Hardware can be a big deal in the kitchen, or fade into the background. Quality products are available in every style and era, and in many metals and finishes.
Hardware may match—or complement—the other metals in the kitchen, such as faucets and lighting fixtures. While many old houses have consistent hardware in every room, all part of a suite, the kitchen—a utility room and always subject to remodeling—doesn’t have to match. Nothing wrong with nickel hardware and colorful glass knobs in a retro, Depression-era kitchen, even in a 19th-century house full of brass hinges and brown ceramic doorknobs.
The simplest hinges, pulls, and knobs are adaptable pieces appropriate for any style. But today you can find strikingly stylish hardware peculiar to one decade or architectural style. Think of attenuated, streamlined chrome handles with Art Deco styling, or the hand-hammered escutcheon-and-bail drawer pulls right out of Stickley’s Craftsman Workshops. Kitchen hardware was most often plainer than that used in other rooms. But today’s family-centered kitchens interpret period style, and are more likely to be based on butler’s pantries, not the servants’ scullery. Thus hardware is likely to be upgraded to include decorative cast metal and so on.
The type of metal used is associated with certain periods and styles. Iron, familiar in colonial-era homes, came back during various Colonial Revivals, but is also seen in Arts & Crafts houses. Brass (in finishes from brightly polished to dull, or dark with antique patina) is found in virtually every period and is especially associated with the Victorian era. Nickel (nickel-plated brass) was a typical metal finish from the 1890s through about 1920, when brighter and bluer chrome plating took over. Bronze looks pleasingly old-fashioned, appropriate in both rustic and post-1920s hardware suites.