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    Understanding Furniture Handle Styles

    The character of Handles - Knobs should Harmonize and Complement Furniture

    Period Furniture Design

    Furniture styles were greatly influenced by fashionable trends of the time. Beginning in the 1500’s with the Elizabethan era, each style took on a look and character all its own. Originally these historic periods were named after English monarchs, then later after famous cabinet makers.  Each furniture period created its own unique style of hardware. Below is simple list of drawer pulls, handles and knobs used on American furniture periods and the time frame it was used in.

    Early American: 1760-1920

     Early American style was used in rural areas, where availability to the latest fashion was limited. This country style was often a plainer version of what was being produced in metropolitan areas. While very collectible and well made, country furniture does not exhibit the refinement of it’s high style counterparts. These simplified characteristics are also evident in the hardware used on this furniture. The  Early American cabinet handles used on this modest furniture demonstrated clean lines and simpler shapes. Materials used included brass, cast iron, porcelain and wood.

    Black Iron 1800 - 1900's Knob

    Substantial Cast Iron Bin Pulls

     Rural Style Hardware

    Early American Cabinet Handles Iron Knobs and Hinges on a pine cupboard


    Colonial: William and Mary, Queen Anne and Chippendale: 1620-1780 


    The Colonial period began in America as a bit of a make-do era that morphed into a period of expertly crafted and designed, high style furniture. Although less ornate than what was happening in England, American Chippendale furniture was well made with raised panel doors, dove tail joints, ogee moldings and pleasing proportions. As the era evolved suitable period furniture handles were created to complement chests, highboys and desks. Predominantly produced of brass, these Chippendale furniture handles had large bat-wing shaped, flat backplates with simple swan-neck type bails.

    Chippendale Handles provide a bold appearance favored in the 18th century

    The Chippendale Era

    Chippendale furniture handles
    Chippendale Tall Chest with Period Drawer Pulls

    Low Boy with Chippendale Brasses

    Federal: Hepplewhite and Sheraton 1780-1830

    Hepplewhite furniture was very graceful, balanced and symmetrical. Fluid design and decorative inlays were notable features to this time frame. Hepplewhite furniture handles  were produced with a new technique. Sheet brass was rolled and stamped with intricate patterns, classical or organic in appearance. Backplates were most often oval in shape, with ends of bails entering outsides of posts.Oval Hepplewhite Handles for Federal Furniture

    The Hepplewhite Era

    The Federal Period was defined by three distinct styles: Hepplewhite, Sheraton and Empire

    Hepplewhite furniture handles 

    Hepplewhite Sideboard


    Tier 1 Furnishings Ltd


    Sheraton furniture was a neoclassical style expressed by straight lines and refinement. Vertical, thin round legs and rectilinear shapes set this furniture apart from previous periods.  Sheraton knobs and ring pulls were used on drawers rather than standard furniture handles. Intricate brass knobs made in 1”, 1-1/2” and occasional 2” sizes were predominately used.


    Sheraton Knobs were the preferred handle for Sheraton Furniture in the Federal period

    The Sheraton Era

    Decorative Sheraton Knobs Sheraton Chest of Drawers with Period Brass Knobs


    Empire furniture came into popularity after 1800.  Furniture of this era had a  strong classical Greek influence imparting a bold, substantial appearance. Ornate stenciling, inlays and gilding were used. Curves with flowing forms, paw or claw feet and supporting columns distinguished this time frame. The hardware used mimicked this bold style. Large brass, wood or glass knobs frequented bureaus, tables and desks.Large Glass Furniture KnobsWood Furniture Knob

    The Empire Era

    used large knobs made of: Brass, Wood or Glass

    Empire Chest with wood knobs and Sheraton Keyhole covers


    Victorian  1830 – 1890

    Gothic Revival Drawer Pulls

    The Victorian era had French, Gothic and Eastlake  influences. While all from the same time period, each had distinct characteristics.

    The French inspiration relied on rococo features such as carved “S” and “C” scrolls, shells and floral designs. Curved cabriole legs, marble tops and chairs having concave crest rails express this ornate style. Period furniture handles of this era had an organic, flowing form. Both Victorian handles and knobs were used.

    Gothic Revival: 1880 - 1910

    Gothic Revival Drawer Pulls

    The Gothic Revival represents a style based on architecture. Pointed arches, qua-trefoils, tracery designs and turrets provide a contrast to the flowy French furniture being created at the same time.

    Charles Eastlake defines a popular style near the end of this era. It has simpler more rectangular shape, straighter legs incised trim and geometric patterns were often used. Period furniture handles designed with these same principles in mine.

    Arts and Crafts: 1895 - 1920

    Craftsman Mission Handles

    The Arts and Crafts era, in America, was inspired by social reform. Challenging the ornate tastes of the Victorian era, this design style sought a oneness with nature. Arts and Crafts furniture, often referred to as Mission furniture was solid and uncomplicated, emphasizing elongated and vertical shapes with simple straight lines.  and hardware resembled the rectilinear shapes with surfaces of hammered copper. Mission handles are a functional design with a horizontal shape for drawers and vertical shape for doors.

    Colonial Revival: 1920-1950

    Chippendale Drawer Pulls originally used in the 18th century, becoming popular again during the Colonial Revival period

    The Colonial Revival period was inspired by popular newfound patriotism, early 1900 publications, displaying pictures of 18th century furniture and museums implementing Colonial interiors within their displays. Large segments of the population were being introduced to vignettes of early America. This revival furniture was similar to period designs, however the overall scale was often smaller and was mass produced to be affordable to the larger population. Favorite 18th century drawer pulls were reproduced matching original Colonial furniture handles. 

    Mid-Century - Modern : 1934- 1965

    Minimalist Swan Neck Bail Handles 

    Mid-century and modern styles are a direct departure from previous furniture designs. This contemporary looking hardware has clean lines. The style concentrates on the very form of not just the function. This style was often mass produced making it readily available to the public. Ornamentation was abandoned during this era. Simple sleek furniture made molded plywood was popular. This minimalist design offers an unexpected warmth and beauty. Just adding it on one piece of furniture adds a bold surprising look traditional interiors. 


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