Trends are often surprising. Take, for example, automobiles. Despite all the advanced spray technology at our fingertips, the vast majority of new cars and trucks nowadays are either silver, black or white. A few creative people have found subtle ways to impress their personalities on these bland canvasses. And what their custom rims, hood ornaments and chrome are to pickups, hardware is to kitchens. Casework is essentially just boxes with different colored coatings, so it’s often left to countertops and hardware to add a sense of drama, or at least uniqueness.
So, it was with a sinking heart that I read in home decorating writer Jenna Shaunessy’s blog (jennakateathome.com) in October that cabinet hardware is trending toward matte and satin black finishes. Are our kitchens now heading the way of our pickup trucks? Will they, too, soon become monotonously monotonal?
But there is hope.
Shaunessy also reports on several other trends such as moving toward latches instead of knobs, a tendency to mix and match knobs and pulls, and an emerging preference for square bar pulls over tubular.
She’s not alone in predicting a new direction for cabinet hardware. Austin Stone, writing for The Hardware Hut (thehardwarehut.com) earlier this year, reinforced that notion. In a piece titled “Exploring hardware trends at KBIS 2020”, he opened with a statement about black and brass finishes being back. Satin brass, it seems, is especially hot and is being delivered in a brushed, matte finish to convey warmth and luxury. Stone also asserts that black has seen a steady rise in popularity over the past three years, and it continues to grow.
Philadelphia-based HomeDecorAZ.com’s annual hardware report also gives one hope. The company’s blog suggests that oversized pulls are becoming trendy, and that the metal look isn’t restricted to brushed brass. The advice here is to limit the choices to two or three metal finishes, so as not to overwhelm the senses. Among the suggestions is to “install classic oil-rubbed bronze fixtures with warm champagne bronze hardware to combine modern and classic finishes”. And HomeDecorAZ also echoes Shaunessy’s observation about mixing and matching. The company floats the idea of using one style of pull/knob on the wall cabinets and another on the bases. And here, again, there is reference to matte black hardware but this time with a caveat: “Take it a step further and add in gold hardware accents to complement your cabinet color”. The trend seems to be toward a particular accent color, champagne gold.
Designer Carrie Barker blogs at carolineondesign.com and in April she wrote an entry titled “Is gold cabinet hardware too trendy?” In it, she makes the very essential point that the goal here is to keep your design foundation (that is, the cabinets) classic and timeless, so that even though the hardware evinces an individual’s growth and evolution in style, the process is not irreversible. One can always change the hardware without having to re-do the whole kitchen. Of the current and very hot trend toward gold hardware, Barker says that homeowners who regret the decision or later on feel that it is over the top can “easily change out an entire kitchen of cabinet and drawer hardware in one afternoon”. That is a salient point, and one that woodshops can use to encourage their clients to experiment a little with the cabinet hardware.
Early in the year, Katlyn Droke wrote on the Cabinets to Go blog (cabinetstogo.com) that matching the cabinet hardware material to the sink (copper, granite, etc.) is a good place to start when choosing accents. She also suggested that there is a trend toward ‘nothing’! Minimalist kitchen designs, she says, may look better with no visible hardware. Doors and drawers may often incorporate hidden grooves for grasping, but push-to-open hardware can obviate the need for decorative, face-mounted pulls. Of course, the unspent investment in knobs and pulls can then be applied to upgrading hidden hardware such as better slides and hinges. Droke also suggests an option for homes where small children live, where one uses nothing on the uppers but installs hardware on base cabinets. That way, they can get a grip with little fingers yet can still be barred from entry to cabinets where potential hazards such as cleaning supplies are stored. And once again, she underlines Shaunessy’s observation of a trend toward mixing and matching. Droke suggests knobs on doors and pulls on drawers.
What we’re learning about better kitchen cabinets by attending virtual trade shows this year is that everything that moves is now equipped with soft and silent closing and/or easy-open touch (push) mechanisms. Even some big box casework is starting to feature soft closing as standard. Plus, the idea of bumping a door or drawer front with a knee, and not actually having to touch a pull or knob, somehow seems like a more hygienic way to open cabinets these days (especially in institutional furniture such as clinics and schools).
Speaking of health issues, there is an ongoing and increasing awareness of physical challenges when it comes to kitchen and bath design, and it’s not just a required response to the ADA. This trend is based in reality. Baby Boomers are getting older, and many of them are choosing to age gracefully at home rather than inhabit the rest homes in which they ensconced their parents. One offshoot of this awareness is the reappearance of knurled handles, knobs and pulls. The knurled patterns allow for a more secure grip in hands that no longer function as well as they used to. Cabinet hardware is also being used to make life easier for elderly folks in lots of other ways. There are trends toward full access slide-outs in base cabinets, upper doors that raise like airplane flaps, innovative corner cabinet treatments that no longer require getting down on your knees to see what’s on the lazy Susan, and even placing handles and pulls lower on upper cabinets, and higher on bases. This latter is one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to customize a kitchen.
The longer we live with the virus, the more design trends seem to be edging toward a sterile and uncluttered look. That is especially true in urban markets that are populated by younger, more professional and hence very busy people. Here the handles are minimalist, so they complement plastic monochrome doors, hidden storage and empty countertops. Floating shelves with hidden supports are very trendy too, as they add to the clean look of European style kitchens. Hardware manufacturers have responded accordingly over the past few months and introduced a lot of new floating shelf options. They’re easy to build and install, so woodshops like them, too.
Now that the world is building better lightbulbs because of light-emitting diode (LED) technology, kitchen designers are able to reduce the sizes and shapes of traditional ceiling and wall fixtures. Thin and stylish suspended bars are replacing some recessed lighting: these almost have a retro look of fluorescent fixtures except that they are sleek and skinny, and far more efficient. Lighting designers are also installing more under-counter, above-the-cabinet and even under the toe-kick accents. Cabinet shops are adding more and more LED strips and pucks inside casework, much of which is tied to mini motion detectors. Open the door and the light turns on. LEDs can be installed safely in all kinds of applications because they don’t overheat, and they can be focused either for broad flood coverage or for spot detail. They can even be set up to change their color and intensity to match specific tasks or even times of the day – softer yellow in the morning perhaps, and a stark and intense white light when kitchen tasks are being performed.
Not everything is sleek
The farmhouse look, especially with traces of French and Italian provincial influences, is still quite in vogue in many markets. It probably always will be, as it imparts a sense of tradition, security and warmth. Rustic hardware underscores and embellishes the aged and slightly worn look of that style, so oil-rubbed finishes on traditional metal handles are still popular. Katlyn Droke also feels that old-fashioned cup pulls are making a bit of a comeback in farmhouse and cottage style cabinets. Cup pulls, which are also known as bin pulls, are the ones where the top is enclosed in a circular housing and one’s fingertips slide into the open bottom. They have been part of the restoration movement for a century because of their vintage charm.
Over that century we have gone from Henry Ford saying that car buyers can have any color they want as long as it’s black, to car buyers choosing almost nothing but black and white. That’s either a failure to evolve, a lack of spontaneity, or an innate dullness in an entire population over several generations.
Let’s be optimistic, and just call it a trend.
This article was originally published in the December 2020 issue.