Choosing the right cabinet hardware material can get complicated. The variety of materials available, the number of different styles and the wide range of costs can become overwhelming if you don’t have any idea of the strengths and weaknesses of each.
But trust us: There is a method behind the madness.
To understand the various materials used in hardware, as well as in which applications and budgets they work best, we will take a detailed look at each one. We will examine its pros and cons, methods of production and compatibility with different styles and color palettes.
Before we dive into the individual materials, however, let’s begin with an overview of cabinet hardware and its often-underappreciated importance in our kitchens.
The Importance of Hardware to the Kitchen and Home
The main hurdle to understanding the importance of hardware is that kitchen hardware is small. Just as the keys on a grand piano are a relatively small part of the whole instrument, hardware is but a tiny fraction of the overall size and materials present in a kitchen.
However, much like the keys of the grand piano, hardware commands the proceedings in cabinetry. It is generally the only part of a cabinet we touch, and its hinges account for all of its moving parts. As it is our main method of interacting with the cabinet, its feel, sturdiness and functionality are going to play a large role in how we view the functionality of the kitchen.
Furthermore, hardware attracts the eye like a bright light. Functionality aside, it is the ultimate accent piece — it provides a pop to cabinets and drawers that can make or break the décor of a room. It also keeps the wood of our cabinets and drawers looking fresh by taking the brunt of the natural oils in our hands, which we leave behind every time we reach for the cabinet to grab something.
The importance of selecting quality hardware is impossible to overstate. As with many parts of our home, hardware is an investment. We have all seen cabinet knobs that loosen too easily and hinges that wear out. Because hardware is going to receive the bulk of a cabinet’s wear and tear, investing more in it is ultimately investing more in the life of your cabinets.
Considerations When Choosing Hardware Material
Installing new hardware in your kitchen or bathroom is the quickest and least expensive way of giving the room a makeover. To make the best choice for your tastes and purposes, here are a few considerations to keep in the front of your mind when choosing your hardware:
- What is the existing decor of your kitchen or bathroom? For instance, if your kitchen has a white, Scandinavian minimalist aesthetic, you should try matching your hardware with it — in that case, perhaps something slender, jet-black and low-profile. Mismatching styles can look “off” and can create a confused sense of the room’s personality. However, it can also be done well. We’ll go into more depth on this below.
- Are there holes already drilled into the cabinet from previous hardware? If so, it is important to be able to match the layout of the existing holes exactly, or at least cover them up with the new hardware. This is particularly important with items like handles or anything else that has more than one screw hole.
- Will the provided screws on new hardware be long enough to penetrate the wood of your cabinet? If not, grab a ruler and measure the thickness of your cabinet. Then, head to the hardware store and match a new screw of the correct length to the old screw’s thickness and thread count.
- How functional do you need the hardware to be? Cabinet hardware is, by its very nature, supposed to be functional. If you have young children who will be opening and closing things countless times each day, perhaps a delicate pewter inlay is not the way to go.
Without further ado, let’s look at the various types of hardware material used in high-quality cabinet hardware. Our goal is to provide you with an intimate understanding of where they come from and their strengths and weaknesses, as well as what they cost.
There are many reasons metal is such a popular material for cabinet hardware, not least of which is its strength and malleability. For three centuries running, metal has been molded, gilded, bent and cast to provide decorative hardware for furniture. One of the most popular metals for high-quality hardware is brass.
Solid brass is popular for a reason. Cliffside Industries makes more than half of its products from it due to its durability and beautiful sheen, as it is an alloy made of roughly 60 percent copper with zinc and tin added in.
But here is something you may not know: Solid brass does not always look like brass. As it turns out, it is the perfect material to add a finish to — a finish applied to solid brass is 300 percent more durable than the same finish applied to zinc. Perhaps Cliffside’s affinity for the material makes a bit more sense now.
- Durable finishes
- Elegant, gold-like appearance
- Solid brass all the way through — not just brass finishing
- Naturally antimicrobial
- Soft metal, meaning it can get dinged or bent if impacted hard enough
- Requires cleaning to prevent tarnish
Bronze is also an alloy of copper and tin, though it has a much higher copper content than brass. Having played a role in human affairs for more than five millennia, bronze has warm tones and a tendency to superficially oxidize.
That’s right: We actually love this metal’s quaint brand of oxidizing.
Metals respond differently to contact with the skin and to exposure to the air. The surface of bronze oxidizes and forms a desirable patina over time that then protects everything beneath. Hence, bronze ages gracefully with a home and will naturally show its years through a layer that forms on it.
- Resistant to corrosion once oxidation layer has formed
- Beautiful reddish hue
- A rebuttal to the abundance of mass-produced hardware so common today
- Long exposure to moisture can turn bronze greenish, due to copper oxidation
- Requires cleaning
Stainless Steel Hardware
If the idea of metal tarnishing is not your cup of tea, a dose of chromium may be just what the doctor ordered. Stainless steel is steel infused with around 10.5 percent chromium, which keeps it from tarnishing and keeps it low-maintenance. It is also a self-healing metal, meaning if it is scratched, the chromium content will quickly restore a protective oxidizing layer over the blemish.
Stainless steel is as strong as it is flexible. Because of this and its ability to resist corrosion, it has a very long lifespan and is hard to damage. Additionally, it can be finished in different ways for those who do not want the classic, brushed look.
- Strong, damage-resistant and self-repairing
- Resilient against moisture, heat and heavy use
- Does not tarnish and cleans easily with water and soap
- Versatile — different finishes can be added to suit many styles
- Shows fingerprints
Solid zinc is a useful material in hardware due to its malleability when heated. It is also one of the lower-cost options available, allowing you to have metal hardware without the higher cost of brass, bronze or stainless steel.
Because of its tendency to only form a superficial oxidizing layer, zinc is often combined with other metals as an alloy to help with tarnishing. Cliffside Industries uses die-casting to make many of its zinc hardware pieces.
- Cliffside works with manufacturers that produce high-quality zinc
- Not as strong as brass, steel or bronze, and brittle
- Does not hold finishes as long as brass
One of the most malleable metals on the market is pewter, an alloy made primarily of tin with trace amounts of antimony and copper. Though hard to the touch, pewter is like soft clay to metalsmiths and will gladly form whatever shape is asked of it.
Though not as common as stainless steel or brass, pewter is a very traditional western metal to use in a kitchen. It has a long history dating back around a thousand years — the “Worshipful Company of Pewterers” was even formed in 14th-century England to regulate pewter quality. By the time it began making its way onto furniture in the 1700s, it was a centuries-old art.
Because of its malleability, pewter is often used for more ornate pieces of hardware — think of shapes like leaves, trees and vines. It can be finished to look like other metals. Because other metals’ rigidity would not allow them to form such shapes alone, this expands the shapes hardware can achieve.
- Malleability makes it very easy to form shapes with
- Easily finished to look like other metals
- It develops a patina and does not need to be cleaned — its look improves over time
- As you may have gathered, it is easy to bend
There is a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to crystal. Upon first glance, it looks like glass, but it is in fact of higher quality and clarity, and its chemical composition is markedly different. Contrary to what its name suggests, crystal is not crystalline on a molecular level — that is, its molecules are not arranged in a rigid, repeating structure.
Rather, crystal comes from molten sand fused with lead oxide, potash and other substances. The presence of lead makes it heavier than regular glass and gives it its characteristic sparkle. The more lead present in crystal, the more it sparkles. However, none of Cliffside’s vendors sell leaded crystal, so no need to worry!
Due to its quasi-metallic makeup, crystal does much more than just sparkle — it also exhibits other coveted traits. When rubbed to the point of vibrating, crystal will produce a musical tone. It is also stronger than glass and can be blown quite thin. Cliffside Industries distributes German crystal, which is stupendous in its clarity and diamond-like cuts, as well as products from the world-famous Austrian crystal maker Swarovski AG.
- Gorgeous clarity
- Can come in different colors
- Can provide a good contrast to metal and stone for mixing and matching
- Knobs also feature a solid brass base
While crystal is easy to misunderstand, glass is easy to underestimate. It has a valuable role in the world of cabinet hardware materials, but has often garnered an undeserved reputation for breaking due to low-quality glass producers.
Cliffside is one company that works exclusively with high-quality producers who make sturdy, kiln-fired glass. This glass comes in many different colors to suit your palette, as well as different shapes and sizes. Because the glass is strong, it can stand up to the rigors of dropped kitchen items, quick yanks and more. This durability also means it can be used for more than just knobs — there are glass handles available as well.
Whereas crystal is made primarily of silica and lead oxide, glass is largely composed of silica and soda lime. The lime is the reason glass can have a greenish tint when light is shining through it, whereas crystal is clear. Glass can provide the perfect accent to a room, and is an excellent secret weapon if you are wondering how to add a “pop” without overdoing it.
- Low-maintenance and easy to clean
- Less expensive than crystal
- Different chemical makeup than crystal
For eons before the Bronze Age, stones were the height of technology among humans. Though we have advanced, their use in hardware still enraptures us today, as the sight of rock inside a home prods at a deep connection we harbor to the natural world.
And why shouldn’t we love them? Not only are they sturdy and virtually maintenance-free, but each stone tells a story that is uniquely independent of humankind. That stone making up your cabinet knob was formed in the hot belly of our planet, hardened to a crust on its exterior and then one day miraculously plucked up by a passing human and turned into a part of your daily life.
Aside from polishing, the look of stone hardware is largely in the hands of nature. Though your hardware pieces may all share traits if they come from the same slab of rock, each piece is going to be different. This creates a natural variety in appearance that will add zest to your room. Stone is cool to the touch and looks especially lovely in homes with a woodsy touch.
Cliffside offers a unique brand of stone hardware. The river rock collection is a series of knobs made from river pebbles, which were naturally smoothed by rushing water and by tumbling over each other. They come in shades like gray, salmon-pink, charcoal black, a rusty Martian red and a speckled white that can complement essentially any color scheme imaginable.
- Solid as a rock
- Beautiful with natural variations
- Limited to knobs
Tips When Mixing Hardware to Finish a Room
Now that you have an understanding of the different cabinet hardware materials, let’s wrap things up with a practical — and realistic — guide on how to blend different types of hardware in your kitchen or bathroom.
The whole goal, of course, is to identify your goals and find the best way to meet them. Goals can vary widely, but most likely, you’re looking to keep things beautiful and interesting while avoiding a detour into the abstract world of interior design chaos. Here are some tips on how to do so
- Based on the size of the room, consider how much leeway you have to mix different finishes and materials. Mixing finishes can add a classic agelessness to a room, but the smaller the room is, the more carefully one must tread when doing so. If there are too many different finishes in one small space, you run the risk of having your hardware look random and noncommital. However, if you select each piece carefully, it can add warmth and a sense of human touch — subconsciously giving the impression that the collection was acquired over time.
- Pick a color scheme and stick with it. This tip is twofold, as it helps tremendously in narrowing down your choices while simultaneously expanding your options. Pick a large swath — say, the entire lower half of the kitchen — and commit to a color scheme. If the drawers in your kitchen are white, and all the hardware shares the same type of finish, the presence of different types of knobs and handles will be a pleasant sight, rather than a distraction.
- Try to establish some sense of visual symmetry. If you are going to mix styles, the secret to having it look great is to counterbalance the mixing and matching with a semblance of symmetry. For instance, make sure all your drawers have the same number and configuration of knobs. Perhaps all drawers of the same size should share the same knob, and smaller drawers can display a different type.
- Try putting different types of handles on different types of cabinets and drawers. Again, you should adhere to a color scheme and symmetry, but using a mixture of metal and glass knobs, bars and handles can add lots of character to the space. Just be sure to step back and make sure there is some rhyme and reason to it all. For instance, perhaps the two drawers straddling the kitchen sink should share the same handles to create a pleasing sense of symmetry.
- Below and above the sink can be two different color schemes. Don’t worry, you can mix and match more than you might think and still obey the laws of symmetry. It can provide a sunny, uplifting splash to have a lighter color above the level of the countertops, such as a warm brass or gold. Particularly with items like faucets and sconces, a lighter color around eye level will create a happy glow.
- Also, experiment with different shapes. Things like knobs, handles, toilet paper holders, towel racks and hinges have a lot of expressive power. Beyond color, though, you should take advantage of their different shapes to accentuate certain features in a room. Pay attention to details like the width of drawers and the height of cabinet doors, and experiment with different shapes to complement them.
Come See Cliffside Industries’ Incredible Selection of Hardware
To find the perfect hardware for your home, visit Cliffside Industries’ website to peruse our extensive selection of the highest-quality hardware available. Contact us with any questions through our contact page or on the phone at 717-627-3286.
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