Knobs, pulls and handles — more than just functional, cabinet hardware is like the finishing touch on an outfit. The type you choose is a decorative flourish that adds interest and brings the space from fine to fabulous. In fact, just swapping out the hardware in a kitchen, bathroom or other space can totally change the look of the room. But which type should you choose: Does a drawer need a knob or a pull? What style is best?
Here’s a guide to the most common types of cabinet hardware that you’ll encounter, and which choices are best for your project. In all cases, there are plenty of options to help you create a stunning, personalized space.
Typically, a knob is a single piece with has a screw that fits through the hole in the door or drawer, attached at the back with some sort of fastener. These are the most common type of cabinet hardware and come in a huge range of styles and prices, from basic types you’ll find in the big-box home stores, to vintage glass knobs, and high-end bejeweled, embellished knobs that sell for very high prices. The materials these are made from also vary widely. Besides metal, glass, plastic, ceramics and leather are frequently used to create distinctive knobs of various shapes.
As with most things, budget and style play a role in the type of knobs you’ll select, but it’s also important to consider the specific drawer or cabinet. Many people prefer to use knobs for doors and pulls on drawers, but this might not work for heavy doors or doors that hold garbage and recycling bins, for example. Knobs are less convenient on drawers, especially if they hold heavier items. Also, long drawers — over 18 inches wide — generally need two knobs, however, one larger pull is more convenient. It also keeps the drawer from becoming skewed over time from being pulled from one side. Vintage style kitchens often exclusively use knobs, because pulls were not common in past eras.
Novelty knobs (and pulls) are a great way to inject some personality into a space. This is especially true if you have a cabinet that is set apart in some way, such as a single set that has different doors or glass fronts or sits away from the rest of the cabinetry. This is the spot where you can easily do something fun and spend a little more because you only need a few knobs. Novelty pulls are not always the best choice for a door or drawer that gets heavy use because they’re not necessarily comfortable or ergonomically designed. That said, a couple of specialty knobs can make a big design impact.
Fans of embellishment and luxe details may like backplates, which are decorative pieces that attach flat against the drawer behind the knob. Backplates are a quick way to dress up the cabinetry for a more formal or detailed look. Functionally, backplates do help protect the front of the drawer from scratches and wear, but their primary purpose is decorative. It also gives a more modest knob a lot more design punch, emphasizing the style of the room. These are often found in interiors that are Victorian, Mediterranean, Gothic or traditional, to name a few. The only drawback of ornate backplates is that they are more difficult to keep clean.
Most kitchens will make use of a combination of both knobs and pulls, but for more contemporary or modern looks, it is common to see only pulls. Pulls come in all sorts of lengths and styles and angular as well and curved shapes. You’ll want to take into consideration the existing style of the space. If the room is full of curves and soft edges, for example, sharply linear hardware will not complement the design. Pick hardware that works with the general look of your space.
If the aim is to change out existing hardware, it’s important to remember that pulls are secured with two screws rather than just one, as knobs are. This means that you must measure the distance between the two screws before you start shopping for replacement hardware. Otherwise, the pulls you want may not fit the screw holes that are already in your cabinetry.
Bar pulls are not only super convenient, they are decidedly contemporary or modern, depending on the specifics of the pull. While they are ideal for wide and extra-wide drawers — like those where you would need two knobs — bar pulls can work just about anywhere. Some people prefer to have the bar be no more than three-quarters of the width of the drawer, but many new kitchen styles use pulls that are nearly as wide as the drawer. To find out what you like the most, just buy a couple and try them out before you commit to buying a kitchen full or hardware.
While they are a more obvious style of hardware, bar pulls are popular for functional reasons too. It’s much more convenient to open drawers that have a larger bar, especially with one hand as often happens in the kitchen. This type of hardware is best for modern, contemporary or traditional decor styles.
Also called bin pulls, these are shaped like an upside-down cup. They are often considered a Shaker style pull, but that is really a misnomer because the Shakers typically used wooden pegs. Regardless, cup pulls lend a streamlined yet vintage look to cabinetry because they are modest and unobtrusive. They work best in traditional or vintage spaces, including those that lean toward country or eclectic styles. Just like other pulls, this type comes in different finishes and a range of price points.
Similar to the handles that were found on old-fashioned heavy windows, sash pulls are compact and stylish. They’re ideal for traditional, farmhouse and homey kitchens, and have a vintage feel. Sash pulls are generally simple, not very ornate and feel very sturdy when you grab them. In addition, these are a good style to use when you have exposed hinges. Depending on the finish and the feel of the space, these types of drawer pulls can also work in an industrial space. This is one style of pull that definitely does not have to match knobs exactly.
Drop handles are actually comprised of two separate elements: The mounting that attaches to the door or drawer and the part that hangs down. These types of pulls are often found on pieces of furniture such as desks, dressers and credenzas. If you use them on cabinetry, it lends a furniture-like feeling. The dangling portion of the hardware can also be a highly decorative element. While rings might be the most commonly seen shape, others are also available and can lend a greater degree of style and personality to hardware.
Drop handles are best used for cabinetry that does not get heavy use because the smaller pull can be difficult to grab. Subjecting the handle to heavy-duty use could also have an effect on the mechanism. That said, used judiciously in the right places, these can really elevate the look of cabinets.
Hidden Spring Mechanism
The recent trend toward “hidden” kitchens and modern spaces with sleek cabinetry devoid of hardware has increased the use of hidden spring mechanisms. These mechanisms are located inside the cabinetry and rely on a spring that allows you to open the door with just a push at the corner. The door or drawer automatically pops open. This is very helpful when your hands are full or dirty and you need to open a cabinet: A nudge with the elbow, should or knee can pop it open. When you’re finished, all you have to do is push it in to click it closed. These hidden spring mechanisms are very useful in all types of kitchens in areas where a knob or pull might be in the way or inconvenient. By far, however, they get the most use in modern style spaces that aim for a sleek look.
Sort of a hybrid between the sleek, hardware free-look and traditional pulls is the cut-out. These are sections of the cabinetry that are cut out to make an opening to accommodate your hand for pulling open the door or drawer. This type of pull is common in custom cabinetry and can save a bundle when it comes to hardware. By incorporating cut-outs, you eliminate the need to purchase decorative hardware, which can add up to a bundle if you choose high-end options. Cut-outs can be large or small and can be made in a variety of shapes, depending on your preference.
Most homeowners tend not to devote much attention to hinges, but they should. These are what make your cabinet door function and there are many types to choose from. Hinges can be even more important if your style of cabinetry uses exposed hinges. The style of cabinet door and how it goes with the frame will help determine what kinds of hinges you can choose. Cabinet doors can cover part of the frame or be inset. Is it a single door or a set of double doors? Even the hinges you don’t see from the exterior are important because there are different types, including soft-close hinges that prevent cabinet doors from slamming — really helpful with children and teenagers!
Yes, sliders are important hardware for your allowing your drawers to slide open and closed, but the kitchen cabinetry market is also seeing new types of sliding cabinetry. If you’re looking at basic drawer sliders, there are different types of mountings that can be used — side-, center- and under-mount types are the three most common versions. All rely on some sort of tracks and wheels or ball bearings to roll. In addition, many of today’s cabinets include roll-out shelving, which also uses the same mechanism. the space and types of cabinets you have will determine which one you need.
Among the newer kitchen innovations that use sliders are slatted doors that rise up and down to conceal shelving or workspaces along the countertop. Typically, these are controlled through either a wall switch or a remote control. These are particularly handy because they are easily left open while you are working in the space, and can close to a conceal everything in a sleek, handle-free look.
Latches and Cremone Bolts
Quite old-fashioned, latches and bolts for cabinetry hardware are still popular in certain styles of kitchens, particularly high-end spaces. Both are mounted on the outside of the cabinets and have a knob or lever that controls the bolt or tongue piece of the latch that hooks into a second mounting on the frame of the cabinetry. Common among ultra-luxury manufacturers, Cremone bolts consist of knobs with vertical rods that slide closed. This is one of the types of hardware that has matching exposed hinges. If you like this style, be sure to budget for it because each one commonly costs over $100 and some cost far more. Incorporating this kind of hardware only works with certain styles of decor, which mainly include vintage and antique kitchens, or country and colonial styles.
Sometimes the hardware you use needs to make a statement and oversized pulls are perfect. Designers of all types have developed large, artful pulls and knobs that will immediately get plenty of attention. While these are not meant for use on every cabinet, they can help a centerpiece cupboard or door stand out. Ideal for large custom doors that cover big sections of kitchen shelving and workspaces, they turn a plain door into a focal point. Oversized knobs and pulls on a slightly smaller scale can also be used to highlight a specific area of the kitchen. From purely metal forms to big bejeweled knobs, all kinds of options exist in this category
The options for pulls and knobs are endless, but this guide gives you a starting point. Take a look at your style and your budget, then start looking for knobs that fit both. You’ll find plenty of choices that will make your doors and drawers super stylish.
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