White cabinets are a classic, whether in the bathroom or the kitchen, or even in a hallway. Depending on the aesthetic you are looking to emulate, you’ll have many different color and material options to choose from. Here is a complete guide to cabinet knobs, and how to style them with a white cabinet.
Architectural Hardware, aka cabinet knobs and handles, plays a much bigger role in our daily lives than you may have imagined. Hardware as we know it today started to take off during the industrial revolution, but it has been giving our furniture more than just functionality for centuries.
For over 300 years, hardware has been applied to furniture. Each era can be identified by its own unique style, all of which serve as a statement piece recognized by historians.
Styles have changed vastly since those times, and hardware has really been pared down to be simple, effective, and sleek. There are still many historical styles available, however, to complete your antique farmhouse style kitchen.
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History of Cabinet Knob Design
There are a handful of important periods in the history of architectural hardware. The first is pre 1800’s: In the early 1700s, architectural hardware was considered simply functional.
With knowledge passed down through the generations, local blacksmiths forged handles, hinges and latches from iron with tools and methods that were not much developed from medieval times. It was only following the industrial revolution that things began to change.
Not only was this technological but architectural style begun to change. The grandest Georgian homes of this period featured decorative brass hardware, a symbol of traditional refinement that remains a British taste.
As the industrial revolution spread, other national styles emerged initially in continental Europe followed by a newly independent America with the advent of the Regency Style. The age of architectural hardware was about to blossom.
The second one is the Victorian era, which ranged from the 1860s to the 1910s. This period is deemed the golden period of architectural hardware. Since factories were finally able to mass produce cabinet handles and knobs, they became more accessible and the price became more affordable.
In this age of mass production, a new sand casting technique enabled companies to increased production tenfold. Tastes shifted from the conservative to the elaborate with inspiration from every corner of the world and period of human history.
It was in this time that design patents first emerged as companies furiously competed to offer ever more original decorative patterns. Hardware became both ornamental and affordable as professional designers emerged from Adams, Stratford and Brabant in the USA to Dresser, Jones and Eastlake in Britain.
However, this mass production created competition on a grander scale, and because of the newly competitive market, design played an important role. Designers developed new forms and styles, transforming handles and knobs into very detailed and decorative furniture accessories.
Imagine the ornate brass designs, that could be abstract or representational, and that’s what the period’s output looked like. Between this and the modern era came Arts and Crafts and Art Deco hardware.
At the turn of the century, progressive architects were turning away from machine cut detail and extravagant historical styles towards simple, clean and practical design. Influenced by thinkers like William Morris, the hardware of this period was designed ‘known to be useful and believed to be beautiful’.
Preindustrial metals including bronze, brass, copper and iron finished with a rustic, antique effect are typical for hardware of this period. From a design perspective, the emphasis was to bring out the natural beauty of the metal while allowing each article to fulfil its purpose as simply and directly as possible.
The Art Deco movement swept into prominence with the 1925 Paris Exposition des Arts Decoratifs with a profound influence on the architecture and style of the roaring 1920s. From skyscrapers like the Empire State Building to the finest private houses, Art Deco ziggurats and geometric patterns found expression.
Along with the new style came new materials such as Bakelite and Acrylic resin, which caught on quickly with hardware manufacturers and enabled new colourful designs. Yet with the outbreak of war, the Art Deco influence was short lived and never truly went mass-market, perhaps explaining it’s current revival.
The next major period was the Modern Age, which lasted two decades around a pivotal point in modern history. Taking place between the 1930’s and 1950’s, the Modern Age was influenced by World War II, which marked a significant distinction in the form and function of hardware.
This era brought a simpler, more linear functional design, as there was a boom in population, and a push towards simple reproducible designs. With little focus on aesthetics, the intricacies of the designs of yesteryear were left behind.
The modern age would not last, as soon after the war, architects and designers were inspired to bring back the inspired designs of the Victorian era and modernize them with a contemporary twist.
Next up is the Contemporary period, which is a culmination of previous eras, and what we are currently occupying, which allows us to embrace options as part of the design aesthetic. There are plenty of combinations that will give any furniture the feel and look you desire.
Designers are now much more interested in how textures influence us. Interiors are classified by mood, broken down into categories that express the feeling of each room. Consequently, hardware is selected based on the feeling you are trying to convey or reinforce.
For a more contemporary feeling, go for solid and clean line hardware. For a warmer feel, like the ones used in classic country kitchens, rough textures and reminiscent of the Victorian period can be used.
A more tactile understanding of how hardware functions allows us to incorporate different design influences to suit specific applications.
The Best Knob Pairings for White Cabinets
1. Matte Black
Matte black is such a timeless yet contemporary route: it is both trendy, and will never go out of style. It creates a beautiful contrast against the white of any cabinet, and whether you have a shaker style cabinet, and want to update it to look modern, or already have modern sleek cabinets, its a really great choice.
I myself have white kitchen cabinets, which I updated with simple, sleek matte black handles, and my whole kitchen felt so elevated. Opt for any metal with the matte black finish if you want them to last, the plastic may be cheaper but it will go a lot more easily.
Hardware is a really easy, cheap way to elevate a room or piece of furniture: so splurge on the few dollar difference, and it will really make a difference.
Silver hardware is so durable, sleek, and adds a little shine to any kitchen or bathroom. You should choose silver hardware for your cabinets for a clean and industrial look. The best thing about silver is that it provides a calm ambiance.
The second best thing about it is that it complements white very well. The shine it naturally gives off will add to the feeling of cleanliness in the room. You don’t get the same contrast as with the black, the silver blends with a white cabinet much more easily.
So, if you’re looking for something a little more simple and paired down, silver is a really great option, that is still very elegant. The clean, industrial look of silver produces a calm ambiance, which pairs perfectly with your white cabinets.
Silver is also bright enough, where it also stands out on your cabinets and gives your kitchen that shiny and sterile feel. The majority of today’s appliances are stainless steel, so your stainless steel hardware will share that uniform look.
3. Rose Gold
Rose gold has been a trend over the last many years, from watches to the hardware in your home. It adds a touch of flair to your home. Rose gold hardware works beautifully when paired with cool all-white cabinets to add a pop of color.
Unlike other shiny golds, rose gold looks good adjacent to stainless steel appliances. Rose gold was first used in early 19th century Russia by the famed jeweler Carl Faberge in his infamous Faberge Eggs, as was known as Russian Gold.
Rose gold later gained popularity in the United Stated during the lavish and feminine 1920’s, and was worn in engagement rings and fine jewelry. It is now used as a colour for many metals, but still creates the elevated feeling that its history bestows on it.
Ceramic knobs are originally a Mexican invention, and there are so many beautiful traditional options, as well as contemporary takes. The ceramic knob is also traditionally used in farmhouses, but the painted effect really just takes that look and elevated it to the next level.
If you’ve got a white cabinet, or set of cabinets, and are looking for a way to create that farmhouse aesthetic, while adding a pop of colour or texture, this is the perfect way.
They sometimes even come in sets where each and every one in the set is unique, creating an eclectic and hand painted feeling, which fits perfectly with that farmhouse look.
A classic material for achieving the farmhouse aesthetic is wood: contrasting it against a white painted cabinet will create a lovely soft textural balance, and subtle contrast.
Wood can be a really nice texture to hold, instead of the colder and harder feeling of metal, it has a softness and doesn’t get so cold in the winter if you live in a colder climate.
For the farmhouse aesthetic, there are many different shapes you can go with, and ultimately it’s great to find antique wooden knobs for this look. So, it can be nice and cheap as an added bonus!
Brass is such a beautiful kitchen material and colour, but can also be used in so many different rooms in the house! depending on the style of the hardware, it can evoke many different time periods and styles, because it is such a timeless material it has been used in so many of them.
With the rounded handles like in the photo above, there is that farmhouse charm immediately. Paired with the brass sink, and even other brass accessories like pots and pans, you can complete the look, and round out the overall kitchen aesthetic.
On the other hand, on a white cabinet in the bedroom, the brass brings in this more industrial quality, which can make the bedroom feel more rustic, especially when you do have white pieces of furniture.
1. Brushed Steel
Brushed steel is unanimous in kitchens around North America, but it can also be used for more specific aesthetics: Mid-century Modern details can be beautifully executed in brushed steel. It’s a hyper-durable material, and pairs really nicely with a white cabinet.
It is silver, but doesn’t have the same shine because of the brushing, which just makes it a Little more rustic and toned down. With an off white I find this style and material to be the perfect pairing.
Mid-century modern design grew in popularity from the 1940s to the 1970s. During this time period, there was increased interest in nuclear physics, molecular chemistry, and science fiction which inspired the unique shapes seen in everything from furniture and lighting to homes and office buildings.
Brass helps to elevate the home design without making it look over luxurious and uncomfortable. Mid-century furniture is typically in a dark teak wood, but when you have cabinets that are white, they can still have mid-century stylings.
Modern sloping lines, minimal details, and some brass will immediately do the trick, whether its for your kitchen, bathroom, or hallway.
While glass hardware can also be very traditional, there are some forms that create that midcentury aesthetic. Paired with white cabinets, glass can create that perfect shimmery element, making the room around it feel bright and light.
Bohemian decor is a colorful, eclectic look with a global inspiration. It’s the style you might think of for an avid world traveler or a free-spirited flea market lover, as it tends to be full of an eclectic assortment of collected objects.
Bohemian style features a fun mix of color and patterns, furniture styles, and unexpected decor—along with asymmetrical layouts. Boho style tends to be super casual and carefree, with a relaxed approach to styling.
The perfect summery surf house vibe is created with rattan knobs on a white cabinet. This is also a super easy DIY project. If you have an old wooden cabinet, and want to give it a makeover, of if you find one at an antique store.
Simply a coat of fresh white paint and rattan knobs will transform it from an antique to a modern boho vibe, with little cost and pretty simple work.
Some more history on Boho and its origins: it’s shorthand for the French word bohémien, referring to Bohemia, a region in present-day Czech Republic. Bohemia was erroneously believed to be the homeland of the Romani people, the largest ethnic minority group in Europe.
Originating in India, the Romani largely led ambulant lifestyles and were known for their creativity, many being skilled artists, musicians, and tradespeople.
In 16th century France the word “bohemian” evolved to include any artist, writer, actor or musician who led an unconventional lifestyle, traveling quite a bit throughout major European cities with little money.
A more recent hotbed for boho culture existed in Greenwich Village in New York City during the 1950s, otherwise known as the beat generation, which eventually gave way to the hippy culture of the 1960s and ’70s.
While the Romani people who inspired this style have experienced persecution and discrimination for centuries, after being embraced by middle and upper-class White people boho design came to be viewed largely as trendy and fashionable.
That all being said, leather handles are another way to create the look against a white cabinet. Tanned leather against a white or off white background is a beautiful pairing, and the soft leather is lovely to touch every time you want to open the cabinet.
Stone is such a diverse and sturdy material: you can find white granite, black marble, or even blue lapis lazuli. The options are infinite, and honestly, when you have a white cabinet, any of them will work. They add that perfect boho aesthetic, while also potentially adding a pop of texture and colour.
4. Mother of Pearl
Who would think of using mother of pearl in hardware? It’s such a fine delicate material, and yet, set into a brass or wooden knob, it just creates such a beautiful accentuation.
Against a white cabinet, the white of the mother of pearl pairs so well, while whatever material it is set in creates an offset to balance it. This option will create a refined, slightly feminine aesthetic: polished and beautiful, and slightly ornate.
Believe it or not, brass is back. Popular in yesteryears, brass is now a good way to update your cabinet hardware. Brass brings a warm and rich feeling to your kitchen. It almost adds a touch of royalty to your clean, white kitchen.
Brass is also making a comeback on appliances, where several high end ranges are using brass burners. With more ornate knockers like these ones, on any cabinet in the house, it will create that traditional warmth that really adds interest to a home.
2. Painted Wood
With white cabinets, a painted white knob can also be such a beautiful and simple option. With a form like this one above, it is clean and simple, yet also has the traditional lines that are more ornate than anything contemporary.
The good news is that cabinets built with historical features are a growing interest in the kitchen industry with appeal beyond folks who embrace history. That being said, what makes a cabinet traditional? Turns out it begins not with details or materials, but with the basic woodworking DNA.
Prior to about 1960, kitchen cabinets were typically built with face-frame construction – that is, a matrix of horizontal rails and vertical stiles attached to the cabinet box that adds strength to the front, supports doors and drawers, and finishes the spaces surrounding them.
Another classic cabinetry feature that has ebbed and flowed over time is inset or recessed doors and drawers that close flush with the face frame. Carvings and Inlays characterize Traditional aesthetics in cabinets, and knobs with a little more carving detail will accentuate them perfectly.
Finally, glass knobs can also be used to create a more traditional aesthetic, against the white cabinet backdrop. As you see here, a more faceted glass evokes the victorian era of cabinetry.
Paired against a white cabinet, it is polished and sophisticated, and could even be paired with a crystal chandelier if you want to go all the way. What gives an old-house kitchen the feeling of authenticity?
It’s the cabinets that connect a new installation to an earlier time, whether or not you choose marble countertops and vintage appliances. Getting cabinetry right is tricky, given social and technology changes—and because the kitchen has evolved from being a closeted area for servants to the center of family life.
Kitchens are larger and filled with such appliances as espresso makers, and contemporary homeowners demand storage capacity beyond even the pantries of old.
Finding the right balance between, say, a late-19th-century appearance and a 21st-century lifestyle is a juggling act. The choice of knobs will take you where you want to be: it’s the details that count!
So, there is really no wrong option when it comes to white cabinets: any knob will pair beautifully, as long as you decide what aesthetic you are going for, and pair it with the rest of the furnishings in your home.
Knobs are a really fun way to spruce up your home, they are easy to install and inexpensive, so when you feel the need for a makeover, try thinking about upgrading your white cabinet with a new set of knobs!