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Architectural Hardware

Architectural Hardware
Minimal design looks good on this plan.
Do you ever consider how many times you touch your front door handle or open a kitchen cabinet during a day or a week? Two Seattle area architects think a great deal about how people and structures interact physically, and they have each designed architectural hardware to complement the homes and buildings they create. I recently sat down with Jim Cutler, FAIA, principal of Cutler Anderson Architects on Bainbridge Island, Washington, and Tom Kundig, owner and principal at Olson Kundig Architects in Seattle, and asked them to share their thoughts on the form, function and importance of architectural hardware. Examples of the Kundig hardware collection are at the top of this post.

Below you can see how Jim Cutler's elegantly minimalist drawer and cabinet pulls complement the  
 shapes and materials of the kitchen in a contemporary house designed by his firm.

Why design hardware?

Cutler:
Industrial design is fun. You can make beautiful objects and go from idea to object to prototype in a month. It’s so much easier to be an industrial designer. You have a budget to meet and not many people involved. Architecture, on the other hand, is the art of delayed gratification, like parenting. On a commercial high-rise, there are hundreds, or thousands, of people trying to execute the work. Designing a cabin with my daughter (or a door lever or chair) is much more fun.

Kundig:
I’ve worked with metal for years now, and two things have always intrigued me about it. One is multifunctional industrial shapes. I love the shape of a pipe because it’s so strong, sensible and useful. It can be deployed or repurposed for nearly anything: building structure, delivery of liquids, or used as handrails. The other thing is that bending metal can make it stronger. And when it’s bent into something like a drawer pull, it can be made to feel both soft and strong to the touch.

What’s your inspiration for door and cabinet hardware?

Cutler:
We designed the Gates residence, including the front door hardware (Xanadu 2.0, Bill Gates’s 66,000-sq.-ft. mansion on Lake Washington in the Seattle area, was collaboratively designed by Cutler Anderson Architects and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson). For Bill Gates’s front door, we wanted something that expressed a lever. The result expresses the mechanical 

connection between the lever and the shaft itself and also forms the shape of the letter “G.” (While Bill Gates would not give permission for his front door hardware to be shown, Cutler explains that his Bainbridge lever design is somewhat similar.)

Kundig:
After years of collaborating with Steve Clark and Mark Christiansen of 12th Avenue Iron in Seattle, Steve approached me about developing a line of products. Initially, it was a way to give us a few more choices in the product world. Now, the Tom Kundig collection includes more than 100 cut-and-folded steel products ranging from cabinet and door pulls to rollers, lighting and tables, as shown below.


How do people’s kinetic involvement and tactile encounters with the spaces they inhabit influence your hardware designs?

Cutler:
All of our work is based on tangible reality—the nature of materials, the physics of the world. We look
at what’s real and try to express the physical forces. Architects don’t defy gravity, they define gravity.

Kundig:
In my work on houses, I’ve felt particularly invested in enhancing the moments when the occupant physically interacts with the architecture—when they’re shaking hands with it via door handles, drawer pulls

and knobs. For me, designing the hardware, the pulls, and the handles, is working in the most primitive, visceral, and essentially humanistic realm of design—these are the things you touch every day. I want the more intimate pieces and parts to be an extension of my values and aesthetics, which include shelter.

What are the problems that you’re solving with these designs?

Cutler:
The shapes of peoples’ hands. There is physics involved in turning a door’s lever arm, handle or knob.

I’m especially proud of the Cutler lever (shown here). I was a car mechanic at one point, and this is a cam. It’s asymmetric—a shaft going through a round cylindrical knob. It functions with tubular latches, mortices, and multipoint locks.

Kundig:
Each piece has its own challenge. All of the pieces are meant to be honest about how they’re made and what they’re made from. I feel that the pieces are both beautiful and pragmatic—they readily accommodate both the physics of the building part being manipulated and the physics of the person doing the manipulating. They are natural both in that they are made of organic materials and accommodate the human body.

What materials do you use?

Cutler:
The shafts and the bulk of the levers are stainless steel. Often, for the surfaces of hardware that clients touch, we use wood for the outside and metal for the inside. The metals we use include stainless steel, bronze and tempered aluminum, and the woods are oak, beech and maple. Originally, Reveal Designs wanted to manufacture the hardware, and they eventually sold to Sun Valley Bronze in Bellevue, Idaho, who fabricates our hardware now.

Kundig:
The team at 12th Avenue Iron fabricates each piece from steel, which is then finished and waxed, revealing the subtle marks of its making.

Who purchases this hardware, and what does it cost?

Cutler:
Some homeowners, including Bill Gates, New Yorker Staff Writer Susan Orleans, and others. The process is expensive, but it’s not out of reach; it’s on the high end of good quality hardware. (Cutler’s collection includes the Bainbridge, Orcas, Cutler, Mercer and Cypress levers and the Washington pull. Cabinet hardware ranges from $15 to $60, and passage sets, which are 
used on a door that doesn’t need to lock for privacy or security and consists of just a back plate and a knob or lever on each side of the door and a latch that is operated by turning the knob/lever, run $650 to $750.)

Kundig:
A percentage of the designs are used in our own projects, but we’re pleased to see that the majority are being used in non-Olson Kundig projects by interior designers, architects and others. (The Tom Kundig Collection ranges in price from $14 for a simple peel cabinet pull and $250 for a steel tube towel bar to $845 for a steel tube light pendant and $1,385 for a door pull of blackened steel pipe with a resin grip. Folded steel tables range in price from $2,020 for a side table to $4,810 for a console table.)

What do you see as the future of hardware design?

Cutler:
I think everyone has their own viewpoint. There are always new materials and clever ways to use them. But, the key is to make sure that the shape (of a lever, for example) expresses all the loads and forces of nature.

Kundig:
Definitely digital and 3-D printing. Combined, they will radically change how we distribute and use small accessories. One place I could foresee that leading is the increase in non-handmade accessories. Our collection is handmade, and I could see this being an even stronger differentiator between us and the rest of the market in the future.
   

Architectural Hardware Inspiration

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