Is it hardware or bling?
August 20, 2023 | 12:24 pm CDT
will-sampson 230510 webinar

Decorative cabinet hardware is an interesting product. It’s called “decorative” because it adds an embellishing aspect to the cabinets, but at the same time it must actually be functional. Knobs and pulls need to work as well as be beautiful.
But that functionality is relatively easy to accomplish, so that offers a big sandbox for designers to play in. They can experiment with materials, colors, looks, and finishes in so many ways it’s probably impossible to run out of ideas. There are the basics, of course, like metal finishes in silver, gold, black, and bronze.

But that’s just the beginning.

Shapes can be out of this world, from traditional or reproduction pulls to modern and contemporary styles. Everything from angular to swoopy and textures from rough to polished. I’ve even seen plastic pulls shaped like dinosaurs intended for a child’s room.

We still haven’t decided on the knobs and pulls for the kitchen in my house in the middle of the Maine woods, but we’ve been toying with pulls that look like twigs, acorns, leaves, river stones, and other nature inspired themes. They look great by themselves, but will those be too much on every door and drawer in the kitchen?

Going in the opposite direction, the hot trend in Euro kitchens is eliminating all the visible hardware for a smooth and seamless look across the front of the cabinets.

I’m thinking of all these choices while recognizing that many custom cabinet shops don’t want to have anything to do with this. They let the homeowners pick the pulls and just charge to install them. Are they missing out on profits or avoiding a huge hassle dealing with the homeowners’ decision-making process?

I’m not a designer or an architect, so I don’t have any formal design training to tell me how important decorative hardware is to the look of a completed cabinet project. Of course, I do have a visceral reaction when I see hardware on cabinets that I think is really ugly, uncomfortable to use, or too over the top for my tastes. Everybody can be a critic.

And no one can discount the power of trends to shape these decisions. If tomorrow some Internet influencer starts a fad for purple metallic hardware, every shop will start getting calls. After a while when that look gets old, the homeowners will be looking to replace them all with a new flavor of the day.

Maybe part of the reason so many custom shops don’t try to make money on decorative hardware and leave these decisions to the customers is because it’s just so tedious to try to keep up with the trends. Let the designers who love the excitement of trendsetting try to surf that wave. Meanwhile, I still don’t know what to put on my kitchen doors and drawers.

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

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About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editorial director of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.