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ACCESSORIES

Knobs Open Doors to All Sorts of Possibilities

May 17, 1997|From Associated Press

They open doors to some of the finest places.

Today's doorknobs can be as decorative as a fine brooch--and often as expensive. They are available in heavy brass, hand-forged iron, handblown glass, cut crystal, porcelain and Lucite. Some are new designs; others are antiques or copies of early pieces.

Two trends are behind the fancy doorknob--an increase in housing restorations and a growth of the minimalist look.

Ken Jordan at Renovators Supply in Conway, N.H., speaks for the restorations.

"Many people moving into older homes which previous owners had modernized want to restore the original look," according to Jordan, technical director of the mail-order business that specializes in reproductions.

Marshall Watson, a decorator in New York City, speaks for the minimalists.

"If a room is simple and clean-lined," he says, "a beautiful doorknob will add flair in a quiet way."

Styles can range from one that looks like a miniature bird cage, available at Simon's Hardware & Bath in New York, to a blown glass knob in rose-colored glass with gold flecks, from Saks Fifth Avenue's Folio, a home accessories catalog. Bird-cage latch sets are $160 in iron and $265 in brass. The rose glass is $200 for two knobs and a brass spindle.

"Among the most interesting designs are those that look handcrafted, such as iron doorknobs imported from France in black or rust finish," says Chris Nicole Prince, co-owner of Simon's.

Simon's also stocks a cast bronze doorknob with a lion's head, porcelain knobs with little animals, birds or flowers painted on, as well as cut crystal and Lucite knobs. Prices range from $48 for a porcelain door-latch set to $480 for the crystal set.

"Even companies that formerly offered only polished or antiqued brass now are showing unusual knobs and have expanded their finishes to include those such as bronze, pewter, verdigris and rust," Prince says.

Baccarat, the French maker of fine crystal stemware, recently introduced doorknobs. Thomas Bastide, principal designer, says the design is drawn from "the impression left on the sand by a receding wave."

The doorknobs are available in clear, amber, aquamarine, jade or turquoise crystal and range from $295 to $395 each.

Baldwin Hardware Corp. of Reading, Pa., known for its polished brass hardware, also has crystal doorknobs. One of faceted cut crystal by Swarovski of Austria is $400 for the latch set. Also a departure for Baldwin are brass knobs in pewter, bronze or copper finish.

Arlene Cullen, Baldwin's marketing and design director, says 80% of the hardware business is shiny brass. But, she adds, "a growing number of small vendors--artisans and artists, usually--are coming out with small collections of unusual hardware for doors and cabinets."

While old doorknobs are the choice among renovators, copies can be less costly. Renovators Supply prices turn-of-the-century styles from about $34 to $74 for a set--knobs, spindle, latch and all. Styles range from the simple--molded glass or plain brass in round or oval shapes--to the more decorative, such as black or white porcelain knobs, some with color designs, and solid brass cast in intricate designs.

If you must have originals, be prepared to pay the price, Terry Kovel of Shaker Heights, Ohio, warns.

"Several years ago, at antiques flea markets and shops, doorknobs were jumbled together in a box and you could have any one you wanted for about $5," Kovel, an authority on the antiques market, says. "Now that people have gotten into restoring old houses, anything out of the ordinary is typically $25 to $50 or more."

Two late 19th century metal doorknobs, each a relief of a dog's head, recently brought $7,920 at an auction of antique hardware. The price, $3,960 each, is believed to be the highest recorded for a doorknob, Kovel says.

The knobs were salvaged from a Pittsburgh mansion and are based on a design patented June 7, 1870, by the Metallic Compression Casting Co. of Boston. At the same sale, a knob from the Connecticut State Capitol went for $660.

When Watson has a house to renovate, he prefers to restore knobs rather than replace them.

"Old doorknobs often are quite decorative," he says. "The metal knobs may have reeding, chasing or gradrooning. The porcelain knobs may have floral decorations or be multicolored, and a glass or crystal knob will add sparkle to a room, like jewelry on a dress."

Resources: Renovator's Supply: (800) 659-2211; Simon's Hardware & Bath: (888) 274-6667; Saks Folio: (800) 345-3454; Baccarat: (800) 777-0100; Baldwin Hardware Corp.: (800) 566-1986.

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