Jewelry for the house Home: Decorative hardware may well be small, but its impact is large.


Mention the word "hardware" these days and many people will think of computers and the high-tech hardware that feeds on software. So now, if you want to talk about door knobs and drawer pulls, you have to be more specific. "Decorative home hardware" is the operative phrase.

Do-it-yourself remodelers and decorators often fail to give hardware the credit or consideration it deserves. Decisions regarding hinges, knobs, knockers, pulls, robe hooks, towel bars and toothbrush holders are made late -- and often hastily -- in the home-improvement process.

That's too bad, because hardware is the equivalent of room jewelry, the delicate and defining details that add sparkle and shine and finesse to a room or an entire house. They may be small, but -- like diamond earrings or a gold necklace -- these underappreciated little items can have a powerful decorative effect.

In fact, just exchanging the generic knobs and pulls on kitchen cabinets or a bathroom vanity for more decorative varieties is an easy, effective and economical way to refresh either of those two rooms. Add matching towel bars that coordinate with faucets, and you have a pulled-together look.

Of course, not too long ago, generic hardware was just about all you could find. But that's not the case anymore. Today, there's as much variety in hardware -- in terms of material, shape, style and finish -- as there is in, say, fabric, wall covering, carpeting or wood finishes.

And the good stuff is available in more places than ever before. Hardware stores and home centers have vastly expanded inventories. Bath and kitchen specialty shops offer products from smaller manufacturers and individual artisans. New stores specializing in high-end hardware are popping up all over the country. Mail-order catalogs are also becoming resources for distinctive, artful hardware.

Brass still reigns supreme as the hardware of choice, and for good reason. It's as elegant as it is durable, and it seems to harmonize with just about any design style and any material it's paired with. The luster, shine and heft telegraph traditional messages of richness and value.

But these days, the market is saturated with alternatives: porcelain, wood, crystal, semiprecious stones, crystal, cast bronze and cast aluminum, pewter, plated gold and silver, polished or satin-finished chrome, stainless steel, stone, rubber and plastic, to name a few.

There are more shapes than ever before, too. Now you can find drawer pulls and doorknobs that look like twigs, starfish, lizards, leaves, pine cones, fossils and other organic forms inspired by nature. Artfully abstract forms are also available.

For the restoration-minded, reproduction vintage-style hardware can be found at specialty shops or mail-order sources. Included are old favorites from almost every decorative period -- Victorian, Arts and Crafts, Shaker, Art Deco and Art Nouveau, as well as nostalgic reproductions from the 1940s and 1950s.

Homeowners often make two mistakes when selecting hardware: choosing styles and finishes that are too plain and selecting pieces that are too small.

Complexity in terms of shape, style and finish makes these elements truly decorative and allows them to contribute their fair share to the mix of attractive materials in a home. So instead of a single-material finish, consider combinations of finishes and colors such as brass and black, or cut crystal and polished chrome. If you want subtlety and a streamlined look, there is an abundance of nondescript hardware out there. But elaborate shapes and styles are far more ornamental and capable of

adding texture, pattern and appealing form.

Choosing substantial-size doorknobs, handles and drawer pulls may also be a good idea. For one thing, large-scale elements look more important and richer than delicate ones. And, from a practical standpoint, big knobs, pulls and handles are easier to grasp.

Finally, regardless of style and material, choose the highest-quality hardware you can afford. It may be decorative, but hardware also needs to be durable and dependable. Hinges, knobs, pulls, levers, lock-sets, latches, deadbolts and towel bars get a workout every day. How well a front door or a cabinet drawer performs depends on how well its hardware performs.

Survey the market to get an idea of what hardware costs. And unless you're a skilled do-it-yourselfer, include in your budget the cost of professional installation. Expensive hardware improperly installed is a poor investment.

Pub Date: 12/22/96

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