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Hardware for Arts & Crafts Built-Ins

In the early 20th century, a bountiful variety of hardware enabled built-in drawers, cabinets, and hideaways to open and close with ease.

By Jane Powell

sponsored by house of antique hardware
Circa 1900 sideboard with original hardware
Original bin pulls, butterfly hinges, and turns add character to a circa 1900 sideboard. Antiquehome.org photo by Lauren Russell
"The vast array of built-in Arts & Crafts furnishings (see Stowicism: The Legacy of Arts & Crafts Built-Ins) required its own school of hardware, including hinges, knobs, pulls, catches, latches, and handles. An overview of the sea of selections available at the time—and of where and how they were used—can come in handy if you ever need to replace them. And if you do find yourself fishing for replacements, you're in luck—many of today's manufacturers offer quality reproductions.



 
Cupboard catch by Crown City Hardware
Cupboard catch by Crown City Hardware
Catches
Catches keep doors shut, and come in either decorative varieties mounted outside cabinets, or plainer versions mounted inside. Among the most common inside-mounts are spring-loaded ball catches and elbow catches (so named because the latching mechanism is shaped like a bent elbow). The outside varieties include cupboard catches and cupboard turns—with catches, the spring-loaded knob turns to release the catch; with turns, it slides to the side. Both types range from very basic models (the sort universal in bungalow kitchens) to fancier versions complete with interesting shapes or backplates.
 
Ball-tipped mortise Parliament hinge by Van Dyke's Restorers
Ball-tipped mortise Parliament hinge by Van Dyke's Restorers
Hinges
Hinges fall into two categories: mortise and surface-mounted. Mortise hinges are set into mortises chiseled into the edge of the door or the face frame of the cabinet, and are most commonly about 2 1/2" high (though they come in various sizes from 1" up). These were usually ball-tipped, loose-pin hinges.

Surface-mounted hinges, on the other hand, attach to the face of the door or the face-frame. More decorative varieties of surface mounts are often called butterfly hinges because of their delicate, wing-like shapes. Surface-mounted strap hinges also were available, and unlike the fake strap hinges common on entry doors today, these were real. Many of the strap hinges on cabinets were L-shaped to accent the door's corners.

A hybrid of the two designs, called half-mortise hinges, featured one leaf set into a mortise, with the other leaf (sometimes decorative) attached to the surface. Linen cabinets often had drop-down doors kept in place by spring hinges similar to those on screen doors, although some used regular hinges combined with a mechanism (anything from a length of chain to various scissor-motion devices) to keep the front from dropping too far. Drop-front desks used similar hardware. (For more on hinges, see "The Short Course on Cabinet Hinges," March/April '07 OHJ.)
 
Cast iron hexagonal knob by House of Antique Hardware
Cast iron hexagonal knob by House of Antique Hardware
Knobs
Knobs come in endless varieties and sizes, which is why most decorative hardware catalogs are so big. By definition, knobs have only one screw (anything with more than one screw is a pull or a handle). A screw might attach knobs from the front (secured by a bolt behind the wood) or from the back (secured by an internal threaded shaft), although some tiny knobs had wood screws that threaded straight into the door. Knobs were used on drawers as well as doors. Wooden knobs came in simple shapes like round, oval, square, or pyramidal and were often stained to match the woodwork. Metal knobs came in similar shapes, and were usually brass or bronze, but could also be plated in other metals. Knobs also could come with metal backplates—these were usually combined with metal knobs, but could sometimes be used with glass ones. Glass or crystal knobs included the ubiquitous hexagonal knob with a screw through the middle, as well as hexagonal, octagonal, faceted, round, or oval versions with invisible screws. Clear glass was the most popular, but glass knobs also came in colors like amethyst and amber, and could even be made of crystal (which is just glass with more lead in it).
 
Horizontal bail pull from Liz's Antique Hardware
Horizontal bail pull from Liz's Antique Hardware
Pulls & Handles
Pulls and handles are largely interchangeable, although some only go on drawers, while others can be used for both doors and drawers. Pulls and handles always have more than one screw, usually two if they attach from the back (sometimes more if they attach from the front). The most common pull is the bin pull, a cupped pull that was mounted on drawer faces in retail stores across the country at the turn of the 20th century. (These are also known as cup pulls, finger pulls, and crescent pulls.) Bin pulls are typically half-moon-shaped and very plain, but there were also squarish varieties and some bearing Eastlake-inspired incised patterns. The sash lift also was commonly used as a drawer pull or door handle, though it mainly appeared on drawers in utility areas. Glass knobs had a pull equivalent called a bridge handle. Benches with lift-up seats and fold-down doors for linen closets used recessed pulls, which were set into a mortise and usually featured round rings. Pulls or handles are sized by their "boring"—the distance between the screws. This varies, though 3" to 4" is prevalent. Pulls can be rigid or floppy: The floppy ones move up and down like a bucket handle, and are known as bail pulls. They come in a variety of different shapes, from curved to square to triangular.

Metal hardware also was available in a range of different finishes. Some was solid metal (usually cast or wrought), like brass, bronze, copper, iron, or steel; others were stamped or spun. Brass and steel were often plated with other metals—nickel was commonly used for hardware in kitchens and bathrooms until it was superseded by chrome in the 1930s (ironically, in a way, because chrome won't stick to brass, so brass has to be plated with nickel before it can be plated with chrome). Many of the finishes used then are still available today, the most common being bright, brushed, or antique brass, copper, and nickel.

While all of this hardware might be found in any early 20th-century home, some was more specific to bungalows—hammered metal, pyramid-head screws, acorns, twigs, sinuous Art Nouveau curves, and whatever else designers of the day could think up. It's the hardware everyone wants to put in the kitchen (on fumed oak cabinets), but it originally usually appeared in more formal spaces. Bungalow designers did use the fancy stuff throughout houses on occasion, and many hardware companies offered entire suites of matching hardware—from front door entry sets, to window hardware, to drawer hardware and escutcheons—so it was easy for a builder or designer to order the whole collection, creating a different look for every bungalow on the street.


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