Little touches make big impacts. That's especially true of kitchen- and bath-cabinet hardware.
Few projects are easier than swapping out hardware — often called cabinet "jewelry." It's the finishing touch that sets off a look, at a fraction of the cost of a remodel.
"Hardware can give you that 'wow' factor," said Sue Monday of the Home Depot. "And when you're drawn to the knobs, you don't necessarily look at the cabinets."
Hardware choices have never been more diverse.
"There are (so many) new designs to choose from that it is sometimes a very difficult decision," said Shelle Viray of TheRemodeledHome.com in Sacramento, Calif. "That's why it's fun sometimes to mix and match knobs with pulls in the kitchen or bathroom, so you don't have to just pick one."
"You can spend a lot or a little," said Monday. "You can find knobs for $1.25, or $20 or $30 or more. But you don't need a lot of them to make a big impression."
Cari Jaye Sokoloff launched her San Francisco-based Soko Studio in 1997 with Manhandles — little bronze sculptures inspired by the biblical story of Jacob's ladder. Since then, she has added other sculptural pieces, each made by hand in the United States.
"The Manhandles are our signature product," said Karla Przybylski, the studio's operations manager. "They definitely get a lot of attention at trade shows and showrooms."
Recently, Soko Studio introduced its Hearst Castle Collection, inspired by the work of architect Julia Morgan and castle artifacts collected by William Randolph Hearst at San Simeon as well as his personal zoo. The hardware borrows details from the castle's door knockers, levers, even keys and whimsical animals.
Prices for such handcrafted detail start at $40 a knob. Manhandles cost $200 and up.
New hardware doesn't necessarily have to look like the rest of the house. Colorful porcelain knobs can add pop to a plain painted chest of drawers. Like gems, glass knobs can twinkle on an ordinary cabinet.
"I just redid a TV cabinet and found some great hinges," Monday said. "It really made the cabinet."
In her pantry, Monday used pulls made out of a vintage place setting: a knife, fork and spoon. "It's whimsical and totally different from any pulls in the kitchen," she said. "It's really fun to do something off the wall to add focus."
Shiree Segerstrom, a design consultant in Sacramento who writes the home blog Joy of Nesting, likes to shop for vintage hardware at architectural salvage and antique stores. Items she finds there fit in older homes and add character to newer houses and remodels.
"You can find a lot of fun stuff," Segerstrom said.
Ten percent of all cabinet hardware sold in the United States is still polished brass, according to a manufacturers organization. Antique brass tends to look dated, but brushed nickel and bronze remain popular.
When matching wood with hardware, keep warm tones with warm metals and cool with cool, say the experts. Oak goes great with brass or bronze. Stainless steel and nickel harmonize with cherry.
When choosing hardware, get a few samples if possible and test them on your cabinet, Monday suggested. And pay attention to little details. It will pay off in the long run.
Pay attention to projection, or how far the knob or pull stands out from the cabinet. That's especially important in a tight kitchen or bath. You don't want the knob to bang into something when the cabinet is open.
Knob or pull? Pulls are popular, but paint or stain behind them tends to get scratched. Knobs are more practical, particularly on upper kitchen cabinets.
Pulls attach with two screws. Measure them by the distance between the two screw holes, usually 3 inches or 96 millimeters (about 3 3/4 inches). When replacing the pulls, look for hardware that matches these dimensions. Pulls have grown larger in recent years to stay in balance with larger kitchens. Backplates can be used behind new hardware to hide old holes.
Knobs can be replaced easily. Unscrew the old one; screw on the new one.
Screw placement is crucial. Get a template or make your own. Home Depot and other home-improvement stores offer paper or plastic templates to let you line up the knobs and pulls in the exact same place on each drawer.
When installing new hardware, first clean the cabinet with mild soap and water and a soft cloth or sponge. Chemicals and abrasives may harm the finish. Oil the wood to bring out natural grain. Treat any water stains and scratches.