In the mid nineties, I attended my first Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS) in Chicago.

It was extremely inspiring for me, and one thing that stuck out was the variety of decorative cabinet hardware that was on display.

I wrote an article for my local NKBA chapter describing cabinet hardware as the jewelry that put the finishing touch on your Kitchen design.

This was a big discovery for me since the cabinet line I was working with at the time arrived with decorative hardware already attached to the doors and drawers!

That trip began my love affair with cabinet hardware.

In today’s VESTA Blog I want to take it a step further and discuss how to select the decorative hardware for your client’s Kitchen and most importantly where to place it on the cabinets.

Decorative hardware on cabinetry

When I work with Kitchen Designers, I often find out that they struggle to get the decorative hardware chosen for a project.

In many cases the finishing selection meeting has gone long, and everyone is fatigued, with the decision then made to choose the hardware at a later date.

The problem with this, is that with the chaos of choice in decorative hardware may mean the ideal hardware may take weeks and even months to arrive.

Supply chain issues have become the norm for the Kitchen industry, so the sooner you can have your client make the decision on their decorative hardware and get it ordered the better.

Also, don’t fall into the “let’s wait and pick the hardware once the cabinets are installed trap.

This can lead to disappointment due to long lead times and the cost to have the cabinet installer standing around waiting for the hardware decision can add up!

As with everything to do with Kitchen design, you need to have a process.

Here is mine:

Selecting & Positioning Decorative Hardware

1. Choose your Type

There are three typical combinations for decorative hardware.

They are:

  • All knobs
  • All pulls
  • Combination of knobs & pulls

This is a good starting point for decision making.

Your client’s choice will then start to direct you on what types of products to present.

If they choose all pulls, there is no need to be showing them any cabinet knobs.

2. Choose your Finish

The next choice should be the finish.

I like to break this down into these 3 categories.

  • Cool Metals
  • Warm Metals
  • Accent Finishes

A cool metal refers to finishes such as polished chrome, brushed chrome, polished nickle, brushed nickel, stainless steel etc.

A warm metal would include finishes like brushed gold, brass, bronze, copper etc.

Finishes such as matte black, white, glass, porcelain, crystal, leather, or a powder coated color is what I would deem an accent finish.

There are different ways to help your client choose their finish.

You could suggest the cabinet finish match the faucet finish, the decorative light fixture finish or the door hardware throughout the home.

If the client was going for a trendy look you could suggest they choose a mixed metal scheme and make the cabinet finish a focal point.

Of course, if the decorative hardware is to be a focal point you could steer them towards a unique finish for a one-of-a-kind look.

3. Choose Your Placement

The most important hardware positioning decision is at the drawer banks.

The three different positions are called:

  • Classic
  • Stylish
  • Functional

Classic has the handle or knob placed in the center of the top drawer and the same distance down, usually 3″ on the lower drawers.

Classic installation works well on slab styled drawer fronts.

Stylish is a popular installation style where all of the hardware is centered on the drawer fronts.

When placing hardware on drawer banks produced using 5 piece construction you need to watch your spacing on the top drawer. I’ll show you some examples near the end of this post.

Functional placement has the decorative hardware being placed on the top rails of the drawers.

There are two reasons this placement is called Functional.

  1. The hardware placement on the top drawer doesn’t get squeezed inside the center panel
  2. The hardware placement on the lower drawers is more easily reached, especially on the bottom drawer

If your design is incorporating Universal Design, I would suggest you consider this hardware placement for your client.

In any case, you should discuss the hardware placement with your client to ensure no installer “mistakes” during installation.

4. Choose Your Sizing

A lot of decorative hardware is available as a collection, offering the designer different sizes to work with.

You could opt to choose a standard size such as a 4″ handle, and use it throughout the Kitchen.

Or you could mix it up and choose hardware sizing based on the cabinet size.

Many hardware collections offer oversized pulls and this can produce a modern look in your Kitchen design, especially on slab styled cabinet doors & drawers.

Once you have made these 4 choices with your client, you should be able to specify the final manufacturer, model number, size and finish.

5. Final Choices

You will now want to document your client’s choices and get them ordered!

The above 5 steps are the basic process every Kitchen Designer should go through when specifying decorative hardware.

To help you with this process you can download VESTABUL SCHOOL OF DESIGN’S checklist for selecting and positioning decorative hardware here:

FREE Checklist: Selecting & Positioning Decorative Hardware

Unique Installations

Of course, there are additional options and as the Kitchen Designer you should be aware of these and suggest them when appropriate.

In this first example handles and knobs were mixed with handles on the wall doors beside the microwave hood and knobs above, with knobs on the lower doors and handles on the drawers.

An interesting choice that looks great in this symmetrical design.

In the second example the same sized handle is used throughout using both horizontal and vertical placement.

If your Kitchen design includes small wall cabinets stacked on top of standard wall cabinets you may want to choose a knob for the top cabinets rather than a matching handle.

This proportion of this set up is more pleasing as seen in this first example above.

The green and white kitchen in the second image combined bell handles and knobs.

Bell handles were included on all the green cabinets and knobs on the white cabinets, which works well in this English inspired Kitchen.

For a sleek minimal look consider hardware that is attached to the edge of the doors and drawers.

This type of hardware continues the horizontal line produced by the cabinetry and is great for a modern Kitchen.

Before I wrap on this post I would like to share with you a few images of hardware selection and placement you will want to avoid.

Poor Hardware Placement

When specifying hardware for shaker styled drawer fronts, ensure the hardware is accessible if you are placing the hardware on the recessed portion of the drawer.

In the two examples above the placement of the hardware cuts off the accessibility of the handles.

You can see with the wide handle example only the tips of the users fingers can fit into the handle.

This will be something that will be very irritating to the homeowner day to day, and for cleaning.

The next two examples have to do with aesthetics or the look of the Kitchen once the hardware is installed.

In the first image, the handles on the drawers under the glass door cabinets are much too wide.

A smaller version of the handle or even a knob would have worked better in this situation.

The second image is hardware overload.

By adding two handles to each drawer bank it produces a look that is too busy.

Another issue with specifying double handles on drawer banks is functionality.

Most users will typically grab just one handle and pull the drawer out. Over time this will pull the drawer out of alignment and potentially bend the drawer tracks.

Selecting and placing hardware is not something that should be left to chance.

It is a detail that can make or break the final look of your Kitchen Designs.

By using the VESTABUL SCHOOL OF DESIGN’s hardware checklist it can become an easy part of your Kitchen design process.

The VESTA Blog is full of articles related to the Kitchen Design Industry, specifically written for the Kitchen Designer. If you would like to receive it in your inbox each week, subscribe here:

Jan Rutgers has been designing kitchens and products for over 25 years and is a recipient of Kitchen & Bath Design News’ Top Innovators in 2020 for the Kitchen & Bath Industry. She has designed more than 1000 kitchens learning valuable skills with each one! Her experience in Kitchen Design, Millwork Manufacturing and Product Development has led her to create VESTABUL SCHOOL OF DESIGN where she educates and mentors people passionate about the Kitchen Design Industry.

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