Create a fitting space with old hardware

By Greg Bates

Anyone who has ever owned a Victorian-style home undoubtedly loves architectural flare.

The outside of the home screams a 19th century design and the inside features period-era hardware and furnishings.

Hardware Accentuates House’s Character

But a person doesn’t have to own a Victorian home or traditional bungalow to enjoy the many designs and options available for vintage hardware. Whether it’s items that are 150 years old, restored or reproductions, anyone can incorporate hardware into their home or workspace.

“The limit’s really your imagination,” said Orion Henderson, who is the president of Horton Brasses, Inc. It is a fourth-generation reproduction company based in Cromwell, Conn. “There’s a million options depending on your budget, taste and what you like.”

“In a world with Pinterest, a normal person can have thousands of examples at their fingertips, and commercially people are trying to duplicate what has already been done,” said J Karner, owner of Crescent Moon Antiques & Salvage in Oshkosh, Wis. [www.crescentmoonantiquesandsalvage.com] “Generally, it’s cost prohibitive.”
Karner opened his store in 1987, and has witnessed quite a bit of change in how the market has shifted from different styles.

Shift in Design Brings Focus to Hardware

“In the beginning, it was people doing restoration on old houses, old buildings,” Karner said. “About 20 years ago, we started seeing a shift and this material started being incorporated in commercial applications – restaurants, bars, hair salons, things of that nature. Now 15 years ago, a very dramatic shift occurred and that’s in residential market, and it’s the new construction residential market.”

It’s also commonplace for antique companies to put a unique twist on its pieces, melding different time periods.

“Something we’ve found is that has been really successful for us and people have seemed to enjoy quite a bit is putting modern finishes on traditional hardware,” Henderson said. “So, taking very period direct reproduction antique pieces of hardware and putting a nickel plate on them, which is completely new and different.”

Said Jon Eaton from House of Antique Hardware in Portland, Ore.: “It used to be like if you had a Victorian house or Arts and Crafts bungalow, the typical expectation was you were going to buy Arts and Crafts lighting for your Arts and Crafts house or you’d buy Victorian light fixtures for your Victorian house. But now, it is so eclectic. It’s almost counter to what people are doing, to put in-period pieces in-period homes. There’s so much of a sort of design mix going on.”

Options and Opportunities Abound

But certain time periods are always going to be more popular. And depending on who you ask and what part of the country they live in, options differ.

“Mid-century tends to be popular, but everything is cyclical,” said Danielle Vaughan, who is the manager/hardware specialist at Ohmega Salvage in Berkley, Calif. [www.ohmegasalvage.com] “There are always people that are looking for Victorian. Craftsman is really popular because the area that we’re in, especially there’s a lot of period Craftsman bungalow type thing.”

House of Antique Hardware [www.houseofantiquehardware.com], which makes reproductions of antique hardware, reveals Victorian-style hardware is the company’s top seller. Eaton noted in the 1990s and early 2000s that Arts and Crafts made a resurgence. Colonial has always been popular and Colonial Revival items sell well.

Early 20th Century Hardware Style Popular

“We see modern, post-World War II is more popular than it’s ever been,” said Henderson, whose great-grandparents started Horton Brasses in 1936. “We’re doing more and more business of modern hardware, which is something my grandparents would have been rather unhappy with.”

Karner believes the time frame from 1910-1935 is the mainstay for popular designs.

“It’s because it does such a great job of bridging time periods, as far as design periods are concerned,” Karner said.“Your very high Victorian Eastlake style, not so much. That has kind of fallen off from the standpoint of wood products. The metal products, your cast irons, ironworks, still very good.”

Glass tends to be a perennial favorite for customers at House of Antique Hardware. According to Eaton, who is the creative director, glass was extremely popular in the late 19th century and at the turn of the century until the 1930s. Glass faded out in the 1950s because of decorative hardware faded as everything simplified. When glass was reintroduced in 1990s, people fell in love once again. That trend hasn’t wavered.

Door Knobs Define

Crystal door knobs, which come in all different shapes, sizes and colors – including black crystal, pink and cobalt blue – are big sellers at House of Antique Hardware. The hexagonal glass cabinet knob that has a bolt running through it flies off the shelf, said Eaton.

Thomas Chippendale reproductions are extremely popular – always have been and always will be, according to Henderson – at Horton Brasses [www.horton-brasses.com]. Chippendale, who was famous for his furniture designs, made beautiful pulls for cabinets.

Horton Brasses’ top single selling item: simple round knobs.

“Because simple sells,” Henderson said.

Hardware Elevates Decorative Flair

Ohmega Salvage, which specializes in pre-1950s architectural salvage, sells decorative pieces quite well. But doorknobs and door plates are what customers are most often seeking to add to their home.

“Entry doors people tend to look a lot,” Vaughan said. “We always have less of (those) because that’s a door that’s replaced less when a house is being remodeled or demo’ed.”

For people looking to incorporate antique hardware into their homes, there can be a broad range of prices for pieces. Cabinet knobs and pulls can run from a couple dollars each to $80-$100 or more for handmade or shell-inlay pieces, said Eaton.

Hardware Aids in Representing Personal Flair

It all depends on what the customer is willing to spend and what kind of look they are going after. But Eaton suggests making the right decision the first time so there isn’t any second guessing later on.

“Say you have an older home and it has all nice original molding or it has nice hardwood floors – all the character of an old home – and if you put like a cheap Schlage door knob set on a door, it immediately just sticks out like sore thumb,” Eaton said. “It just brings it down. It’s the types of things you don’t necessarily notice all the good stuff, but you do notice the bad stuff. And so, it’s totally worth having hardware in key places that really suits the style of the home.”

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