When remodelling a room, it's easy to get caught up in the big ticket, big picture items: the tiles and tub in the bathroom, the cabinetry and countertop in the kitchen. Basically, all the things that make the neighbours say, "Oooooooo."
The small stuff, such as the hardware, is often an afterthought.
According to top architects, interior designers and building specialists, this oversight is an error. The knobs, pulls, hinges and handrails might seem like inconsequential accessories – the functional but forgettable, home-decor equivalents of belt buckles and shoelaces – but in fact they have a significant impact on the day-to-day pleasures of a space.
Jos van Poederooyen is a consultant with Vancouver's HartC Ergonomic Elements. He is constantly striving to make rooms – anything from large, institutional libraries to small home offices – more comfortable and accessible. With hardware, he notes that simple but thoughtful changes can make a big difference.
Installing lever handles instead of turning doorknobs, for example, is easier for people who have a hard time gripping and twisting. (Understandably, he supports his hometown's recent decision to ban turning doorknobs entirely starting in March, 2014).
Van Poederooyen also points out that texture is another worthy consideration.
With handrails, a non-slippery surface is easier to hold onto and therefore safer when dealing with steeper stairs. And smooth finishes are easier to clean than ribbed or bumpy ones, so are easier to keep microbe-free. "It's important in children's rooms," he explains, "to minimize little cracks or ridges on their furniture. If a child drools or smudges something into the crevices, the germs just stay there."
Of course, the grain of a great piece of hardware isn't just a about practicality; it's also a question of sensorial gratification. Canada's Stephen Lindsay, of Urbanproduct studio, uses tone and texture to deliver a potent visual hit. He recently released a line of door pulls called Nuß. Each of his handles is a mini-work of art, with fused bits of FSC-certified hardwood encased in curving aluminum frame. British-based manufacturer Izé, on the other hand, recently started offering a comfortable-in-the-palm lever designed by late Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi. Its shape takes after an animal horn, but its slight bow and thick handle were undoubtedly meant to be utterly comfortable in the hand.
Stacy McLennan is a Toronto-based interior designer and regular guest expert on Cityline, a lifestyle program on City TV. Like van Poederooyen, she agrees that it's important to consider materials when selecting the right hardware, not just for the texture but also for the long-term wearability. Even if a particular metal or wood looks lovely at the store, it might not work depending on where it's placed. "Polished nickel," says McLennan, "is a popular finish, but tends to discolour when exposed to water. For a faucet or door pulls in a bathroom, polished chrome is a better option."
McLennan further suggests that the materials of the hardware can go a long way to create a sense of aesthetic unity – especially when all the hinges and knobs in all the rooms have the same finish. A touring house guest might not even notice, at least in a conscious way, admits McLennan. But, she suggests, this kind of attention to detail is what really makes a place feel complete.
Architect Daniel Harland, of Roundabout Studio, also likes to focus on the details. For a house he co-created in the Riverdale area of downtown Toronto, all the hardware was conceptualized from the outset to build a more impactful project. One of the home's main features is the central staircase, composed of seemingly floating folds of Baltic fir. To add to the sense of levity, custom-laminated, hand-sanded handrails, also of Baltic fir, seemingly float off the glass walls that encase the risers. To get the effect just right, a life-sized mock-up was made to see how all the components fit together. The results are stunning, not to mention delight-inducing – "The wood just feels great in the hand," notes Harland – none of which would have been possible if the handrail was simply slapped on after the fact.