New Zealand Home & Building, October-November 1985
Handles with Care
An organized bump for holding, grasping, wielding; elevated to elegance as a doorknob, that belaboured piece of metal that allows us privacy and access at our will — or, with aid of a lock, security. Its decoration is a major architectural entertainment: with design attitudes as diverse as the smooth spherical chromium plate of the Bauhaus or the wonderful detail of an ornate nineteenth-century French lever.
The Architecture Book — White.
A moveable sort of hammer, more or less of an ornamental character hinged to the face of a door or gate by which attendance is claimed to the demands of those requiring admittance.
Gwilt's Encyclopedia of Architecture, pub. 1838.
Like the Ruler of the Queen's Navy in W.S. Gilbert's H.M.S. Pinafore a carefully polished front door knob or knocker of superior design can do as much for the prestige of its owner, as any single aspect of the home. A door invites entry — it is the introduction to the house, and the door knob or knocker reflects the character of the home inside.page break
Knobs for doors and cabinets have been with us for centuries. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and while there is a small market demand for imitation crystal knobs, the market leaders are brass and chrome, plastic, ceramic and wood. Despite a strong challenge from the trend to streamline, flush furniture, knobs seem destined to retain their following, for both their functional and decorative effect.
As knobs go, brass is undoubtedly the number one seller in New Zealand. Brass, made from copper and zinc, was first used by the Romans using zinc from the ore calamine, and its popularity hasn't dimmed since that time. Its heyday came with the advent of the great 19th Century iron foundries, and the development of the mass production market, and after a fall from favour in domestic design for a number of years it is enjoying a strong revival. The advantage of brass is that it doesn't rust, it resists wear and it looks good. The disadvantage is that it tarnishes, and has to be polished regularly unless it has been lacquer-treated.
The classic, simple, round, button-type brass knob outsells any other type, but brass knobs are available in convex shapes, ornate antique styles, and oblong. A new brass knob on the market with a central insert in the colour of one's choice is meeting with favour, especially when used in bathrooms with timber fittings. There the warm colour of brass tones with the timber and gold-plate faucets, with the central colour highlighting the room's decor. Brass knobs can be created by taking old chrome, or bronzed knobs to a foundry or brass manufacturer, to have the outer layers of chrome, paint, or bronze stripped off revealinng the brass underneath.
Chrome, the darling of the 1930's, is enjoying an up-market return. One Auckland retailer predicts that chrome knobs will be the big news of 1986, with a projected sales increase of 50%. Chrome knobs are available in the main centres in the new simple, round, button style and the older convex, oblong fittings can be found in hardware stores throughout the country. Chrome's new elegant knobs are used as a decor accessory, providing impact for cabinets and doors.
The shiny new look of plastic knobs are popular in heavy use areas of the home — the kitchen, bathroom and children's bedrooms, where they are used to brighten drawers and cupboards by contrast colour Plastic knobs in primary colours (red is the top seller) and white are available in most retail outlets, but a newcomer to the market, manufactured in polyester resin, lifts plastic to the more sophisticated end of the market. Invented in Germany, and manufactured here by a unique process these knobs have no division in the plastic, giving the knob a smooth inviting feel. As a colour fast dye is mixed with the resin and impregnated right through the knob, there are no problems of colour chipping off, or fading. These knobs are available in primary tones, grey and peach. Available in main centres at bathroom centres, and other retail outlets.
Ceramic also has its devotees, especially with colonial villa restoration projects where the rococo floral patterned knob is used throughout the house. But as with other materials, the trend is away from the fussy, and the leading cabinet/drawer knob is of plain round design in white. Ceramic knobs are widely available in a number of basic colours, floral designs, or modern style pattern — perhaps a simple framing gold or silver band.
Ceramic is a non-tension body, and so is vulnerable to chipping, but is strong enough to withstand a knock from a beringed finger — according to a local manufacturer it would need a deliberate hefty blow to break a ceramic knob. Floral pattern knobs are mainly sold for bathroom and bedroom use, and there is also a small but sophisticated market demand for commercial use, with ceramic knobs sporting company brands, or logos patterned onto the doorknob surface.
Wooden knobs are a dwindling market. The strongest demand is for rimu or kauri knobs for interior cabinets, or in restoration work. The appeal of wood lies in the pattern of the grain, and its warm soft shine when polished. Plain knobs of kauri, rimu, towai, mahogany stain, and pine are most popular, but wooden convex knobs, oblong easy-to-pull knobs are also widely available, at timber supply outlets and stores. The D-shaped wood drawer handle is enjoying a revival, and is on sale at selected specialist doorknob outlets.
Think of a door knocker and the mind goes to a splendid lion's head, or the time honoured brass bull ring. Door knockers have an important part to play in a home's personality. They are the first point of contact for visitors, and they set the tone for the point of entry to a house. A handsome panelled front entrance is enhanced by a door knocker of shining brass, giving an appearance of warmth and substance to the home. Conversely, a cheap and insubstantial fitting detracts from the overall impression.
The plain oval brass ring, known as the bull ring, is the most popular followed by the lion's head. Other patterns available in the market range from the very ornate — grecian ladies, urns, gloved hands, the florentine, for the pa rochial, a brass tiki — to the simple and functional.
Door knobs, particularly for entry from the outside, have a dual function these days. They have to look good and theypage 115
have to be secure. The rising crime rate has made security a top priority for New Zealanders choosing front or back door knobs and handles, and the wide range of good-looking secure front door knobs reflects the market trend.
The first zinc door knob was made in Mew Zealand in 1939 (prior to this date they had been imported from England) and today nearly all door knobs are made locally, or manufactured under licence here. The majority of door knobs available are made from brass, bronze, chromium or heavy duty plastic, with brass and chrome leading the way.
Keyless Door Lock
A new type of keyless lock for doors solves the problem of protection for high risk sensitive areas, such as computer rooms, or tape libraries, without delaying the entry of people who need access. Because the lock uses a combination there are no keys to contend with, and less security risk. This system features numbered buttons above the door knob, which opens when the correct sequence of numbers is pressed. The lock is made of heavy duty cast construction and has an all-brass face.
When replacing a door and buying a new lock, one should expect to pay almost as much for the lock as for the door. Economising on the lock could prove to be very costly in the long run. A number of security door knobs have their own deadbolt lock attached, to provide either primary or auxiliary locking, with the key being inserted into the locking device of the doorknob. Others have the deadbolt lock combined with a latch to give the safety of a 'panic-proof exit.
A turn of the inside lever retracts bolt and latch simultaneously. These door knobs are available in brass, bronzed finish and chrome.
Classy and Functional
An attractive Italian door knob on sale has a growing market for both appearance and function. It looks great — available in fashion enamel surfaces, brass, high polished chrome and black chrome — and has been economically designed and tested for ease of use. A button on top of the doorknob when lightly pressed by finger, thumb or even elbow if necessary, opens the door. It looks like a normal door knob, but does not rotate, and can be easily opened from either left or right side of door, thus cutting by half the room required for stockists supplies. Its easy use, and little muscle pressure, make it ideal for disabled people, the elderly and arthritis sufferers. As nothing moves except the door button, the knob is security high, with no weakening twist motion, and it is difficult to force.
• Home and Building would like to thank Wendy Garvey, the Librarian at the School of Architecture, University of Auckland, for her assistance in the compilation of this article.page breakpage breakpage break