Unconventional Openings

Sliding door and lift hardware technology offers new design options and solutions.

By Jo-Ann Kaiser

When Phil Martin, director of marketing for Häfele America Co., attended the International Furniture Fair in Cologne a year ago, he took note of a number of trends in kitchen and furniture design that could be of interest to the U.S. cabinet and case goods markets.


Sliding Doors in Action: Custom Ark for Temple

James Tolmach's chapel ark delighted both the architect in charge of the project and the clients, the people of Temple Kehillat Chaim of Roswell, GA. It also impressed the judges of the 2005 Custom Woodworking Business Design Portfolio competition, for which it earned an honorable mention.

"The chapel ark, designed by Irv Weiner Architects, is a 7-foot-tall cabinet. It holds an old Iraqi Torah, the scripture written on a scroll," says Tolmach, owner of Hand Made Furniture of Avondale Estates, GA. "The Torah stands behind textured glass doors that slide away synchronously."

The materials used to fabricate the ark include: maple and African mahogany solids and veneers over a plywood substrate, Flutex glass, incandescent and halogen lamps, and Häfele hardware, including the Freeslide sliding door fitting.

"Designing for mounting and adjusting the Häfele hardware was the most difficult part of the project, but the effect was worth the effort," Tolmach says. "The architect had specified sliding doors instead of pocket doors, and I was searching for hardware without visible tracks."

Tolmach says it was vital that the doors not only look good, but open and close effortlessly. "The doors slide open and close nicely and come together with a cable mechanism. Because of the synchronous aspect, you touch one door and they both move," he says. "It isn't visible and it stands up under heavy-duty use." -- Jo-Ann Kaiser

While the Cologne Fair is an annual event that focuses on residential furniture, kitchen displays are included every other year. Martin says it looked as though Europeans had adopted the American view of the kitchen as the center of the home, with kitchens that opened onto other rooms for a better flow and design consistency. Kitchens are being seen as the home communications center, a homework area for the kids and a home office for mom or dad, as well as offering a social environment for entertaining.

"Blending into the whole décor is a trend," Martin says. "Tall sliding doors made of exotic matched veneers covered a whole kitchen, with the matching island, dining table and living room furniture in the same veneer. The kitchen is just not a place to cook, but opens up to the whole house and serves as the heart of the home."

Europeans may be taking a cue from the U.S. designers' trends in making the kitchen much more than just a place to prepare meals.

At the 2005 Cologne Fair, Martin says the retro look - specifically the look of the â??80s - was evident. Design news for kitchens also included handle-free cabinetry and wider drawers for below and above the counter, plus sliding doors and lift technology.

"Hinged doors that opened upwards were shown in all exhibits," Martin says. "If it did not go upward, it went sideways, hiding appliances, and found in all sorts of dimensions, from short height to full height doors for tall cabinets."

Martin says most sliding doors were made of wood, glass/metal or glass. The new door systems are important as new design statements and options in ways to close cabinetry.

Wood & Wood Products asked a handful of hardware manufacturer representatives to discuss their companies' sliding door and lift door offerings, as well as the advantages they may bring to cabinet and case goods manufacturers and consumers.

Blum Inc.

Blum is introducing Aventos, hardware that Dennis Poteat of Blum's marketing services says will offer a great ergonomic solution for the kitchen. "Aventos is an assisted lift system, so it opens and closes with just a finger touch. It is great for tight spaces, such as beside a refrigerator where doors would hit. We feel many people will use them instead of doors on every upper cabinet," he says.

Poteat says Aventos is easy to install. "The doors are clipped on without tools and off for transport and installation. Clients report that handles are easier to install when the doors have been removed. The opening force is also easily adjustable." Aventos also has integrated Blumotion smooth-and-silent closing and a safety feature so fingers are not pinched in between the two doors when closing.

Blum also offers a pocket/flipper door. "Pocket doors offer a practical hardware choice for an unhindered view into the furniture, such as TV cabinets. The doors disappear in the carcass. The flipper door features a front that is folded upwards and pushed inwards."

For more information, phone (704) 827-1345 or visit www.blum.us.

Grass America Inc.

Jan Fitzpatrick, marketing manager for Grass America, says the company has introduced both automatic and friction horizontal door lifters. "Both offer smooth, quiet action along with sleek European design. One of the most popular uses for this lifter is with aluminum frames. We have an adapter plate that allows you to put the lifter on the inside edge of an aluminum frame," Fitzpatrick says.

Applications for the technology include not only residential kitchen cabinetry, but entertainment centers or residential case goods and institutional furniture. "It is sturdy enough and carries enough weight capacity that it can be used for all types of applications, such as a doctor's building, office or school," Fitzpatrick says. "The design is small and sleek and has a very nice appeal to consumers and designers. With the automatic lift, you just pull it and it rises to the maximum level. The friction style stops wherever you place it. We have featured these items for the past three or four years. They have been very popular in Europe."

The full range of lifters from Grass offers smooth, quiet action and fits cabinet heights of 103?8 inches and higher. Lifters can be used with any door style and any material including aluminum frames with the addition of an adapter plate. Cabinet brackets use the 32mm system for easy installation. The system includes micro-adjustment for proper alignment of doors.

For more information, phone (800) 334-3512 or visit www.grassusa.com.

Häfele America Co.

Lift-up cabinets and sliding doors offer new design options as well as new functionality for the kitchen and other rooms around the house, Martin says. "Sliding doors and lift-up doors are for more than just the kitchen. This technology is perfect for entertainment centers. Not everyone wants to have an electronic mechanism that lifts a TV up and down, but they may want to have a cabinet they can dedicate to their LCD or plasma screen TV. Sliding doors offer a great way to conceal the home entertainment electronics when not in use."

Martin says sliding doors are not new. "Häfele has had some kind of sliding door since it was founded. This second generation offers ease of installation, as well as increased performance. They operate smoothly and add extra value to the cabinetry and design," he says.

"It is also a design element for the consumer. You have the ability to use a combination of materials such as glass and metal (an aluminum frame with a glass door); instead of having a hinged door, it can be a door that can be moved up or down or left to right."

Häfele offers a wide variety of hardware mechanisms that can accommodate small and large doors. "The technology has improved greatly over the years so that now many of these are adjustable to the weight of the door handle," Martin says. "What this means to manufacturers is that when they are designing a door that goes up, by having this adjustability built into the mechanism, it doesn't matter what kind of decorative hardware is placed on it. You can adjust the mechanism to compensate for the weight of the handle."

Häfele lets users choose their function with Duo, a double duty lid/flap stay. It can be used as a wood door stay, aluminum door lid stay or flap stay and offers functionality and adjustability with left- or right-hand mounting and clip mounts to brackets without tools. An adjustable braking effect stops the brake at the desired opening angle and is set with a 4mm hex key.

Vertical sliding door solutions are offered for wood and aluminum and glass doors via Häfele's Libra. Fitting set options include independent vertical sliding door systems for wood or aluminum-framed doors and are compatible with a door panel maximum height of 393?8 inches, a maximum width of 63 inches and a maximum weight of 44 pounds. The Libra is designed for use with kitchen cabinets, entertainment centers and office furniture.

For more information, phone (336) 434-2322 or visit www.hafele.com.

Salice America Inc.

Matteo Fregosi, general manager of Salice America, says, "We have long experience with both sliding doors and lift doors. We are on our third generation of lift doors. The main advantage of a lift door is not having the door in the way. It offers the best utilization of space and aesthetically is very pleasing. With more space, you can fully utilize the entire cabinet."

Salice offers Lift, a lift system for flap doors. The system was introduced in 1995 to offer an alternative solution for opening wall units, solving the problems of space utilization and door movement. The latest version has been modified to make assembly easier and to optimize usage of the cabinet's interior.

"One of the best things about it is that it can be used on really narrow cabinetry, too," Fregosi says. The company describes Lift as compact, linear and simple to assemble, and less obtrusive, "lending itself to furniture with restricted depth, such as bathroom cabinetry, adding functionality and design impact." He adds that Lift is easy to adjust and door closing is silent because it incorporates Salice's integrated decelerated closing system.

It is available for wood-based and aluminum frame doors and can be opened without handles. "If a client wants to add handles or decorative hardware, they can position it anywhere on the lower door. Other lift mechanisms have required positioning the handle in the center. This new ability to go without handles or with the freedom to position them anywhere is a plus, aesthetically," Fregosi says.

Fregosi says his company has a complete line of lifting mechanisms and has adapted the technology for use with face-frame cabinetry as well. "We have double-door lift mechanisms and single-door lift mechanisms. The single door is appropriate for designs such as office furniture, usually when the doors are wider than taller."

Fregosi agrees that European manufacturers have been quicker to adopt the sliding door technology and the lift mechanisms. "It's a trend in Europe to get away from decorative hardware and have the so-called clean look. Imagine a wall of cabinetry without anything sticking out - just the cabinets."

Fregosi says Europeans also have introduced an over-the-sink cabinet that is really a draining cabinet for clean, wet dishes to drain over the kitchen sink. "It's a very functional piece and gets away from having the dishes drain and dry in the open." Fregosi says a system for lift doors or flap doors is often used with this type of cabinet.

For more information, phone (704) 841-7810 or visit www.saliceamerica.com.

Sugatsune America Inc.

Sugatsune America offers a horizontal bi-folding door mechanism called HBFN. Steve Hirasawa, sales manager, Industrial Products, says the HBFN uses patented Lapcon technology for smooth and quiet movement.

"The HBFN is a unique new bi-fold mechanism that assists the door to open and close in a smooth motion. Its compact design requires no tracks or guides, and it can be mounted on the side. The handle can be put at a lower position," Hirasawa says. "This design is great for kitchen and other applications. With standard door hinges, the door is left open and gets in the way. With bi-fold doors, you can leave them open and get easier access to storage space."

Hirasawa says the product has been embraced for high-end and custom applications but he thinks it has wide appeal for all price points and for more applications.

Sugatsune says its sliding door hardware is easy to install and is available with three mounting options, including side surface mount, top surface mount or flush mount. The sliding door hardware is recommended for weight ranges from 130 to 170 pounds.

For more information, phone (800) 562-5267 or visit www.sugatsune.com.

                                                                                                                                                                                           

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.