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When and What influenced Period Furniture Handles

Understanding Furniture Handle Styles


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

Substantial Cast Iron Bin PullsEarly 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.

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

Chippendale Handles provide a bold appearance favored in the 18th centuryThe 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. Predominately produced of brass, these Chippendale furniture handles had large bat-wing shaped, flat backplates with simple swan-neck type bails.

Federal: Hepplewhite and Sheraton 1780-1830

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

Oval Hepplewhite Handles for Federal FurnitureHepplewhite furniture was very graceful, balanced and symmetrical. Fluid design and decorative inlays were notable features to this time frame. Hepplewhite period 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.

Sheraton Knobs were the preferred handle for Sheraton Furniture in the Federal periodSheraton 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.

Large Glass Knobs were favored on Empire FurnitureEmpire 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.

Campaign: 1714 – 1901

Campaign Handles offer a flush, recessed appearanceCampaign was a style of quality furniture, designed to break-down or fold for easy traveling. Originating in England, it was used by military officers during the Georgian and Victorian eras. Recessed rectangular handles and protective corners and strapwork defined the Campaign style. Campaign handles and hardware is most frequently seen on chests and desks.

Victorian  1830 – 1890

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

Victorian Drawer Pulls display detailed organic designsThe 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 handles and knobs were used.

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.

Eastlake Handles feature a deliberate rectilinear designCharles Eastlake defines a popular style, near the end of this era, representing a simpler, more rectangular style. Straighter legs, incised trim and geometric patterns were used. Period furniture handles were designed with these same principles in mine.

Arts and Crafts: 1895 - 1920

Mission Drawer Pulls have a hammered copper appearanceThe 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. Arts and Crafts Handles 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 periodThe 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 HandlesMid-century and Modern styles are a direct departure from previous furniture designs. These contemporary pieces have clean lines, concentrating on the very form of furniture, not just its function. This furniture was often mass produced, making it readily available to the public. Ornamentation was abandoned, simple sleek designs made from molded plywood were popular. This minimalist style offers an unexpected warmth and beauty. Adding one piece to a room adds a bold surprising look to a traditional interior. Hardware and handles were understated and discreet, harmonizing with the furniture.

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