When planning a kitchen (apart from kitchen unit handles) the first thing that springs to mind is choosing units that will deliver in terms of style, whether that’s contemporary and modern or traditional and rustic. The next thing on the list is the decor and colour scheme, ensuring these match the appearance of the units chosen. Storage, countertops, flooring, and appliances are also given care and attention at the planning stage of kitchen design, but one area of importance often gets overlooked: the handles.
While they may be considered simply part of the decor, if chosen carelessly, the wrong kitchen unit handles can end up causing endless headaches, turning what should be a dream kitchen into a nightmare. Certain styles may look great at first glance but can end up making hard work out of opening and closing kitchen drawers and cabinets.
Having spent time and effort in selecting the ideal units, it is important to choose a kitchen unit handle that has the technical specs to support the cabinets and drawers it will be used on. With thousands of different types available, the following guide will take the hard work out of finding the right handle for any kitchen unit.
Knobs or Pulls?
The first thing that needs to be taken into consideration is the type of kitchen unit handle that will be fitted. Most people have an idea of this based on the style of kitchen units they have selected, with the main distinction being between knobs or pulls. This can be confusing as kitchen knobs, while modelled in appearance on doorknobs, have no turning mechanism and are pulled in the same way as handles that are termed as pulls.
While fitted kitchens are a twentieth-century invention, wooden knobs appeared on the dressers that were a mainstay of kitchens from earlier eras and are often used to give kitchen units a traditional look. Fixed with one central screw they are suitable for cabinets with solid wooden doors and drawer fronts.
Pulls come in a variety of styles but those used in kitchens are traditionally in the shape of a bar with a fixing at each end. While knobs are considered more traditional and often used in kitchens in period houses, most bar pulls are more modern in appearance and create a contemporary, streamlined look.
Similar in appearance to those used in hotel and restaurant kitchens, they can update traditional cabinets and are often used in Shaker kitchens. The benefit of pulls over knobs is that they provide a solid grip and evenly distribute the weight of pull on the cabinets and drawers, making them suitable for lighter weight doors made from synthetic materials.
Creating or restricting access should also be a factor when considering the type of handle to use, particularly in houses where there may be small children or those with disabilities.
What materials should the kitchen unit handles be made from?
Whether choosing a kitchen unit handle that contrasts to create a feature, or one that blends into the background is a matter of style and will influence the kind of materials used. Older types of handle, such as knobs and cup pulls, were traditionally made of metal as this was a question of hygiene before antibacterial wipes were invented.
Modern materials and production techniques, however, mean that these can be produced in a range of materials and colours to give an updated twist on a classic look. It is also possible to use several different handle types made from the same material to integrate function and design, for example, metal cup pulls on drawers and knobs on doors.
While the kitchen unit handles are part of the overall style of the kitchen, attention also needs to be paid to the materials used in drawers and doors and their functions when making a selection.
While acrylic handles may look nice, they may not be suitable for solid oak doors. Knobs ensure the doors/drawers are rarely touched when opening and closing which cuts down on areas of wear on the surface and those made of metal are easier to wipe clean.
Bar pulls are often made of polished stainless steel which has the benefit of being strong enough to pull heavier loads, such as fitted appliance doors. While wooden handles can give an authentic appearance to an old-fashioned kitchen, they are not as easy to keep clean as metal or ceramic knobs.
What size should the handles be?
Once the style and material of kitchen unit handles to be used is selected, it is important to ensure the right size is chosen for each unit. It might be tempting to go for a uniform size to create a consistent look, but different units have different weight loads and, depending on where they sit, may require a stronger pull.
The standard knob size is approximately 1 1/4 inches (32mm) in diameter, although most knobs are also available in a larger size, usually around 1 1/2 inches (38mm) in diameter for larger cabinets and can also be sourced in sizes down to 1 inch (25mm) for smaller units. Standard pull handles tend to range between 3 and 4 inches (96 to 128mm) in width, with smaller T-pulls often used for small cabinets and drawers.
As a rule of thumb, the larger the drawer or cabinet, the larger the handle should be. Although, in cases where two handles may be necessary (such as when the drawer is wider than 18 inches or will be holding a heavy load) a smaller size may be more suitable, depending on the dimensions of the unit.
More contemporary styles of pull handle may run almost the length of the cabinet and have a rear fixing in several places. These handles tend to come in several standard lengths ranging from 50 to 200mm to accommodate different sized units. If choosing this type of handle, it is important to accurately measure the different cabinet sizes in advance to ensure the sizes available will fit all the units in the kitchen.
Where should the handles be placed?
On drawers, where a single handle is used, both knobs and pulls will sit in the centre of the drawer facade. For knobs, measure both horizontally and vertically to find the centre and place the screw hole slightly above to create the appearance of being centred.
For pulls, the screw holes should match the placement of the screws on the handle and not the size of the handle itself. Marking the centre of the drawer, the centre of the handle should sit on this with the holes spread out evenly in distance, depending on how many there are. If using ring pulls or T pulls with a centre fixing, the method is the same as for knobs.
For drawers where two handles are used, the same method applies, but only the centre axis divides the drawer into two for measuring purposes, with the knobs or handles placed closer to the outside edges of the drawer (approximately 1/6 the distance).
On cabinets, there are certain rules for placement of handles to ensure maximum ease of access. In cabinetry, the handles are traditionally placed on the door stile or face frame (the flat piece that runs around the outside of the door) about 2 1/2 inches (64mm) from the edge on the side the cabinet opens. For floor cabinets, this is in the top corner of each door, for wall cabinets, this is in the bottom corner of each cabinet and for tall cabinets, this is halfway down.
Of course, like all rules these can be broken slightly if it is more pleasing to the eye, the important thing is to be consistent. With pulls placed vertically on cabinets, there is a trend to make them appear flush with the inner edge of the stile to give them a more contemporary look.
What is the maximum depth the handles should be?
One area of choosing handles that can get overlooked but causes issues on installation is ensuring the depth is such that they don’t protrude out too far. Problems that can arise as a result of this range from the inconvenience of unit doors clashing, to damage caused to decor by the repeated hitting of walls and woodwork, to creating a health and safety hazard in the kitchen.
There are no hard and fast rules on what the depth of the handle should be, however, standard-sized knobs and pulls tend to have consistent dimensions, with both pulls and knobs protruding on average 1 to 1 1/2 inches (25 to 38mm). Any product description should list both the projection as well as the width or diameter of the handle.
It is always advisable to check these dimensions with the cabinets they will be placed on and as part of the overall kitchen design to ensure that doors won’t be opening into one another, but that if they do, shallower handles are chosen to minimise problems. In smaller kitchens where space is at a premium, the proximity of walls and doors should also be taken into consideration when selecting handles.
Assessing the height of floor cabinets and drawers, in particular, is important to ensure they don’t protrude to the extent that they will catch clothing or potentially be a hazard for small children.
Hopefully, these tips have provided guidance on what to look for when selecting handles for kitchen units. However, it is always recommended that advice is sought from a knowledgeable source when making decisions on which fixtures and fittings to use in a kitchen.
Good planning will avoid any costly mistakes and ensure that a kitchen design will be both functional and create the desired interior.
Bar handles advice
Picking kitchen unit handle sizes that are appropriate for the overall size of the frontals (drawers & doors) used to be fashionable but does not seem to be so popular these days and it’s normally bar handles that are available in multiple sizes that can be used in this way.
There is no correct answer to choosing the correct sized kitchen unit handle as beauty is in the eye of the beholder and what may look good in your kitchen might not in someone elses. But, obviously the handles should be less than the overall size of the frontal. Again, the frontal size depends on if you are intending to use the kitchen unit handles in the vertical or horizontal orientation.
As a general rule of thumb:-
Using bar handles in a horizontal orientation
- 300 (297) mm wide frontal – 237mm Bar Handle (overall length)
- 400 (397)mm wide frontal – 337mm Bar Handle (overall length)
- 500 (497)mm wide frontal – 437mm Bar Handle (overall length) etc
All the kitchen unit handles and knobs that we have available are here