Cabinet hardware provides functionality to our space. But for many centuries, it has been giving our furniture more than mere usefulness.
The history of cabinet hardware is a bit more interesting than you may think. Because cabinet hardware is so ubiquitous those handles, knobs and pulls are everywhere – not a lot of people bother to look at its history. Also, there is little written about the history of cabinet hardware itself, as most of the details were lost in time.
Ever since the start of the Industrial Revolution, hardware has been applied to furniture. The different and unique designs of cabinet hardware are representative of the styles of the past and present.
These cabinet and drawer handles are not just functional parts, but they are also statement pieces.
There are three important periods in the history of cabinetry hardware: the Victorian era, the Modern era, and the Contemporary era. This article also features examples of cabinet/drawer knobs and pulls with unique and unusual designs from each era.
Victorian era (1830s to early 20th century)
Historians consider the Victorian era as the golden age of hardware design. During the pre-Victorian period, cabinet hardware was purely functional. However, the change came during the Industrial Revolution, where cabinet accessories also were also transformed into magnificent decorative pieces.
The growth of the Industrial Revolution enabled factories to mass-produce cabinet and drawer handles and knobs. As a result, cabinet hardware became more affordable and accessible.
But this mass production also brought competition among manufacturers. Due to the newly competitive market, design played a key factor. Designers came up with the most ornate and intricately-designed cabinet handle knobs and pulls, transforming what were basically practical pieces of cabinet accessory into some of the finest works of art.
Here are some of the unusual, unique-looking, and beautiful cabinet hardware pieces, inspired by the designs from the Victorian era. A lot of the Victorian-era cabinet handles were inspired by nature, such as leaves, flowers, and animals.
Modern era (1910s – 1940s)
The modern era experienced many design changes and trends due to historic events, such as the two World Wars and the Depression era. People’s lifestyles and preferences also had also changed during this era. These events marked a significant distinction in the function and design of cabinet hardware.
This period abandoned the intricate aesthetics of the Victorian era. Instead, they turned to focus on a more straightforward and more linear design.
While function seemed to prevail over form during the Modern era, there were still some nice-looking knobs and pulls produced during specific periods such as the Art Deco movement (1910-1939). Although definitely less ornate compared to Victorian-era cabinet handles, they were still decorative. The Art Deco period also introduced new materials such as acrylic and Bakelite resins, which quickly caught on hardware makers and manufacturers who were eager to produce eye-catching, colorful, and ambitious designs.
However, the outbreak of the Second World War put an end to the Art Deco era, cutting short of its mass-market potential. That is perhaps the reason why Art Deco-inspired and “retro” cabinet hardware designs are enjoying their current revival.
Contemporary era (1960 – Present)
The contemporary age of cabinet hardware dawned during the postwar years when designers were moving away from the merely functional. This era brought a re-introduction of the designs of the past. Most importantly, though, designers were once again experimenting with cabinetry hardware designs as an independent and unique art.
Designers nowadays draw their interest more towards textures, which lend a significant influence on the design of their cabinet hardware creations. Designers generally favor smooth, solid, and clean designs to impart a contemporary and clinical feel of a space. The rough textures that are reminiscent of the Victorian era are more suitable for country homes and grander mansions.
Designers also make cabinet handles and finishes in styles according to their clients’ preferences, citing the endless possibilities that contemporary-era cabinetry designs can bring.