of tripping on a drawer pull as you sprint towards the light at the end of the tunnel makes you want to cry.
Pump the brakes! Take a deep breath and set aside some time to think - really think - about your options, because there’s a lot to choose from.
Before you dive into the wide world of internet hardware shopping (I’m looking at you, HardwareHut.com), write down the answers to the following questions:
How many drawers do you have?
How many doors do you have?
What is your door/drawer ratio?
If you have upper cabinets, what is the ratio of lower doors to upper doors?
Are there any other unique hardware moments? Do you have floating shelves that need brackets?
What style is your kitchen? -and/or- How much do you want to notice your hardware?
The answers to these questions should start to narrow your options into a manageable selection.
There are four main elements of cabinet hardware that will compete for attention in your space:
For each of these elements, consider the answer to the questions above. A balanced, cohesive kitchen blends these elements in a way that makes sense relative to the cabinet configuration. A fool-proof recipe for hardware harmony is to keep at least two of these elements the same. For example, if you’re going for a modern style and want a mixture of bars, pulls, and knobs, keep everything in the same finish.
The beauty of your kitchen doesn’t matter if it doesn’t function properly, and the type of hardware you choose has a significant impact. Knobs and bars will work for both upper and lower cabinets, but cup pulls (sometimes called bins) are best suited for drawers. Mixing pull types will keep your cabinets from feeling one-dimensional and will ensure that each piece of hardware serves its purpose. If everything functions properly you’ll be thinking about your cabinet hardware because you love using it, not because you have to think about how you're using it.
Integrated hardware is a great way to include necessary function without adding additional materials in your space. Adding functional pulls into doors and drawers can be done in all manners from invisible, to subtle, to a major focal point. But be mindful before you attack your cabinet doors with your cordless jigsaw (though I’m not saying don't do this) this is an area where form should really not outweigh function. Finger holds should be big enough, deep enough, and located in the right place so that they’re as easy to use as a standard knob or pull. And don’t forget, you can’t swap these out like traditional hardware.
A purposeful cabinet hardware selection should enhance the style of your kitchen rather than deviate from the language you’ve already created. If your cabinets have a modern vibe, hand-forged wrought iron drawer pulls will make your space feel disjointed, not rustic. On the flip side, if your kitchen is feeling bland and lacks a defined style then cabinet hardware can be an easy way to create one.
If you’re using multiple types of hardware, keeping them in the same style is the easiest way to maintain harmony. Look for elements like repeating shapes, lines, and textures. Not all square knobs are modern, and not all modern knobs are square.
The scale of your hardware can encompass more than just its physical size. The amount of visual weight that each piece takes up relative to its cabinet will determine how much of an impact it has on your design overall. For example, an integrated finger pull can run the entire length of a drawer but might be barely noticeable if it’s thin and has clean lines. A face-mount pull of the same length would carry much more weight.
The scale of your hardware has an impact on more than just it’s appearance. You’re using your drawer pulls multiple times every day, if they’re undersized and difficult to open you’re less likely to use that drawer. The length of your pull has an impact on the size of the drawer face it can mount to, and where on that face it can be mounted. Pulls that are mounted towards the center of a door or drawer face carry more visual weight than those mounted towards the edge.
For ages, metal hardware has been hailed as the way to go. It’s durable, hygienic, attractive, and timeless. But timeless doesn’t have to mean boring, especially with SO many different options available. Regardless of style, the most important aspect of your choice is quality. Solid brass hardware is worth the splurge; it’s far more durable than other metals, will feel substantial and expensive in your hand, and comes in a variety of finishes to match any aesthetic. If it goes with your style and taste, try exploring some of the new finish trends, such as soft brass, matte black, or rough steel. If you plan on matching finishes throughout your hardware scheme, stick with the same manufacturer- one company’s brushed nickel may not match others.
If you’re looking to add some warmth to your space, natural materials like leather, stone, and wood are a great choice. Acrylic or lucite elements will add a modern, clean feel without carrying a lot of visual weight, while vintage ceramic knobs can add a pop of color and some interest. Using an unexpected material will add a layer of texture in your space and will help make your kitchen truly feel custom.
You might’ve noticed that there’s no mention of matching your fixtures to your hardware here. That is intentional, and there are a few reasons for this. Old-school kitchen design theory would cry heresy at the idea of mismatched finishes, but the current design world is changing and expanding so fast that the old rules hardly apply. In most kitchens, there are far more cabinet pulls than there are sink faucets (which tend to come with fewer options), so let the dominant element drive your finish choice. You could even mix metals in a single hardware piece. It’s your language, choose whatever it is you want to say!
Like any language, the true beauty of cabinet hardware is its ability to adapt over time. Trends and tastes change, and your hardware is one of the most flexible design elements in your kitchen. This is not the case for a bad 80’s backsplash, so take this advantage whenever your needs (whether form or function) change. When those gorgeous, oversized bar pulls you fell in love with years ago become the perfect step ladder for your curious toddler, don’t hesitate to swap them out for something that better suits you now.
Stay tuned for more design tips!
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