Kitchen Knobs or Pulls?

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The right kind of hardware (knobs, drawer pulls, handles) in your home accents the grain of the wood, the quality of the stain, or brings a modern design together. So which should you choose: Kitchen Knobs or Pulls?

Knobs, Handles or Pulls?

Cabinets themselves (and thus the design of modern kitchens) are a fairly recent invention.

The increase of mass production furniture, the rise of the middle class in western countries, and the development of refrigeration and food preservation that enabled families to purchase and store more than a few days worth of food, all led to, well, cabinets.

Modern kitchen design has improved partly as a result of ergonomic research.

Functionality is important; in a kitchen today you may find deep drawers for cookware, pull-out shelves to avoid excess bending, sponge trays on the front of sink cabinets, pullout hideaway garbage/recycling containers, pull-out spice cabinets, lazy susans [] in corner cabinets, vertical storage for cookie sheets, full-extension drawer slides, and drawers and doors with so-called soft-close/Positive-close mechanisms enabling drawers to shut quietly, or which shut fully after being pushed only partially. Phew!

And so here we are, deciding whether to have a pull, a knob, or a handle and what kind to have.

Cabinet Openers

The knob is a rounded handle or ornament found on drawers to assist in opening.

A handle is a part of, or attachment to, an object that can be moved or used by hand. The design of each type of handle involves some ergonomic issues.

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A drawer pull (or simply pull) is a handle to pull a drawer out of a chest of drawers or cabinet. These often include a plate to which the handle is fastened. The handle may swing from one or two mounts (“drop handle” or “swing handle”), making a drop drawer pull.

There are some things to bear in mind when selecting whether or not to have opening ornamentation in your kitchen, and what type to get. Obviously, functionality is important; the handles need to work as intended. For instance, avoid putting 2 pulls on a single wide drawer.

Kitchen drawers will typically be opened using one hand instead of both, unlike a dresser drawer. Opening the wide drawers by using only one of the pulls which is placed off center will eventually skew the drawer. Better to use one wider pull in the center of the drawer so that the pulling force is exerted evenly on the center of the drawer.

Living with your kitchen day-to-day, however, brings out design issues that you might not have taken into consideration. Will the handles catch on clothing? A sharply squared edge might be just the look for a sleek, modern kitchen, but will those sharp edges catch on a flowing skirt or knot pants?

Knobs can be a great pop of color or quirky design, but if you’re hitting them with your hips, or a small child keeps running face first into them, those might not be good choices.

Generally, most people use cabinet pulls on their drawers and cabinet knobs on their cabinets. This gives you variety around a common design, like a “rope” design, or a “vine” pattern. Another popular look is using cabinet pulls on both drawers and cabinets, with the pulls on the drawers being horizontal and the cabinet pulls being vertical, for a simple, polished appearance. A rule of thumb is a knob on decorative doors and a pull on simple, modern drawers.

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Now that we have the basics down, and thought about functionality, let’s talk about what kind of ornamentation you want, and what some popular designs are. When you’re selecting, remember that these should coordinate with your overall kitchen look. Be sure to select your handles from the same collection or finish. Pro Tip: base your choices on your kitchen faucet finish and style. While the material choices and detailing are endless, there are a few common styles:

Streamline Deco

Streamline Dechois inspired by the high-speed rails and ships of the art deco era.

You see it in the architecture and furnishings of that mid-1930s time period as well — think curved, slender, often horizontal lines.

They typically come in stainless steel, complimenting dark stained wood, or a nautical themed room. Many showrooms may also sell matching appliance handles for your fridge.

This style works best with modern and contemporary or Art Deco.

Pros: Sleek, elegant, roomy
Cons: Large pulls cost more than small ones.
It’s good for you if: You want an easy grip, something shallow pulls don’t provide

Bar Pulls

Bar Pulls are sturdy, linear, flat pulls that compliment a wide variety of cabinetry.

There’s no hard and fast rule on how long bar pulls should be, so go with personal preference. However, most designers keep them at two-thirds to three-quarters the width of the drawer.

Though most often stainless steel, they come in many other finishes, such as satin nickel (a bit darker than stainless), black and polished brass.

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Be aware that any shiny finish, such as chrome or brass, will show scratches more easily. Something else to consider is that pulls are easier for the elderly to use than knobs. A pull allows seniors to use their whole hand instead of just their fingertips.

The best styles for bar pulls are Modern, minimalist, contemporary, traditional, and Shaker.

Pros: A secure grip and streamlined appearance
Cons: The larger formats mean they have a tendency to stand out more.
They’re good for you if: You like a pristine, unfussy look

Bin Pulls – Cup Pulls

Bin Pulls (Cup Pulls) are upside-down cup-shaped pulls. Bin or cup pulls are a popular choice for giving a kitchen a minimalist, vintage feel.

Shakers originally used wood pegs, usually made from maple, cherry or pine, in keeping with their preference for simplicity and austerity, but cup-shaped drawer pulls are considered Shaker style today, and look clean and understated along with small knobs for the doors.

Bin pulls and knobs come in a variety of finishes, including chrome, oil-rubbed bronze, cast iron, and brass.

Oil Rubbed Bronze Bin Pull

Cup pulls work best with Shaker, traditional, vintage, country, and eclectic styles.

Pros: Easy to use, easy to clean, easy to mix with a variety of cabinet styles
Cons: They tend to work best for most traditional styles.
They’re good for you if: Your drawers are heavy because these are strong, workable pulls

Window Sash Pulls

Window Sash Pulls are based on window sash fittings, designed to lift heavy windows in the early 1900s during the transitional period. These are the homey comfort food of cabinetry hardware.

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They take us back to an old-fashioned era when window fittings were smooth and simple, with softly rounded handles. Window Sash Pulls work best with Traditional, Arts, and Crafts, colonial, country, vintage.

Pros: Easy to grip, nostalgic
Cons: Works with only a handful of styles
They’re good for you if: You need a firm grip to open drawers and doors.

Back Plates

Back Plates are knobs with a back piece that lies flat against the door. Typically, they are “dressier” than most handles, such as Mediterranean style scrollwork.

You’ll find that they accentuate more intricate design styles. Expect to pay a bit more for a knob with a backplate, as opposed to a knob alone. Backplates work best with Mediterranean, Tuscan, Victorian, Asian, traditional, eclectic, vintage, Gothic, Edwardian.

Pros: The back plate protects your finish from fingernail scratches. It also gives a more substantial feel to the knob.

Cons: Often ornate, a backplate can be harder to clean around the details. Plus, back plates are an extra expense.

They’re good for you if: You want high impact that underscores the style you’ve chosen, such as a stylized European, Asian or Victorian theme.

Drop Handles

Drop Handles are two-piece handles with a mounting portion and a dangling pull.

Drop handles make built-ins look more like furniture.While a dangling ring is the most common style, drop handles work in other shapes and styles, too.

Pro Tip: drop handles are harder for small children to open, great for families with curious toddlers. Drop handles work best with almost any style – just use modern handles on modern cabinets, Victorian handles on Victorian cabinets and so on.

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Pros: They give a furniture feel to cabinetry and make cabinets tougher for toddlers to open.
Cons: Not as easy to open as standard pulls, and can be frustrating if you’re in a hurry. Also, depending on the handles, they can scratch the cabinets over time.
They’re good for you if: You’re trying to dress up plain-looking cabinets.


There are an almost endless variety of handles, knobs, pulls, and drawer openers for your kitchen. With such a selection you’ll be almost certain to find something as unique as you. Custom cabinet accents are the perfect way to add flair and character to an ordinary home or boost the elegance of a luxury kitchen.

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Lori Ballen, REALTOR®

Lori Ballen, Realtor

Hi! I’m Lori Ballen REALTOR®. My team serves the Greater Las Vegas area from Summerlin to Boulder City, and everything in between. You can reach us at 702-604-7739.

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