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How to change up your kitchen’s look with new cabinet handles

14 Aug 2019

Handles are like jewellery for your cabinets, so they should speak to your style - be that contemporary, modern, vintage or traditional. They have a significant impact on the finish of a kitchen cupboard or drawer and they have the potential to change the entire look and feel of the room.

Handles have a significant impact on the finish of a kitchen cupboard or drawer and they have the potential to change the entire look and feel of the room, and handle-less cabinets also make a statement.

For this reason, when choosing hardware, it’s important to take the time to plan - it may be a micro element of the kitchen, but it will have a macro impact on the final finish, says Dezign A Door managing director, Arnold Jardim.

“The very same cabinet might have a vintage feel with porcelain knobs, or a contemporary look with brushed nickel pulls. Imagine black cabinetry finished with a striking gold handle. This hardware creates a very different vibe to a wooden or standard brushed silver handle when used on the same door,” says Jardim.

“It’s the handles that ultimately determine the final style. They influence the feeling of a kitchen and can tip the style one way or another. A contemporary kitchen, for example, cannot have a cottagey handle, and vice versa. The cabinetry and the handle must pair like a good wine and cheese.”

Jardim offers these tips:

1. Handle trends

Brass appears to be the standout metal for 2019, giving a luxurious finish to cabinets. Pair them with brass taps so that you carry the look throughout the kitchen. Cut-out handles and handle-less cupboards are also gaining in popularity.

“The most prevalent trend we are seeing is the mixing of different shapes and styles, knobs, cups and straight bars, and this definitely keeps things interesting in the kitchen. Ultimately though, regardless of the trends, if you love ceramic knobs and they suit your décor you should choose what works for you,” says Jardim.

2. Handles rule versus handle rules

Kitchen hardware finishes and the colours selected should create a beautiful contrast against other materials used in the kitchen - they cannot be considered in isolation.

If your kitchen has fewer than 20 doors and drawers, it’s safest to stick to two types of handles. In a compact kitchen with fewer than 12 doors and drawers, it’s a good idea to use just one style of handle all over, and introduce interest elsewhere.

“Always think about the number of drawers and doors. Cabinet handles will usually look best when used in multiple places so that no single knob or handle is the odd one out. It’s also easier to get it right if you stick to one finish,” says Jardim.

Wear and tear is another factor to consider when faced with handle choices, so opt for a robust handle for doors and drawers that are going to work hard in the kitchen - think about form and function.

Your handle must feel comfortable, so be sure to test them out before you commit. Gripping and opening the cabinet should feel good in your hand. It’s not worth installing a handlebar that’s awkward.

3. Mixing things up

It’s a matter of taste whether or not you mix handle lengths in your kitchen, however, using the same length handle throughout fashions a less busy, more consistent look. Size does count, though, so make sure your handle is in proportion to the size of the cupboard or drawer.

From a style perspective, mixing different types of handles provides character - especially in a larger kitchen, and the handles you choose can easily tip the style of these cabinets one way or another. From a functional standpoint, some cabinets are better suited to particular hardware. Shaker-style cabinets are very sleek, with clean modern lines which makes them versatile and easy to finish with almost any handle. A softer curved handle is more traditional and will soften the lines, but you could just as easily add a streamlined handle for a sleeker contemporary look.

Handles and knobs come in all sorts of materials, finishes and shapes. From stainless steel to brass, rose gold, pewter and even black. When making a choice consider the cabinet colour as well as other feature elements like the colour of the appliances, taps and the tile grout. Another option is to go with handles that are a similar style and finish as your appliance handles.

“Don’t forget the budget - not all handles are made equal, so consider how many you need and work out what you can comfortably invest in your handles. It’s always best to go for quality and to check out the warranty when you are making an investment into handles,” says Jardim.

4. Installation guidelines

Ask your installer not to put the handles on until all of your cabinetry has been installed. You can then review how they look by standing in the kitchen and testing out different positions and heights. Never drill all your handle holes until you have tested one to see that you are happy. This is a job best left to a professional, but if you take on a DIY role at home, then level and adjust your doors before drilling the holes. Always mark the holes before you drill and reuse the old screw holes if you are just replacing the handles.

Although hardware placement is a subjective matter of personal taste, the general rule is that handles are placed horizontally on pull-out drawers and vertically on doors.

“You could consider placing the handles horizontally on your doors if you want a more contemporary, streamlined look, but don’t commit to this decision until you test it out,” says Jardim.

Knobs centred in the corner of the doorframe make for a classic look. Wide drawers need two knobs or pulls and it’s best to divide the drawer into thirds and to place the handles in the left and right portions of the drawer. A more traditional route is to completely centre your knobs in the corner of the face frame. A classic placement would be to centre the middle of the knob on the edge of the face frame.

“Whatever placement you opt for, make sure the handles don’t hit one another when you open cabinets,” says Jardim.

5. Commonly made mistakes

Mistakes with handles vary, but can include choosing cheap products that don’t last, incorrectly calculating and short ordering handles, drilling in the wrong places, choosing to replace handles with knobs (going from two drilled holes to one on an existing kitchen door), and ordering handles that are too big or too short for the size of the cupboards.

Can you handle a kitchen facelift?

If you cannot afford an entirely new kitchen but you are bored and in desperate need of change - then your best bet is to change the handles on the existing cupboards. It’s a very immediate way to see change and it isn’t a project that will take months to finish, so it’s a really rewarding way to change up a kitchen fast.

“It’s a quick and easy way to invigorate the room, especially if you totally up the style ante. Where once you had a bog standard silver bar, matt black brushed chrome would definitely dial up the style of the room,” says Jardim.


“When choosing hardware, don’t make a knee-jerk decision just to get it over with,” says Jardim.

“That said, not everyone wants handles on their cabinetry - sometimes a contemporary kitchen without handles is less busy and looks better with the right style of cupboards. You can strike a balance by going handle free on the top row of cupboards and including carefully selected handles on the lower cabinets.”

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