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How to Choose Cabinet Hardware For Your Closet or Storage System

Handles, Knobs & Pulls Used in Closet Design

When you are buying a custom organization system, or any type of custom cabinet, there are a lot of decisions to be made. Material, color, style of doors and drawer fronts, and hardware. By hardware, we mean the drawer handles and cabinet knobs or pulls that are a prominent feature of your closet cabinet doors and drawers. Although technically considered an accessory, which might make them superfluous in some people's eyes, handles and knobs add essential functionality to any storage system. They are also one of the most prominent visual features, setting the style and tone of the piece.

There are many options available when choosing handles, knobs and pulls for your doors and drawers. Closet hardware comes in a multitude of styles from contemporary, to transitional, to traditional looks. Each of these can be further divided into formal and casual looks. There are both simple and ornate choices within each style category. Furthermore, each piece of hardware is generally available in in several finishes. The most popular choices include polished chrome, brushed chrome, oil rubbed bronze and matte gold. (The current gold is not the same as the polished or antique brass so popular in the late 80s and 90s. The new gold tone is a warmer, richer tone with a more subdued and sophisticated edge).

Handles, knobs and pulls are the jewelry of your closet, wall unit or storage cabinet.

When choosing your hardware it is easy to become overwhelmed by all the choices. Follow a few simple rules, however, and you will be happy for many years to come with your selections. One of the first things to grasp is the difference between handles, pulls and knobs. If your hardware is attached to the door or drawer front by a single screw, it is considered a knob. They are traditionally round, but can be found in almost any shape under the sun, including novelty shapes that look like small statues. Handles and pulls, on the other hand, use two screws to attach to your door or drawer. Some people use these terms interchangeabley (a handle is something you pull to open a door or drawer), but a pull is generally smaller than a handle. Think of a pull as a large knob with two screw holes. The distance between the screw holes are traditionally measured in millimeters. The distance between screw holes on a pull can vary but are frequently set only 16MM (0.63 inches) apart. Standard distances between screw holes on a handle are much greater at 96MM (3.78 inches), 128MM (5.04 inches), 160MM (6.3 inches), and 192MM (7.56 inches). 96MM handles are the most common size for cabinets.

How to Choose Cabinet Knobs and Pulls:

  1. Scale: Smaller knobs and handles are better for smaller doors and drawers. An oversized piece of hardware, on the other hand, requires a more massive handle and would look ridiculous with a tiny, delicate knob. As an example, typical sizes for knobs are 1-1/4 inches to 1-3/8 inches diameter. This size works well for the doors and drawers on your closet hutch or island. Pulls or handles are often a better choice if you have large wardrobe closet doors. As a general rule of thumb, the larger the door, the larger the handle.
    closet with handles at correct sale
    Notice the change in scale on the handles for this wardrobe closet. The large cabinet doors receive an oversize handle, while the smaller drawer units utilize a smaller version of the same handle that works better with their size. See Project

    closet island with crystal knobs
    The crystal knobs work well on this closet island. The abundance of drawers are made to appear visualy smaller through the recessed panel featured in the drawer front style. While a larger handle might overwhelm, the knob works perfectly. The crystal finish complements the traditional style of the closet. See Project
  2. Style: Stick with a single style theme throughout the room/home. Your hardware should act as a complement to your cabinetry. It is important to make sure the styles don't clash. Just as you probably wouldn't accessorize a delicately embroidered lace blouse with a chunky, modern piece of acrylic or heavy wood jewelry, you don't want a modern pull in a high gloss finish on a vintage look cabinet. It will look out of place. French country themed closets can benefit from hardware with an antique look. Modern cabinetry looks great with smooth, streamlined styles and shiny finishes. Doors and drawers with complex raised or recessed panels look good with simple, traditional knobs or handles that don't detract from the door profile.
    closet with handles at correct sale
    This modern, wardrobe closet in a high gloss finish is complemented by the shiney polished chrome bar style handles used on the doors and drawers. See Project
    wardrobe closet with handles that blend with historic victorian style
    This new wardrobe closet was added to a historic Victorian home. Blocky, Emerald style handles in an oil rubbed bronze finish were used to blend with the house's history. The handles complement the home's original hand cast hardware created by a blacksmith over 150 years ago. See Project
  3. Color & Finish: What colors and finishes are used on other pieces in the room or home? Mixing and matching the hardware in your home is a necessity. You do not need all handles, knobs and other hardware in the home to be the same style, however, you should try to maintain the same finish and keep colors as close as possible. If a brushed, stainless steel finish on appliances and lighting fixtures is a theme in your home, choose the brushed chrome knobs and handles for your cabinets.
    mudroom cabinet with handles that blend with kitchen
    This new mudroom cabinet was designed to blend with the existing kitchen cabinetry and stainless steel appliances. White Aspen style door fronts and Emerald handles in brushed chrome are a good fit without having to be an exact match to the styles used in the adjoining kitchen. See Project

    Likewise, some hardware finishes complement different colors better than others. Woods can be either warm or cool. It depends on the undertones — for example raw wood is usually a warm beige color, whereas aged wood tends to have a lot of cool gray in it. Chrome complements the cooler hues while oil rubbed bronze, due to it's reddish undertones, works well with warm wood tones. The new matte gold finishes also work well with the warm colors.

    door hardware in oil rubbed bronze brings out the warmth of the wood color
    Strap style door hardware in oil rubbed bronze brings out the natural warmth of the wood tone. See Project
    dressing room closets with matte gold handles
    This dressing room is decorated in a beachy style. Although the white cabinets can be said to go with anything, the matte gold hardware brings in the warm tones in the sisal flooring and bright green walls with turquoise accents. See Project
  4. Material: Knobs, pulls and handles can be made in a wide variety of materials. Some type of metal is most common. Manufactured metal materials can include brass, especially solid brass knobs zinc, stainless steel, and other decorative metals used for their color. The color of the knob does not necessarily have to match the material it is made from. Cabinet hardware is often plated in a different color/finish, similar to what is done for plumbing fixtures. Crystal and glass knobs are also popular. They offer a distinctive look, blending well with any color of cabinet or drawer front. Handles and knobs can even be made of ceramic or wood. This material is often seen in "novelty" hardware, where a knob is made to resemble a baseball for example.
    A heavier material often indicates a sturdier piece of hardware. The exception to this would be with knobs and pulls designed for use with floating glass doors. These types of knobs cannot screw into the door and are generally mounted with some type of strong adhesive. In this scenario, a lighter knob or pull works best. Acrylic, available in numerous finishes, is often used as the material of choice for floating glass door cabinets because of its light weight.
    cabinet with glass doors and crystal knobs
    Any chrome or silver toned hardware could have worked with the Breakwater gray wood tone laminate used in this closet. However, the closet hutch with floating glass doors and crystal knobs was designed to complement the owner's collection antique silver and crystal accessories on display throughout the room. The knobs are made from Swarovski crystal, renowned for it's brilliance and resemblance to diamonds. See Project
  5. Quality: Get the best quality hardware you can afford. Often quality and price are intertwined, but quality is not an area where you would want to skimp and save. In an ideal world, price is no object. Unfortunately, that is not the reality for most of us. Knobs and handles in your closet will see constant use. Don't put so much importance on look that you forget about quality. You want hardware that is sturdy, strong and easy to hold onto. You will be better off choosing a simple, less expensive handle that has better heft and quality than choosing the decorative piece made from cheap materials. Poorly finished metals will pit quickly. If knobs break and screwscome undone, your whole closet will lose functionality. Beware of plastics made to look like metals. These are usually low quality and tend to fail quickly.
  6. Originality: Cabinet hardware is a place to let your personality shine. The hardware is the jewelry for your cabinets so it should stand out. Changing stock handles and knobs to more unique ones can change the whole feeling of a room and add a level of personalization to the space. Even a relatively plain white closet can be made to stand out through the selection of special hardware.
    Cabinet hardware is available in a variety of finishes from Closet Works
    Small sampling from the Closet Works selection of hardware choices.

Choosing hardware for your closet or storage system doesn't have to be a difficult decision. There are many styles and finishes available to meet any need and complement every décor. Ideally, you want to have some fun when making your handle and knob selections. Although your closet will require high quality pieces that are durable, also try to choose hardware that express your personality and individuality. Knobs and handles can always be changed later on if your tastes change. Pick something that feels right when you touch it and brings a bit of joy into your day. If you follow that bit of advice, you will be happy with your final selection.