Door hardware is a small design detail, but as with all decor choices, a wise one can effortlessly elevate the overall aesthetic. From hardware style to finish and form, that doorknob you put your hands on every day can really make a statement.
“Door handles are the jewelry of your home and should be given as much weight as other major design decisions,” says Mary Maydan, founder and principal of Maydan Architects in Palo Alto, California.
“We are finding more ways to add a jewel-like feeling to this sometimes neglected item with the finish and style selection of door hardware,” says Sarah Latham, principal at Latham Interiors in Ketchum, Idaho.
Luckily, getting this detail right doesn’t mean spending a fortune (although you certainly can). When it comes door handles, there’s great design at every price point, starting at less than $50 and ratcheting up to more than $500.
The Evolution of Door Hardware
The humble doorknob is the ultimate marriage of form and function. Invented in the early 1800s, the door handle actually came after the door lock, which was the only way to both secure and control a door.
While early iterations were mainly functional—a handle made opening doors easier and securing them shut cheaper than expensive locks—style and design quickly came to the forefront.
Then as now, door hardware comes in many shapes, finishes, and materials. Your knob, lever, or pull can be made of glass, wood, ceramic, plastic, or a plethora of different metals. It can be purely decorative, handily functional, or essential for security and privacy.
The big debate in terms of style and look is about whether all your hardware needs to match. The experts we spoke to feel that you should match door hardware throughout your home. “It creates a more cohesive and purposeful aesthetic,” says Latham.
But they all agree it’s a personal choice. And, if one finish won’t work throughout your house, you can opt for a split finish, which allows for, say, polished bronze on one side and blackened brass on the other.
Hand-Feel and Quality
Shopping for handlesets can be overwhelming, as there are so many options. Focus on style, quality, and comfort, says Latham, and be sure to try before you buy: “Before investing in 15 to 20 door hardware sets, order at least one, or test it in a showroom, to make sure you feel comfortable using it in your home.” Also, consider the scale of the hardware set with the size and style of the door it will fit on.
When considering quality, look for solid metal rather than plated metal; it’ll retain its finish longer and resist flaking. High-quality products won’t have visible fasteners, and the internal mechanisms (latches, locks) will be sturdier and made of better quality materials.
Knobs, Levers, and Pulls
For style, while knobs are making a comeback, levers are still the most popular choice, with pulls being increasingly used as a statement option.
“Door levers are easy to use for everyone, regardless of age or ability,” says Maydan. “Even with your hands full, you have probably opened a levered door with an elbow or knee without much hassle. One drawback of the lever handle is that clothing can get caught on it easily.”
In modern design, the lever is always a go-to. “Doorknobs tend to look more traditional. In terms of functionality, knobs operate with a twist motion, which requires added force,” says Maydan, which makes them less suitable for those with limited motion, but a good option if you want to keep young children from being opening a door.
Stylistically, the age of the home is key. “A knob is the most fitting choice for a house that is older, while levers work well in a contemporary setting,” says Samantha Voges, an interior designer with Dick Clark & Associates in Austin, Texas. But there are levers in transitional styles that are suitable for older homes, she says.
When it comes to the front door, custom pulls on custom doors is the height of modern style. “The entry is the first door guests will interact with so it’s important to plan for something that is durable and also has personality,” says Voges. “The trend for the last few years has been longer, almost full-length steel door pulls.”
The Anatomy of a Door Handle
While the door’s function dictates the type of handle required, the style can be uniform from door to door, as that function is largely baked into the interior mechanisms.
Door hardware sets come with two handles connected by a shaft or spindle that also connects to the latching mechanism. An escutcheon plate or rosette affixes to the door behind the handle, concealing the mechanism and providing a decorative touch.
A rosette is generally a small round or square piece, whereas an escutcheon is a larger, rectangular or oval-shaped, often incorporating a latch or separate locking mechanism.
A keyed entry handle is used on exterior doors and is lockable from both sides via a key on the exterior and a turn-piece or button on the inside. There is generally the option of a tubular lock (common in the U.S.) or a mortice lock (popular in Europe), with the latter being the higher-end option as it is more secure, but requires a specific cut in the door.
A privacy handle is used for bedrooms, bathrooms, and home offices and locks from one side by pushing or turning the privacy button. A plain or passage handle is a non-locking option for hallways, closets, pantries, laundry rooms, and such.
Finally, dummy handles, or non-turning, are used for closets, interior French Doors, and entryways where no locking or latching is needed. A half dummy is a single knob or lever, where you don’t need one on the inside, and is used for smaller closet doors and cabinets.
Choosing a Style and Finish
Door hardware is a finishing touch that says a lot about your home’s style. Minimalist brass knobs offer a retro-yet-modern look, glass or porcelain conveys a vintage vibe, and large backplates make a bold, contemporary statement.
Overall, our experts tend toward the conservative when it comes to style. “Go for timeless design,” says Carly Waters of Carly Waters Style, a boutique interior design firm in Los Angeles. “Clean lines, angular designs, and a modern aesthetic are dictating the shape of current door hardware along with elongated backplates that create height and make a statement.”
Stick with dark finishes and simple shapes, says New York City–based Becky Shea of Becky Shea Design. “Door hardware shouldn’t be edgy since they are elements that will be front and center for a long time. Keep it simple and timeless.”
For a stronger style statement, go for super long handles. “A few years back, designers and architects started using longer pulls,” says Maydan. “Now the trend continues with exponentially longer hardware, which looks stunning against long kitchen cabinetry and tall doors.”
If you opt for a more timeless style, the finish is where you can have a little more fun. While chrome and satin nickel have been safe bets for decades recent trends are moving solidly towards black, with an emerging movement in favor of a high-polished, yet warm look, piggybacking off the resurgence of unlacquered brass.
“Black is all the rage, and that can be seen in the hardware in every section of the home,” says Maydan. “Kitchens, bathrooms, and general door hardware are all going black, and it’s beautiful!”
“My favorite finishes for interior and exterior door hardware are matte black and blackened brass,” agrees Shea. “They’re elegant, sleek, subtle, and have a way of working with every aesthetic, from traditional to modern.”
Still in the dark vein, graphite nickel (or gunmetal) is a favorite for Maydan. “This finish is already popular in Europe but is newly coming onto the scene in America,” she says. “It gives a wonderful, dark appearance while still adding in some variation and life, especially as the metal ages with use.”
Latham likes a finish that pops, and is a fan of the high-polished look. White Bronze High Polish from Rocky Mountain Hardware is a favorite. “It’s a great new finish,” she says. “These new polish looks are adding a luster into areas that we may have forgotten about.”
Save ($100 or Less)
Inexpensive, good-quality door hardware sets, with simple modern styles that emulate higher-end brands, are made by Kwikset, Delany, Miseno, Schlage, and Cauldham. In this price range, hardware might not be as sturdy or durable as those made by more expensive brands, but they can look great at a fraction of the cost.
“Usually, spending more will get you better quality and a more beautiful design,” says Maydan. “You can sometimes find great designs at a lower price, but usually you can’t cut costs and get both the style and the quality of the more expensive handles.”
When you step it up a level, you’re typically getting better machining and material, which equals better quality. “The more expensive pieces carry a lot more weight than less expensive hardware,” says Shea. “You can feel that in your hands.”
All our experts agree that Emtek and Baldwin are excellent contenders in this range. “They hit the sweet spot for door hardware,” says Waters. “Quality and style that won’t completely break the bank.”
“Baldwin is a great hardware brand in the $150-per-door price point that we love for both design and function,” says Maydan. “It has a lot of nice, contemporary designs that include beautiful handles in this price range.”
Rocky Mountain Hardware, manufactured in Idaho, gets props from many of our experts. “Rocky Mountain has endless character and a hand-forged appeal in rustic, traditional, and modern styles,” says Voges.
Rejuvenation is a go-to for Waters and Latham when they’re looking to splurge on statement door hardware, and for Shea, product from Samuel Heath, Grandeur, and E.R Butler & Co gets her heart racing. “These brands are some of our favorites for their incredible quality and craftsmanship,” she says. “They are hefty in weight, providing that ‘O-M-G’ feeling when you grab it, and it’ll last a lifetime.”
Voges likes Nanz, another American-made brand based in Long Island, New York, for its solid construction and range of styles and finishes, including verdigris bronze and nickel, polished gold, and various woods. “Beyond quality and finish level, spending m
ore often opens up the possibilities for different material options (precious metals if that’s your thing) and details such as knurling, hammered textures, and customization,” she says.
Maydan turns to Europe for a serious splurge, choosing brands such as Olivari, Valli & Valli, and Colombo that run upwards of $500 per door. “We always like to stay one step ahead of the curve, so we often buy door handles from these European manufacturers,” she says. “You can get handles that are exceptionally beautiful and are the ‘next big thing.’” For three recent projects, they were able to get handles that didn’t need rosettes. “This completes the minimalistic look and is quite stunning,” says Maydan.