Kitchen Jewelry

“Jewelry is a personal thing. It should tell a story about the person who’s wearing it.”

Crystal Knobs

Decorative hardware – knobs, pulls and, in some cases, hinges – is the jewelry of your kitchen design. While the selection of hardware is often one of the last choices we make, it is by no means an afterthought. It is the finishing touch that puts the punctuation mark on your style statement. However, I’ve seen the faces of my customers as they set their gaze on a wall full of hardware sample boards. The eyes glaze over, color drains from the face, and the next thing I hear is, “What’s popular these days?”

Puzzled Man

If you’re hoping to get a definitive answer to alleviate your indecision over hardware, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed. There is a dizzying array of styles, finishes, and sizes available in today’s marketplace, as well as a choice in mounting placement (surface mounted, recessed, vertical, or horizontal). Returning to the jewelry analogy, women treasure a favorite little black dress because it can be accessorized in so many versatile ways. Some women favor bold, chunky necklaces, while others prefer delicate chains. Someone with a taste for time-honored classics might be attracted to a simple string of pearls, while a penchant for a little bling could cause her to reach for that diamond pendant. Of course, there are always minimalists who believe that the perfect LBD needs no additional adornment at all! In any case, the embellishment (or lack thereof) reflects the woman’s personality, and there are no wrong choices. It’s the same with cabinet hardware.

Audrey Hepburn

This month we highlight senior designer Randy O’Kane and some of the statement-making applications she has utilized in her designs. We will also hear from a few of her favorite hardware suppliers to learn their perspectives on current trends.

Knobs from Classic Brass Hardware
Classic Brass Hardware

Randy designed this traffic-stopping display for the front window of our flagship Mamaroneck showroom. The cabinetry features a combination of frameless full-overlay construction on the perimeter and framed inset on the island. The choice of hardware here is an example of integrated handles, where the cabinet manufacturer machines the recesses for the hardware in the factory.

Grey Bilotta Kitchen with metallic tile backsplash and square cabinet pulls
Kitchen Design by Randy O’Kane, CKD in Bilotta’s Mamaroneck Showroom

Unlike most other decorative hardware, integrated handles require that a choice be finalized when the cabinet order is submitted. (And if you want to switch out the hardware in the future, you’ll be ordering all new doors and drawer fronts!) On the perimeter, the rectangular recess of the handle echoes the stepped design of the inside profile of the door.

Grey Bilotta Kitchen with silver accents

Randy wanted something different for the island. While it’s also integrated, it has a square convex silhouette; when you push on the top edge, the handle pivots out so you can grab underneath. Both styles are in a brushed nickel finish by Richelieu.

Grey Bilotta Kitchen with square silver cabinet pulls

Randy chose integrated handles for this mater bath as well, but instead of taking center stage in the design, these were meant to play a supporting role. Known as an edge pull, or tab pull, it’s a low-profile handle that projects less than an inch from the cabinet fronts.

"Edge Mount Pull" from Sun Valley Bronz
“Edge Mount Pull” from Sun Valley Bronze (for style, not finish)

Although it can be attached to the rear surface of the door or drawer, Randy chose to have the edges of the fronts routed at the factory so the handles would sit flush. The cabinetry is a richly stained walnut veneer and Randy wanted to maintain the calm Zen esthetic of the space, so she selected a dark bronze finish that blends inconspicuously into the background.

Contemporary Bathroom features vanity with edge pull hardware
Bathroom Design by Randy O’Kane, CKD

Along with Blair Harris of Blair Harris Interior Designs, Randy designed this little sapphire gem by pairing a bold splash of color with traditional inset cabinetry for Blair’s own home in lower Manhattan. The focal point of the kitchen is the spectacular black range with polished brass trim.

Traditional Blue Kitchen with brass hadware
Kitchen by Randy O’Kane & Blair Harris – As Seen in Traditional Home Magazine

Randy wanted to repeat that golden hue without creating a distraction, so she chose brushed bronze hinges, knobs and pulls (from Rejuvenation Hardware), all in simple clean shapes, for a soft complimentary accent.

Soapstone Sink with brass faucet

For a customer who desired an old-world look that avoided looking old, Randy used white painted cabinets in the kitchen and grayish-blue in the butler’s pantry. The clean lines of the frameless full-overlay construction contrast nicely with the luxuriously large French Blue Lacanche range with brass knobs and trim.

Traditional White Kitchen with brass hardware
Kitchen by Randy O’Kane, CKD

She topped it with a custom stainless-steel hood with brass straps and rivets. So, the old-world touch? Unlacquered polished brass decorative hardware. Often referred to as a “living finish”, unlacquered means that it’s going to age (yes, tarnish!) with use. This isn’t a finish for the faint of heart or those obsessed with everything looking brand-spanking new, but the patina it yields is unrivaled for its well-lived effect. The shapes Randy chose are also very interesting. They include the classic cupboard latch and bin pull; but Randy thought outside the box and judiciously saved them for select accent doors and drawers, using a standard pull everywhere else: a smaller size mounted vertically on doors, and a larger version mounted horizontally on drawers.

Traditional White Kitchen with brass hardware and wire front cabinets.
Kitchen by Randy O’Kane, CKD

Take special note of the vintage-looking corner trunk protectors toward the top of the island legs. This kitchen is a perfect example of how decorative hardware can contribute to the mood of a kitchen without yielding to the temptation to create a literal period reproduction.

Traditional White Kitchen with custom stainless and brass hood
Kitchen by Randy O’Kane, CKD

It’s clear that Randy is a big fan of integrated hardware. One of her favorite styles is the campaign pull, which is a replica of the type of handle that would have been found on trunks. The handle is flush with the backplate; a recess behind the handle allows you to reach in to grab and pull. A wonderful source for this is House of Antique Hardware, which specializes in creating reproductions of – you guessed it – antique hardware.

For special projects, Randy turns to a little-known company called Lowe Hardware. (Not to be confused with the big box building supply and hardware store.) This highly regarded firm creates custom hardware designed by the architect or interior designer that will be unusual and unique to the project.

Sometimes Randy is looking for a new twist on texture. She loves the diamond-cut knurled cross-hatch bar pull by Buster + Punch. Cast from solid brass, it has smooth brass ends, a rectangular backplate and features two faux screwhead accents. It’s a contemporary take on detailed decorative hardware that’s worthy of being placed up front and center in a kitchen or bath design.

We’ve been talking mostly of knobs and handles, but decorative hardware also includes hinges used on inset cabinetry as well. Randy loves the look of the olive knuckle hinge, which is a beautiful alternative to the more typical butt hinge with steeple or ball-shaped finials, or even those without finials at all.

Traditional White Kitchen with polished nickel hardware
Kitchen Design by RitaLuisa Garces in Bilotta’s Manhattan Showroom

The olive hinge is actually more of a football shape, though the olive moniker has a decidedly more elegant culinary connotation. The trend in inset construction has been to either minimize the appearance of the hinges or eliminate them altogether by choosing concealed inset hinges. The olive knuckle bucks that trend by making the hinge a “notice me” feature of the cabinet fronts.

Olive Knuckle Hinge
Olive Knuckle Hinge

Here in Westchester County, we have an amazing source for decorative hardware right in our own backyard: Katonah Architectural Hardware in Katonah, New York. (They also have locations in New York City and Chicago.) Randy uses them time and time again for their access to a wide range of products, as well as the professionalism and knowledge of their staff. Their specialty is custom hardware for any residential or commercial project in any part of the world, and they are a favorite of architects, designers, and retail customers alike. Amanda Valvano, from their Katonah showroom, says that they’re seeing similar trends in all three stores: customers are showing a greater interest in minimalist designs such as edge pulls and flush/integrated styles. More then ever, their clients are also requesting handcrafted finishes, with hand-burnished brass and hand-burnished nickel holding particular favor.

Knobs from Katonah Hardware

However, as much as customers are loving contemporary hardware, there is one type of cabinet latch dating back to the 18th century that, surprisingly, is still being used: the Cremone bolt. This is a bolt with two vertical rods that move up and down via a rack and pinion mechanism, so that the ends of the rods fit into the top and bottom of the frame to secure the doors. Amanda sees them used most frequently on focal point glass door cabinets intended to display treasured possessions. The “Westminster” model is one that clients are especially drawn to.

Westminster Cremone Bolt by Katonah Hardware
“Westminster” Cremone Bolt by Katonah Hardware

Regardless of whether you choose something classic or contemporary, clean-lined, or ornate, Amanda acknowledges that high-quality hardware can represent a significant investment in your home. Luckily, all these “trends” are really timeless, so you can be assured that selecting the perfect piece will contribute to the success of your overall design.

The "Westminster" Collection by Katonah Hardware
The “Westminster” Collection by Katonah Hardware

Many times, Randy wants a custom size or finish to provide just the right final touch to complement her one-of-a-kind designs. That’s when she’ll often count on Classic Brass to fit the bill. Classic Brass is an American manufacturer that prides itself on craftsmanship, customization, and flexibility. Solid brass bars are transformed with fine turnings, forgings, and hand finishes. (The finishing process involves eight different steps!)

The Finishing Process at Classic Brass
The Finishing Process at Classic Brass

Matt Patterson of Classic Brass echoes what we’ve heard from others about trends in the marketplace: that the clean shapes of modern or transitional designs are garnering the greatest interest. The modern “Park Lane” and “Aspen” collections and the transitional “Après” collections are their top sellers, while their traditional “Chautauqua” collection rounds out their four most popular offerings. (I especially love the re-imagined interpretation of the “Après” cup pull, with its cubed attachment feet!)

The "Après" Collection from Classic Brass
The “Après” Collection from Classic Brass

What’s special about their line is that both the “Après” and “Aspen” collections can be made to any custom length. Not only do they have more than 30 standard finishes, but they can also offer custom “split finishes” on the grips and feet. Hammering is an additional custom option to make your hardware pieces uniquely your own.

Hammered Hardware by Classic Brass
Hammered Hardware by Classic Brass

Matt says that while polished chrome, polished nickel, and satin nickel are still strong, the trend toward brass finishes (such as polished or satin tarnished brass and even unlacquered polished brass) continues to gain momentum.

Polished Brass, Satin Tarnished Brass and Unlacquered Polished Brass knobs from Classic Brass
From L. to R.: Polished Brass | Satin Tarnished Brass | Unlacquered Polished Brass – from Classic Brass

Randy believes that when you’ve designed a kitchen using the finest materials, the cabinet hardware shouldn’t be the place where you skimp on quality. Yes, you can buy less expensive plated zinc pieces that look fine, but if you were to compare the weight of one of those with the heft of a similar solid brass piece, you would immediately understand where the difference lies. Examine both pieces closely and you would also easily recognize the superior fit and finish of the higher quality hardware. This is why another of Randy’s go-to sources for hardware worthy of her designs is Armac Martin.

Hardware by Armac Martin
Hardware by Armac Martin

This eclectic kitchen is a perfect example of that philosophy. Although the cabinetry is a traditional inset style, the pale green and deep eggplant color scheme immediately announces that this is not a cookie-cutter kitchen. The unique island countertop overhang of a slice of a tree supported by bundled branches is more evidence of a special space. So, what kind of hardware do you use here?

Leebank Knob by Armac Martin in Satin Brass
Leebank Knob by Armac Martin in Satin Brass

With all the spectacular eye candy in the room to catch your gaze, Randy wanted to keep the hardware simple and contemporary, yet still honor the high design standard set elsewhere in the room.

Plum Colored Kitchen Cabinetry
Kitchen by Randy O’Kane, CKD

At first glance, this may look like a standard tubular handle, but closer inspection reveals that this Armac Martin piece offers an original take on a familiar genre. Rendered in satin nickel, this specimen has slightly thicker ends on the tube, with the feet centered on the thicker sections. A subtle but meaningful distinction, with smooth transitions between all the parts.

Leebank Appliance Pull by Armac Martin in Satin Brass
Leebank Appliance Pull by Armac Martin in Satin Brass

Armac Martin is a 90-year old company in Birmingham, England, founded with a commitment to solid brass luxury design, quality, and attention to detail as its guiding principles. All their collections are designed in-house and are available in 21 plated and patinated finishes.

Armac Martin’s Richard McGrail reinforces what we’ve already learned: that satin brass in clean lines continues to be on trend. Richard highlights some of their most popular collections. One of them is the “Edgbaston”, which is a linear pull in four sizes designed to be recessed into the edge of a door or drawer front.

Oak Cabinetry with Brass Hardware by Armac Martin
Display Design by Bilotta’s Goran Savic with Hardware by Armac Martin

This appears in satin brass on one of our Manhattan showroom displays (along with one of their satin brass bar pulls) as a sleek modern complement to the brass-framed glass doors and brass-trimmed shelving.

Brass Hardware by Armac Martin
Hardware by Armac Martin

In the “Bromford” collection, square bar pulls and knobs mounted on small square backplates create a strong geometric presence that is high-impact yet sleek.

Armac Martin's "Mix" Collection
Armac Martin’s “Mix” Collection – “Made by us, mixed by you.”

Richard believes contrast is the key to adding visual depth to a design. “Combining silver, gold, brass, or iron with additional metal accents creates texture and layers…”  and provides a counterbalance to an otherwise minimal design. The “Mix” collection (whose slogan is, “Made by us, mixed by you.”) epitomizes this concept. As the name would suggest, this collection allows the customer to mix or match from solid brass machined components: choose the style and finish of knobs and caps, as well as the size and finish of backplates. This standout combination (the photo Richard sent) of matte black backplates with satin brass knurled knobs and caps is a stunning statement piece suitable for any area of a contemporary and modern interior.

Armac Martin's "Mix" Collection in various finishes
Armac Martin’s “Mix” Collection – “Made by us, mixed by you.”

Choices, choices, choices. Too many to decide? What would Randy do?

This post was written by senior designer, Paulette Gambacorta. Paulette has been designing kitchens with Bilotta for over 25 years.


Kitchen Jewelry