Hardware adds to the decorative effect

January 31, 1993|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,Contributing Writer Los Angeles Times Syndicate

I always think of hardware as the jewelry of the house. In this sense, of course, the term is not meant to refer to tools or machine parts but rather to the metal fixtures found on doors, cabinets, drawers and other furnishings. Besides its glittery, attention-getting properties, this kind of hardware resembles jewelry in that it can change the appearance of whatever body it adorns.

Hardware is typically downplayed in contemporary interiors in accordance with the assumption that such appendages must be concealed in a sleekly austere setting. Alternately, the most ornate fittings are frequently used in traditionally styled rooms out of a belief that this type of cabinetry and interior mill work must be lavishly decorated.

Both those treatments are excessive, in my opinion. Regardless of a room's overall design, I strive for a happy medium that allows hardware to act like jewelry without being ostentatious.

Certain pieces of hardware will invariably catch the eye. But it's wise not to be seduced by styling. Always consider where a fixture is to be used and whether it is appropriate for that particular setting.

In the case of architectural hardware, which is attached to immovable features such as doors, selections ought to be consistent with the home's architectural style. The same criterion applies to movable furniture. For example, Empire-style pulls should not be attached to a piece of American country furniture.

Hardware's finish must also be taken into account. Should brass or chrome be used in a living room? The decision has more to do with personal taste than with any rule of design. Indeed, combinations of brass, chrome and black iron can be attractive, especially in contemporary interiors. I've also seen beautifully outfitted bathrooms in which Plexiglas, chrome and brass are combined in a single piece of hardware.

It's easy to see the importance of decorative hardware in the design of the chest of drawers shown in the photo. Elaborately formed brass keyhole plates in the center of the piece are accompanied by similarly embellished pulls on the drawers. All this hardware has been given an antique brass finish, which helps define the Baker Furniture chest as being more French chateau than French farmhouse in its styling.

The room itself, however, is rather rustic in flavor, as evidenced by the stone floor, rough plaster walls and heavily molded door. The architectural hardware is thus more rustic in its design than are the fittings used on the chest. The countryhouse motif would be further enhanced by simple melon-shaped or lever pulls with or without strap hinges as well as by exposed lock-and-key mechanisms in a black rusted finish.

Although it's seldom mentioned, consideration should certainly be given to the way a piece of hardware feels in the user's hand. Remember that it isn't necessary to tolerate a physically painful pull just because the manufacturer didn't have the sense to design it for human use. Since cabinet doors and drawers usually have standard drilling for hardware, it's usually easy to replace an uncomfortable pull.

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