Through the years I’ve spent working in the interior design field, I’ve seen cabinet hardware upgrades improve significantly! So long are the days of your grandma’s single-drawer vanity that pulls out to reveal a blow dryer with a permanently misshapen rolled cord and scattered vials of lipstick. Gone is the need for a big ugly (and frankly unsanitary) trash can in the middle of the kitchen. Thanks to tray dividers and pullouts, we can now have perfectly organized vanities and concealed trash cans. I didn’t want to see the microwave on the counter in my kitchen, so I had a custom tambour door cabinet built to hide it when not in use. Honestly, it’s been a challenge to keep up with all the innovations. There are custom built-in tray dividers, shoppable items to install later, spring-loaded hinges, and of course, the thousands of decorative knobs and drawer pulls! In this Interior Design Glossary entry, I review the definition, history, and types of cabinet hardware upgrades for the home. We’re keeping things brief today because there is so much more we can talk about later!
What is Cabinet Hardware?
Cabinet hardware generally includes the knobs, pulls, hinges, and additional accessories attached to your cabinetry to allow for the primary function of opening and closing your cabinets and drawers, as well as functional upgrades to manage storage. For the sake of this Interior Design Glossary entry, we also include cabinet upgrades like tray dividers, pullouts, and electrical outlet drawers that require additional hardware pieces to build.
A Brief History of Cabinet Hardware in Interior Design
The Invention of Cabinetry
Before we begin discussing the history of cabinet hardware, we need to touch on the invention of cabinets themselves. Our first real form of cabinetry was cupboards from the Middle Ages. Early cupboards were tall chests with doors and shelves designed to store cups. Since the 16th century, the name has referred to any furniture piece with doors. These freestanding pieces became common in kitchen and butler’s pantry spaces with little changes until the 1920s. Around this time, the Hoosier Manufacturing Company designed the Hoosier Cabinet, a free-standing kitchen cupboard with an additional workstation surface at countertop level. They were popular kitchen pieces until the 1950s introduced the open-concept kitchen. Now, Hoosier Cabinets were too bulky and distracting. So, built-in cabinetry began to take off to free up space and allow for larger countertops that could store brand-new appliances.
The Addition of Hardware
Hardware was added to cupboards after the Middle Ages by the 18th century when people had greater access to materials. Initially, hardware was purely functional and consisted of simple handles and hinges. After the Industrial Revolution, manufacturers were able to get more creative with designs, and aesthetics began to play a role in addition to function. Historians identify three important periods of hardware design. The Victorian Era ushered in many new designs at lower price points, allowing the average family to decorate their home for the first time. Victorian hardware includes intricate details that place aesthetics first. After World War II, the Modern Age influenced mid-century design, placing streamlined function as the top priority. Modern hardware designs are sleeker, relying on simple shapes. Now in the Contemporary Period, we look to all past design eras for inspiration. We expect our hardware to function while playing to our specific tastes and styles.
My Experience Selecting Cabinet Hardware Upgrades with Clients
Cabinet hardware is so much more than knobs and pulls. There are a lot of decisions to work through that go way beyond the decorative! Today, cabinetry is very technical and highly specialized, so planning is very involved. One must consider all the options, including personalized outlet drawers, tray dividers, and pantry organizers. I told you, the days of grandma’s hair dryer shoved in a drawer are gone! I tell my clients that to get the most out of working with your interior designer, they must be prepared to share. For kitchen cabinet designs, I find myself doing everything from counting pots and pans to selecting tableware that can fit perfectly into our slotted cabinet dividers. When it comes to bathrooms, we have intimate conversations about morning routines, whether they’re right or left-handed, skincare regimens, and whether they use floss or a water pick. All of these small considerations can be accounted for and allow us to create storage solutions that make cooking and getting ready a breeze.
Cabinet Hardware Upgrade Options for the Kitchen and Bath
Kitchen cabinets and vanity cabinets have come so far! Here are just a few of my favorite cabinet hardware upgrades.
For the Kitchen…
Drawer pullouts are customized storage boxes set on bearing rails that allow for a full extension so you can see everything inside your cabinet at once. Pullouts can be designed to accommodate anything from waste bins to cleaning caddies to spice racks and knife blocks.
Lazy Susans are circular rotating trays. You may have seen one on a large dining room table, but they also make great storage solutions inside the dreaded corner cabinet. With a Lazy Susan, you can gain full access to the very back of the cabinet with a quick turn. And honestly, this cabinet upgrade just adds a bit of fun!
Mixer Storage Shelves
Rather than have your stand mixer take up valuable countertop space, you can store it down below with a mixer storage shelf. Then, when you’re ready to use it, the spring-loaded hinges allow you to effortlessly pop it up to counter-level.
Trays, Dividers, Pegged Organizers, and More
An empty drawer can quickly become a messy junk drawer if you don’t have a system in place to contain what’s inside. Trays, dividers, and pegged organizers can either be built into your cabinetry or added later, creating methods to organize baking trays, silverware, spices, pots, dishes, and everything in between.
For the Bath…
Vanity Outlet Drawers
Grandma’s tangled-up hair dryer has its own spot now! Vanity outlet drawers allow you to store your bathroom essentials while keeping them plugged in. While this might seem like an excessive luxury at first, you will be surprised just how much time it shaves off your morning routine.
Makeup Tray Organizers
Makeup tray organizers transform a messy junk drawer of lipstick vials into a display worthy of the Clinique counter. When everything has its place, you’ll have no trouble finding what you need.
Pullout Clothes Hampers
Keep dirty clothes and towels organized with tilt-out hampers built right into the vanity or wall. Like magic, these concealed hampers will vanish that pile of dirty laundry from the floor.
Pulls, Knobs, Backplates, and Hinges
While I enjoy shopping for technical hardware options, we can’t forget about the exterior cabinet hardware. When it comes to pulls, knobs, backplates, and hinges, there are countless options and finishes to coordinate with your interior and show off your personal style. Will you go minimal or bold? The choice is yours!
Getting a Handle on Cabinet Hardware
I had to throw one tongue-in-cheek joke in here, right? When it comes to cabinet hardware, there are more options out there than ever before. No matter your style, routine, or what you need to store, a cabinet can be custom designed to meet every need you can dream up. We’ve only scratched the surface of cabinetry. So before you dive in, make sure you consult an expert. Cabinet makers have a wealth of experience and knowledge to help guide you to the perfect design.
Give grandma’s hair dryer a proper place to call home.
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.