There are few home improvement projects as straightforward and rewarding as a hardware upgrade. Whether swapping knobs for pulls, builder-grade brass for

Double-beaded knob from Liberty Hardware
Double-beaded knob from Liberty Hardware

a stainless-steel look or matching decorative cabinet pieces to new appliances, a hardware upgrade is budget-friendly and achievable for anyone familiar with a screwdriver or a drill.

Mix and Match
A total kitchen or bathroom makeover can be a costly and invasive endeavor. For homeowners lacking in the funds or patience to gut and revamp the whole room, a hardware upgrade can be an attractive alternative. It is also one that is easily overlooked. “When people move into a home, they often don’t pay attention to the hardware,” says Kevin Dewald, product manager for Hickory Hardware, a hardware manufacturer with headquarters in Nashville, Tenn. “Many homes come with builder-grade polished brass,” Dewald adds, saying that an upgrade to a quality nickel from a builder-grade brass is an easy and common change.

With individual knobs, pulls and pieces ranging from just under a dollar to $50, a homeowner can be as thrifty or indulgent as desired. According to Dewald, the average kitchen hardware upgrade can require 30 to 35 new pieces. Even when

Refined Rustic knobs from Hickory Hardware
Refined Rustic knobs from Hickory Hardware

selecting the $5 middle-of-the-road option at any big box store, a homeowner will be looking at roughly a $150 investment.

When selecting styles and finishes, there is an endless array of options. In a cabinet hardware, consumers will need to choose between the two largest categories of hardware—the knob and the pull. A straight swap will be the easiest since the drawers and cabinets will already be drilled to accommodate the replacement piece. For both knobs and pulls, homeowners can choose to accessorize with a backplate, which adds to the cabinet aesthetic and can also hide signs of wear and tear. Within the kitchen, homeowners will want to consider “functional” hardware pieces, like the concealed hinges offered by Amerock, manufacturers of decorative and functional hardware pieces for the kitchen, bath and rest of the home. Amerock also has a line of storage hardware items, like pull-out organizers and rotating shelves.

In the bathroom, hardware pieces include much more than cabinet pulls or knobs. There are towel rings, garment hooks, tissue holders, shower rods and many other facets of the room that can be upgraded. Doorknobs, hinges and wall plates for light switches also fall into the hardware category. These items can be swapped out with matching pieces for a subtle, but satisfying, hardware upgrade. Selecting a new door knocker, hinges and handle for the front door can be one way to set a new hardware tone for the rest of the house.

Manufacturers categorize their hardware pieces under a host of style names, which can include traditional, transitional, contemporary, rustic, whimsical, country, modern and casual, to name a few. “The simple, clean lines are popular right now,” says Ruby Schaefer, vice president of marketing for Liberty Hardware, manufacturers of Liberty®, Brainerd®, and Franklin Brass®, some of which can be found at The Home Depot and Lowe’s.

Finish options are even more plentiful. Antique, brushed, polished, and satin subcategories address brass, copper, nickel, pewter, silver and gold finishes. Consumers can find a plethora of additional color options, from simply named white, black and red to pallet-puzzling names like “honey maple,” “espresso” and “oatmeal.”

How to Choose
“The consumer really can’t make a mistake,” says Dewald about selecting from so many style and finish options. While the picky homeowner may disagree, there are numerous ways the consumer can go about narrowing down the

Traditional pull from Liberty Hardware, with a venetian bronze finish
Traditional pull from Liberty Hardware, with a venetian bronze finish

choices. To begin, it is helpful to draw inspiration from existing finishes and fixtures in the kitchen, which can include:

• Cabinet finishes
• Kitchen faucets—both style and finish
• Kitchen sink
• Lighting fixtures—both style and finish

Homeowners can also look to the color of the walls or the existing hardware in doors, including the knobs and the hinges. Taking kitchen appliances into consideration is advisable, as well, although Schaefer believers this practice is not as popular as some suggest. “Matching cabinet hardware finish to appliances is usually only common in upscale kitchens,” says Schaefer. Appliance pull hardware—like the kind used for pots and pans drawers or a dishwasher—can match or compliment a wood trim or face on the appliance, but appliance finish and style does not have to be the first place the homeowner looks for inspiration.

Depending on how and where the homeowner chooses to be inspired, the next decision will be whether to match styles, finishes, both or none at all. “On some level, it is a matter of personal taste,” says Dewald. “You can match styles but have a different finish, or you can match finishes and have a different style.” The complementing of styles and finishes between the new hardware and the existing cabinets, faucets or other fixtures will always come down to each individual’s preference, but for those short on ideas it is good to know where to look to get started.

Purchasing Tips
In addition to the aesthetic decisions, the consumer looking to upgrade hardware will need to make some nuts-and-bolts choices as well. Chief among them concerns the size of the replacement pieces. Existing hardware is best replaced with new pieces that match in size to avoid having to drill new holes. To this end, it is always advisable for the consumer to bring a piece of the old hardware in when shopping for new hardware, which will help to size up the new pieces and narrow the choices. The most common pull size, for example, is made for a “3-inch center-to-center,” which refers to the distance between the centers of both holes drilled into the cabinet or drawer face. Knob sizes are categorized by the diameter, and the most common is a 1 1/4-inch size.

Within both the pull and the knob categories there are numerous variations,

Hickory Hardware knobs and pulls
Hickory Hardware knobs and pulls

however. Homeowners may need to be prepared to drill new holes if the desired replacement pieces do not match the size of the existing pieces. If the old holes will be visible with the new pieces installed, homeowners can buy a backplate. “Fingernails can chew the cabinet around the base of knobs,” says Dewald. “Buying a new knob with a base that flairs out another one-half inch will cover that wear on the cabinets.”

Because individual hardware pieces are fairly inexpensive, homeowners should purchase a piece or two to install to determine if the selection is aesthetically palatable and the installation results in a satisfactory fit. New hardware will almost always come with new screws, so homeowners will most likely not have to worry about this detail. However, door thicknesses can always vary, so it is also wise to bring the old screw in when purchasing to make sure this is a match as well.

Hands On
The cabinet hardware can do wonders for the overall kitchen or bath aesthetic, but homeowners should keep in mind that the pieces serve a function. Drawers and cabinets will be pulled and opened routinely, and the functional role of the hardware should be considered when making purchases. This is another good reason why a “trial” piece or two should be purchased, installed and used. “Older folks who want to age in place may have arthritis issues and will want something comfortable and easy to use,” says Schaefer. “Families with small children may want hardware with more rounded edges, too.”

Another consideration to make is the ease of being able to clean. Ornate, grooved pieces may trap grease and debris easier and may require extra effort to keep clean. A simple, clean-edged design may be more attractive for the kitchen that seems frequent—and messy—use. Other rooms like a bathroom may be a more suitable fit for the deep grooves and highly wrought features of a more ornate hardware piece.

For a nominal amount of money and a weekend’s worth of work, any kitchen, bath or other room in your home can get a hardware upgrade. Whether contrasting or matching styles and finishes, this budget-friendly project will give the home a renovated look without putting a dent in the savings.

Credit: Renovate with Tommy Mac