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The innovation continues

Nearly 200 hardware manufacturers and distributors exhibited their latest products at IWF 2008 in Atlanta. In the kitchen arena, this year’s show was driven by seamless cabinetry with assorted slides and guides for soft-close drawers and doors, along with one-touch opening for both. Complete kitchens were on display, which were void of knobs and pulls.

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Products associated with providing improved accessibility and maximizing the use of space, not only in the kitchen and bathroom, but also in the high-end closet- and garage-storage markets, were received well by attendees.

No matter what type, style or size of hardware that exhibitors were pushing, it was clearly evident that the hardware market is continually changing and extremely competitive. There was an abundance of new items that have debuted in recent months at the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS), National Hardware Show and IWF 2008.

“The cabinet is evolving from a very simple type of drawer slide 10 years ago, to a mono-line underneath the drawer-to-drawer slides on the sides now, completely hidden and soft closing,” observes Mark Mrozik, national sales manager for Hettich. “Now we’re taking it to the next level and saying, ‘Hey, I want you to open it by yourself, I don’t want to have to pull you. So you will close by yourself nice and soft and now I’d like you to open by yourself nice and soft.’ So from an evolution standpoint, hardware is allowing us smoother, quieter, more precise action.”

“Obviously, the closet industry is a very important market we’re looking at over the course of the last year or two, as well as garage components and organization,” says Greg Sheets, senior product manager for Häfele. “We are very big in kitchens and always will be. We’ve put a lot of emphasis on kitchen components, kitchen accessories, hardware and so forth. But again, evolving and changing with the market and our customers, closets have really, over the course of the last few years, [taken off].”

Although many of the products displayed at IWF are geared toward the high-end market, a number of companies targeted cabinetmakers that do business with clients who have a medium price point.

“We try to have a grocery store mentality, a little something for everybody, and we believe in partnering with some of the strong companies, and you will see a lot of branded products in our catalog,” says Debbie Crouch, purchasing manager for Outwater Plastics and Architectural Products. “At times, when it makes sense, we may have a less expensive option, maybe not as good as a brand where we offer a customer another solution. What we try to do is not compromise the brand, but put another solution out there for customers who are on a budget, because we do have some customers who are really soft right now.”

“Our customers don’t want to wait [for new products],” says Peter Ross, vice president of marketing and product development for Knape & Vogt. “This year’s turn is drawer slides, and next year’s is something else. So we know we have to develop in every category … it’s a very competitive market and there’s a lot of good innovation going on, and we want to be on the front end of it instead of trying to catch everybody.”

Here is a look at some of the new hardware products manufacturers and distributors brought to IWF this year:

Accuride introduced its model 3832 Easy-Close, 100-lb. full extension, side-mount slide designed to bring drawers to a smooth, gentle close. The slide is designed for commercial or institutional settings, and high-end retail stores. In residential applications, the quiet performance is especially valued in a child’s room or baby’s nursery. This product is available in even lengths of 14" to 28" in clear zinc, black and white finishes.

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The company’s Quick Lift, a complete hardware assembly that installs a retractable flat panel television into cabinetry, was on display. The model CB-Lift 050, is operated by remote control, accommodates televisions 50" diagonal and 33-1/2" tall, has built-in cable management that keeps wiring clear of the mechanism, and has an auto-reverse feature that stops lift movement when an obstruction is encountered as the unit is lowered.

Berenson Corp. introduced three full suites of coordinating hardware featuring long pulls named Toccata, Forte and Opus. The company is out to change the mindset that oversized pulls are only for refrigerators.

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“There’s a trend toward larger-size hardware,” says Nicole Fisher, spokeswoman for Berenson Corp. “People needed to meet the needs of the built-in refrigerator and they want matching hardware throughout their whole kitchen, so we supply these longer pulls to match some of our current collections. We’re also introducing finger pulls, lip pulls, where you put them over the drawer and you stick your fingers underneath so you can open the drawer that way.”

Blum’s focus at its IWF booth was Servo-Drive, the new opening feature for its Tandem and TandemBox drawers.

“People were very interested in the internals — how it works,” says Dennis Poteat, spokesman for Blum. “Our Plexi cabinet showing the internal components and our assembly work stations were the biggest hits.

“At KBIS, we get great feedback on where designers would use our products; at IWF, the feedback is more on the ease of installation. Cabinetmakers were surprised that no special modifications needed to be made, and at how easy it was to install.”

Poteat says Blum is trending towards high-end products that represent the best possible features, function and quality.

“The idea of Blum as a hinge company is still strong in the marketplace with cabinet shops, but I think we are more well-known for the [U.S. manufactured] Tandem Plus Blumotion runners. This is especially true when you include kitchen enthusiasts. Many savvy high-end customers come into cabinet shops and kitchen dealers asking for Tandem Plus Blumotion runners.”

CSH Hardware unveiled its rolling ladder hardware kits in Atlanta, geared for use in libraries, bunk beds, storage areas and kitchens. The ladders are lightweight and strong, equipped with ultra-quiet top rollers and non-marring wheels, according to the company. The 16" wide ladders come in 8', 9', and 10' lengths and can be cut to length. Available in red oak, cherry and maple, the ladders are sanded to 120 grit and include pre-drilled holes and dados for rungs.

The company also had its popular pneumatic EZ Ball Spaceball insertion gun on display. Although not new, spaceballs are used in the manufacturing of solid wood panel doors, fitting in the rails and stiles of doors to keep the panel centered.

Grass announced that its popular Sensotronic electromechanically controlled motion for the Nova Pro drawer system is now being offered on a production basis. Sensotronic allows you to touch the drawer front with your hand, knee or foot to activate the motion of the drawer system.

Other items displayed at IWF included European-designed Lifter systems for cabinet interiors, an institutional hinge, several additions for use with the Tipmatic hardware line, a 13" undermount slide designed for use in a standard 14" closet and storage solution, and the Mepla-Alfit illuxo hinge with LED lighting.

Häfele has the advantage of being a global company with the ability to observe and evaluate products in Europe before bringing them to the U.S. market.

“We’re always engineering and looking for new ideas and new concepts, new technologies,” says Sheets. “A lot of the trends that we see here, quite frankly, evolved, in a lot of cases, from Europe. A lot of the European manufacturers look at the kitchen with a much more functional aspect. The technology of the kitchen and the house seems to be something in Europe where there is a lot more emphasis. That has been gradually evolving and making its way here.”

At IWF, closet industry products had a large presence at the Häfele booth.

“Anything from manufacturing the closets as far as doing the connections, all the connector fittings and things like that we start there,” adds John Runyan, Häfele product manager. “Then we go right into the accessories as far as belts, ties, valets, the wardrobe tubes. We’re now getting into hampers, pullouts, shoe organizers, a wardrobe lift so if you need seasonal clothes held at a higher level brought down every so often and changed out. Closets really are evolving. It’s not just the shelf and the bar anymore. It’s high end.”

The closet market has now spilled over into the garage, and improvements to both areas can be viewed as an investment, increasing the value of the house.

“We’ve brought out a new garage organizer system called the OmniTrac, and it does allow you to start storing the garden utensils, the sporting equipment, helping out with the workbench area,” Runyan says. “To a woodworker or to a closet company, which is our main focus with this product, they can take their cabinets that they already deal; now they can go into another part of the home to find more revenue.”

Hettich International’s IWF booth was crowded and busy. The European manufacturer highlighted its seamless kitchen with doors and drawers without pulls and knobs, LED under-cabinet lighting that uses standard 110-volt power supplies, and overhead ovens that move up and down at the push of a button.

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“I think you’ll see the electrification of drawers being standard and in two years the electrification of doors being more popular,” says Mrozik. “So that’s the evolution, and what happens is the price point is driven by the wealthy, the price point is driven by the expensive and the high end and it always trickles down. Demand will grab and say, ‘Hey listen, I don’t need a $100,000 kitchen to have an electrified drawer.’ ”

Additional offerings were the chrome and stainless steel Decore drawer top profiles, the OrgaFlex bin system for under a sink, the OrgaFlag organizing element for cabinets, and the InnoTech drawer system with a variety of options for kitchen organization that uses the Hettich Silent System to close drawers slowly and quietly. The MultiTech steel drawer system and new “sensys” hinge were among other notable offerings.

Knape & Vogt displayed a number of new items at IWF, showcasing its corner Lazy Susan drawer system that features two pull-out drawers mounted on KV in-line undermount slides. Four mount baskets can be adjusted to accommodate items of various shapes and sizes, and the unit rides on a rotating platinum-coated steel frame.

“The Lazy Susan drawer system has been a terrific product for us,” says Ross. “The demand on that is growing weekly, it’s a neat innovation to take that dark corner and turn it into something that comes out into the kitchen and gives people a lot of storage options.”

The company created easy-to-install waste and recycle bins for the kitchen, featuring soft-close drawer slides with a decorative slide cover, stylish wire supports, a Baltic birch platform and six-way adjustability for door alignment. The top-mount style holds single and double bins; a bottom-mount style is available for single, double and four bins.

“Things like waste baskets, to soft-close them into a cabinet hasn’t been done much and hasn’t been done at an affordable price point,” Ross says. “There are certainly some high-end products, but not in the everyday price points. So we’ve tried to do some development there to try and bring that feature to more consumers because people love it.”

Liberty Hardware introduced three collections of knobs and pulls. The chic and contemporary Barcelona decorative hardware collection of four knobs and four pulls features finely polished chrome, while the 10-item Venue collection of knobs and pulls has a satin-nickel finish. The Painted Woods collection has a hand-applied finish,

1-1/2" hardwood knobs and 3" center-to-center wood pulls that are available in “richly flavored hues” of ivory, honey maple, hazelnut, java and espresso.

Outwater, a distributor of thousands of hardware products, displayed a number of LED products, including its Powerhouse swivel light. Stainless-steel backsplashes in several patterns were also new items, as were various storage solution items.

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“We sell to a lot of cabinetmakers, and I’ve seen an increase in storage-solutions sales this year, so I think people are working on the inside of their kitchens instead of buying,” says Crouch.

“We decided as a company to make a deal with a company called Vanguard Plastics and they sell us closet hardware, plastic brackets, and plastic and wood dowels. We felt there was still a strong closet market, refurbishing, building closets that we weren’t reaching very well. We’re hoping with this Vanguard closet guide, not only are we going to still have the cabinet guy with the basic hardware, but we’re hoping we’re going to pick up more business with hardware on the closet side of things.”

Outwater’s philosophy is to obtain products that combine quality with a reasonable price point.

“We try to pick product groups where we know there is a demand for it, and I call it get-them-in-the-door product lines,” Crouch observes. “We really shop very aggressively to find the best source. We don’t want to compromise quality, but we indeed want to get the best source or the best manufacturer arrangement that we can, and then offer the customer the best price.”

Rev-A-Shelf, a company in the organization business aimed at maximizing space, had dozens of innovative shelving options at its IWF booth for kitchens and bathrooms.

“We were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the people that were at the show and the quantity,” says Rob Jenkins, director of marketing and consumer sales for Rev-A-Shelf. “We didn’t have real high expectations, given the state of the economy. It was a good show for us because of the interest in our new Rev-a-Motion waste container products, our green initiative, as well as our closet armoires.”

An extensive line of bamboo products was exhibited along with a base-cabinet combination pull-out; soft-open, soft-close bottom-mount waste container; bathroom vanity filler; wire storage baskets; cookware organizers; closet accessories; and assorted kitchen inserts.

“Oftentimes, the design of the kitchen in the past has been more important than the actual use or the operation of the kitchen. So what we’re trying to do is come out with some different items like those tall pull-outs [6" x 96"] that utilize previously dead space. It’s not only making things accessible, but finding those nooks and crannies and making sure that you utilize your available space, because space is a premium.”

Richelieu, a distributor, importer and manufacturer of specialty hardware and complementary products, unveiled a large selection of items at IWF. The company emphasized its promotion of green products with the introduction of three collections of solid brass decorative hardware to the marketplace that contribute to satisfying recycled content credits under LEED.

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Other products stressed accessibility, creating spaces, LED lighting, storage solutions, hardware for sliding doors and other opening mechanisms. In an effort to optimize closet space, Richelieu released its Orlando series of baskets, sliding racks, pull-out wardrobes, and various other supports to maximize flexibility while enhancing functionality.

Salice, known worldwide for its hinges, offered a new opening system for wall cabinets called Lift, a line of four opening systems for flap doors, folding doors, swing-opening doors and parallel-opening doors. The Lift systems were created to offer alternative ways to open wall-unit doors, giving greater design flexibility, while offering better space utilization. Their mechanisms are simple to assemble, designed for kitchen wall cabinets; and also lend themselves to cabinets with restricted depth, like bathroom cabinets, adding design originality and high perceived value.

This article originally appeared in the November 2008 issue.

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