W&WP December 2003

Kitchen Hardware Trends Offer Quiet Functionality

Quiet-closing drawer systems, adjustable hinges and enhanced color options are just a few of the trends being demanded of cabinet component manufacturers.

By Jo-Ann Kaiser

This year's hot new cabinet component trends offer cabinet manufacturers, designers and consumers sophistication and opportunity for customization. Products are available featuring a variety of options including space management and privacy, as well as bringing blissful quiet to the kitchen via soft-closing mechanisms.

Wood & Wood Products Magazine went to a handful of major hardware manufacturers to find out what is new and different in cabinet components.

Quiet Closings
The trend most frequently mentioned by hardware manufacturers is the desire for peace and quiet in the kitchen.

"The hottest trend in functional hardware is the soft, quiet closing of the drawers and doors," says Jan Fitzpatrick, advertising manager at Grass America. "This seems to be a most popular request and for a relatively low cost you can add a fantastic feature to your door and drawer hardware."

Fitzpatrick says customers have reacted very favorably to the new closing systems, which make it virtually impossible to slam a door or drawer. "Even when the drawer is slammed, the shock absorber is activated and slows the momentum of the drawer during the last phase of closing, allowing the drawer to shut in a smooth, quiet motion."

Blum Inc. says the technology makes even heavily loaded drawers close slowly, smoothly and quietly. The product has applications for doors as well, says Karl Ruedisser, Blum's general manager.

"When the drawer is 2 inches from closing, the device engages, causing resistance to be applied to the self-closing mechanism on the runner," he adds.

Hettich America L.P. also offers a product that "makes drawers seem to float on air, closing in complete silence," says Carol Flammer, a spokesperson for the company.

In addition to operating quietly, the system prevents the contents of the drawer from shifting, doing away with the need to realign utensils in the kitchen drawer. "Drawers glide smoothly with reduced speed during the last phase of closure," she explains.

Under development is a fitting system for horizontal and vertical sliding products, enabling the technology to "quietly" move into cabinet component sectors, Flammer adds.

Salice America, Mepla-Alfit and Hafele America also offer various versions of the soft-close technology.

"The introduction of soft-closing doors and drawers four years ago was part of the industry's shift toward more functional hardware and accessories," says Matteo Fragosi, national sales manager for Salice. "Consumers are asking manufacturers to add the soft close to almost any cabinetry, demanding an unobtrusive mechanism that will enhance the quality of their finished product. The benefit to the cabinet manufacturers is that it adds tremendous value to their product."

"It is too early to say for sure, but this is the type of technology that I think the market will demand as standard in the same way clip-on hinges have become standard," says Matthias Bulla, product manager for Mepla-Alfit.

Open Wide
Bigger openings, whether for drawers or doors, is another request of consumers.

"Cabinetmakers, and consequently the end-using consumer, increasingly demand such kitchen niceties as total access to drawer and cabinet interiors and larger opening angles to make kitchens more functional," says Wolfgang Branner, vice president of marketing for Blum. "Such attention to detail guarantees a kitchen that is more comfortable, more ergonomically correct, more efficient, more organized and more fun. Quality of space and quality of motion are becoming driving parameters in kitchen design."

More Door Options
Philip Martin, directing of marketing and E-services for Hafele America says tambour doors have been around for a long time, but they are coming back in popularity because they create additional space while adding a distinct decorative touch.

"An entirely new use for tambour doors has been created with the new patient privacy laws. Doctor offices and clinics are using tambour doors as a way of protecting private papers," Martin adds.

"Different options (are available) in anodized aluminum or plastic. Plastic can be made to look like the color of aluminum and materials can be used jointly to give the aluminum look without a having to go to a total aluminum product," Martin says. "This saves on cost and ties into the aluminum and stainless steel look in appliances. Tambour doors in color combinations have made them more attractive, while letting them blend in with appliances."

Fragosi also notes a trend toward the use of aluminum for doors and drawers.

"Following on the widespread European trend, a growing segment of the U.S. market is aluminum doors, drawer fronts and accessories," says Fragosi. "They offer a clean, contemporary European style cabinet."

Sliding door technology also continues to evolve for kitchen and other room applications.

"Instead of doors that swing, doors that slide left to right or up and down in synchronization mode have many applications," Martin says. "We also see cabinetry management for home organization in kitchen cabinets. Chrome baskets with full solid melamine bottoms attached to wire frames gives a stable bottom and prevents food from falling through and gives the look of chrome. A complete line of shelving from 1/2 corner to full rounds offer better organization and space."

Martin also notes a trend for cabinet manufacturers to make wider drawers - up to 16 inches.

"With a wider drawer, there could be a chance of racking, so we developed a rack-and-pinion system that allows parallel side movement as the drawer extends, which eliminates the side-to-side drawer racking."

Making Adjustments
Adjustable hinges for cabinet doors are also making news, including 3-D hinges and adjustable base plates for European and face-frame cabinets.

"There's a whole range of adapter plates that are 3-D adjustable," says Bulla of Mepla-Alfit. "The main feature is that one can adjust the hinge in each direction. It is very fast and precise. Even warped doors or doors out of alignment can be easily adjusted."

Also out in the market is a face- frame adapter plate with pre-mounted wood screws so that European-style hinges can be easily mounted on face frames.

Eccentric cams for the adjustment of doors are also making news. "A face frame hinge with three cam adjustments makes it possible to never loosen the fixing screws in order to compensate for warped doors, racking and alignment problems," says Salice's Fragosi. "Cabinetmakers save a lot of time in installation and consumers can easily make adjustments when needed."

Products are also available for cam adjustment of frameless hinges. "It has a one-piece hinge and base plate combination and 3-D hinge offering six-way adjustment," says Fitzpatrick of her company's product. "A frameless hinge with face-frame adapters can be used in certain applications, like a wide opening angle."

Finding Solutions
Debbie Kniegge, Accuride's director of marketing, notes that today's customers are looking for solutions to specific problems. "We are becoming more specialized in products," she says, adding that one slide, for example "can't do everything."

"Weather resistant slides are designed to withstand indirect weather conditions, such as high humidity. Cabinetry in garages, boat- houses, and garden rooms would be ideal applications. Self-closing detent out slides are specifically designed to help keep keyboard trays out. We keep adding variations based on customer demands," Kniegge says.

Height adjustable table legs offer a modular solution that meets the need for flexible home environments and can be changed to meet the requirements of a wheelchair, child or adult.

"It's an economic, ergonomic approach that operates on a step by step ratchet system. In one table system there are 15 different settings, 20mm or 13/16 inches apart, equaling a total adjustment range of 300mm, equivalent to 11-1/2 inches," says Martin.

Hardware manufacturers are also responding to demands for products to make kitchens and other areas safer in the home.

Companies, such as Hettich for example, are marketing locking systems to secure drawers and doors from inquiring hands. Applications for the kitchen include the ability to lock up medicines as well as cleaning products, knives and scissors. Devices, such as Hettich's EasyLock, which combines code-card locking technology, can be installed out of view and retrofitted to existing cabinetry, says Flammer.

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