The handles you choose for your cabinets can affect the overall look and feel of a room, as can the way they are placed. Here are some tips for what to consider when putting the finishing touches on your cabinetry.

 “People tend to spend time and thought on selecting their colour schemes and the materials for their cabinets, but it often doesn’t cross our minds to think about the handles until the end of the process, and then a lot of homeowners also don’t know that there are different options available for handle placement,” says Jason Wells, Brand and Marketing Manager at PG Bison. “This is something worth thinking about or speaking to your contractor about when installing cabinetry or upgrading handles.”

Choosing handles

“The handle you choose for your kitchen cabinets can create dramatically different effects,” says Zalman Centner, Director at CEN Interiors.

“Hardware is like jewellery for your cabinets, so it should speak to your style,” says Arnold Jardim, Managing Director at Dezign A Door. “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.”

Statement handles can add interest to plain cabinetry, just as statement jewellery adds punch to a plain outfit.

Arnold says, “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,” he advises. “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. 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.”

He adds that “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,” he suggests. “Another option is to go with handles that are a similar style, and finish as your appliance handles.”

Jason says that handles need to be functional as well as attractive; “They arguably work the hardest in a kitchen, so it’s important to think about wear and tear and comfort when using them.”

Top tips for choosing handles

 Overall kitchen style: Do the handles match the style you are trying to achieve, or will they detract from it?

  • Materials featured throughout the kitchen: Can you incorporate a texture or finish found elsewhere in the room? “For some people, matching hardware to appliances may not be particularly important, but if you like everything to coordinate, consider the whole kitchen when you pick the colour of your pulls,” says Zalman.

    Ensure you match your handles to the overall style of your kitchen.

  • Any specific physical requirements: What are the demands on your cabinets? “Consider the people using the kitchen. Are there younger kids who will need easy-to-grip handles, or do you want to make cupboards almost impossible for the children to open? People with larger hands will struggle to get their fingers into a cup-style handle. Handles also need to be sturdy enough for whatever they are opening,” says Zalman.

An easy upgrade

“We often recommend replacing handles as a quick upgrade for rental kitchens, or when you aren’t able to remodel,” says Zalman. “If it’s a pull handle, you will need to measure the distance between attachment points on pulls to avoid having to fill existing holes and drilling new ones.”

Arnold agrees that changing the handles on your existing cupboards is a quick and easy way to invigorate a room. “Where once you had a bog-standard silver bar, a matt black brushed chrome handle would definitely dial up the style of the room,” he says. “It’s also a very immediate way to see change and isn’t a project that will take months to finish, so it’s a really rewarding way to change up a kitchen fast.”

Consider matching your handle hardware to the handles on your core kitchen appliances.

Current trends

Some popular choices for handle styles are:

  • Copper – this beautiful metal remains a favourite choice.
  • Brass – Extremely on trend and gives a luxurious finish.
  • Matte black.
  • Pewter and gunmetal – these are not as harsh as black or as specific as brass or gold but still give texture and depth.
  • No handles – Cabinets that have a magnetic touch latch system to open and close the doors and drawers.

These handle-less top cabinets use a magnetic touch latch system, giving a clean, sleek look.

  • Overlay handles.
  • Mixing of different shapes and styles – a blend of knobs, cups, and straight bars keeps things interesting in the kitchen.

 Placing handles

“There is a wealth of information available, with example photos, on handle placement online,” says Jason. “If you’re not sure about your options, it’s worth browsing to see examples. If you’re working with a contractor, it can also be helpful to share images as references of what you like.”

Arnold suggests asking your installer not to put the handles on until all of your cabinetry has been installed. “You can then review how the handles look by standing in the kitchen and testing out different positions and heights,” he says. “Never drill all your handle holes until you have tested one to see that you are happy.”

He says that if you’re doing it yourself, you need to be sure to 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.”

“The general rule of placement for pull/cup handles is that they sit vertically on doors and horizontally on drawers,” says Zalman. “For a two-pull placement on a drawer, divide the drawer in half and centre a pull in each half, and it will be perfectly balanced.”

Be aware that people with large hands may struggle with small cup-style handles.

He adds that handles can be placed horizontally on your doors (as opposed to the traditional vertical placement) if you want a more contemporary, streamlined look. “But don’t commit to this decision until you test it out. Knobs centered in the corner of the door frame make for a classic look. A more traditional route is to completely centre your knobs in the corner of the face frame. Another classic placement would be to centre the middle of the knob on the edge of the face frame. Make sure the handles don’t hit one another when you open cabinets.”

Handles can be placed horizontally on doors for a more contemporary, streamlined look.

Generally, handles are mounted vertically on doors and horizontally on drawers.

Jason says that deep drawers, which are generally near to the floor in kitchen layouts, can be awkward to reach with centred handles. “In that case, it makes more sense to locate the handle towards the top of the drawers, or to place all the drawer handles on the ‘rail’ – the frame around the drawer,” he says.

Lip pull handles are installed on the top and side edges of drawers or doors for a minimalist look.

Zalman also suggests buying a couple of extra handles, in case one breaks at a later stage, when your handles may no longer be easy to source.