On the pull

Door handles may not spring to mind as hot design items, but architects and designers have a field day knocking them out, as Nicky Churchill discovers

A few years ago I was asked by a graphic designer friend to help him find some cabinet knobs for his new loft conversion. I had seen the Philippe Starck range for FSB where a teardrop design had been crafted into a small aluminium knob. These tiny objects were successfully used to transform an MDF kitchen cupboard into something special. Another reminder of Starck’s handiwork is at London restaurant Quaglinos, where a simple door handle has been used to add a touch of finesse to a washroom cubicle.

First and foremost, door fittings have got to be workmanlike and secure. But equal importance should be given to its tactile qualities – it is there to be touched – and its aesthetic appeal as part of an interior design scheme.

The d-line range from Elementer Industrial Design is undoubtedly a favourite among architects. Designed by Professor Knud Holscher, d-line is manufactured in Denmark from high-grade stainless steel and includes an assortment of options from pull handles to bathroom fittings. Holscher has now expanded the range to include three new lever handles which continue the d-line tradition of technical excellence and attention to detail.

In contrast to the classic d-line approach, German manufacturer FSB has produced the Designer Furniture range, in which talented designers from other disciplines are invited to fashion a door handle. As one would expect, the range is varied. Jasper Morrison’s contribution is a door knob in the shape of a light bulb. Philippe Starck has given us tapered “horns” fastened to a circular backplate. And Dieter Rams’ lever handle in aluminium and thermoplastic is “unmistakably Dieter Rams”. The latest addition to the range comes from Hartmut Weise, an award-winning German designer. His task was to come up with a fully recyclable handle with a shape that no one had used before. The new Weise range, called FSB Light, is a slender design with a tear-drop shape in cross section which carries through the range. All products are manufactured in recyclable aluminium and are available in the UK from Allgood Hardware.

The Italian manufacturers also use well- known architects and designers to give door knobs a different twist. Fusital in particular has designer ranges, including those by Vico Magistretti, Ettore Sottsass and Cini Boeri. The latest name to be added to this list is Sir Norman Foster & Partners ,which has taken inspiration in part from the penknife. The resulting design takes a systemised approach with a central metal blade or spine sandwiched between mouldings in a variety of materials – metal, plastic, timber, black rubber and even leather. These materials determine the appearance and quality of the handle, providing a flexible product. The original concept has grown into pieces for doors and windows, cupboard and coat hooks, and a snib turn and key. After a sneak preview at Interbuild last year, it will be launched at the Cologne Hardware Fair in March.

Colombo Design continues this tradition, entrusting its designs to the likes of Alberto Meda, Di Blasi Associati and Studio Kairos. It is a young company, formed from a buy-out from Valli & Colombo and restarted in the north of Italy in 1990. Five years on, the company now exports 45 per cent of its products to over 50 countries worldwide. The collection includes the sculptural Plana series by Studio Kairos, Orion by Castiglia Associati and Edo by Japanese designer Makio Hasuike. All the products are available in brass, chrome and matt and are finished with a special protective treatment. Here in the UK, the Colombo series is available through UK agent WMA Partnership and has recently been specified for the loft conversions at the Beaux-Arts building in London’s Islington.

Also from Italy comes Kleis, a division of RDS Spa. Here too, commissioned designers have come up with something different – which can be seen in Quaglinos. One of the more recent designs from the portfolio is Calliope, designed by Alvaro Siza Vieira, a tapered handle manufactured in die-cast brass with a tough epoxy enamelling or chrome plating. The Kleis range is available through Conran Shop Contracts.

The Italians also like to offer decorative options. Colombo has produced the Aria series, by Carlo Bartoli, with bulbous Murano glass handles. And Kleis offers Fedra, an injection- moulded handle in Lexan polycarbonate with brass inserts. It is available in matt black, ruby red, sapphire blue and emerald green. Whether these will appeal to the UK design community remains to be seen.

So what has the UK manufacturer got to offer? We produce vast ranges of architectural hardware as opposed to collections of designer fittings. One example is Allgood Hardware, which continues to produce the ever-evolving Modric range by Royal Designer for Industry Alan Tye. This range includes more than 800 items of door furniture, hardware, bathroom fittings, special needs fittings and accessories. The latest addition to this timeless collection is Datum, a slimline version of two levers and two pull handles which is available in all the Modric finishes, including more than 90 standard powder coated colours.

Hertford-based company Handles and Fittings produce the sleek Steel Tech range, recently specified for the washroom cubicles in Conran’s Mezzo restaurant. Steel Tech lever handles come in both mirror and satin finishes and head a range of stainless steel architectural hardware, bathroom and electrical accessories.

And the Newman Tonks group, which now encompasses NT Yannedis, NT Architectural Hardware and NT Laidlaw, among others, manufactures a host of designs. The latest contemporary product from NT Laidlaw is Orbis, the result of three years of research into “trends and design analysis”. This a straightforward design in a co-ordinated programme of more than 1000 products. It is available in stainless steel, brass and anodised aluminium and covers door furniture and controls, locking systems and hinges, symbols and bathroom fittings

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