Q&A / 

Restoration Hardware

DEAR TIM: I need some restoration hardware to help me put the finishing touches on an old home I am renovating. Can you still get authentic hardware for doors and cabinets? What other pieces of trim should I consider to bring this old home back to its former glory? Is it possible to use restoration hardware on new homes? Sandra F., Stowe, VT

DEAR SANDRA: Restoration hardware is readily available. In fact, you will discover many companies offer a wide variety of products at different price points. One thing I have discovered is that price is a fairly accurate barometer of quality. High-quality hardware often costs more money. It also pays to shop very patiently. There are all sorts of places on the Internet where you can get very good deals on restoration hardware. There are also specialty hardware stores that sell nothing but the best hardware, whether it is period or modern.

This ornate solid-brass door hardware is an exact copy of that made 150 years ago. It sports a full-mortise lockbox operated by traditional skeleton keys. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

This ornate solid-brass door hardware is an exact copy of that made 150 years ago. It sports a full-mortise lockbox operated by traditional skeleton keys. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

I have used all sorts of different period hardware on past jobs and in my own home. You can get restoration hardware for any time period. Victorian, early Colonial, art deco, old English, etc., are all available and in different finishes. The crystal doorknobs and solid-brass doorknob back plates, I grew up with in my 1930's house, can be found within minutes.

If you want to be authentic, be sure to look for doorknob locksets that sport full-mortise lock and latch mechanisms. Modern doorknobs are tubular in nature, and require the carpenter to drill a large round hole in the face of a door. Traditional full-mortise locksets required a deep cavity in the thinner edge of the door. Special power tools can easily create these mortise cavities in minutes, whereas old carpenters had to do it by hand. These full-mortise lockset locks use a traditional skeleton key. Nothing could be more authentic than that.

You should consider restoration hardware for every room of the house, including bathrooms and your kitchen. In the past few years, there has been an explosion of authentic products for bathrooms and kitchens. If your budget permits, you can even purchase period appliances for kitchens, and every single fixture you might imagine for any bathroom. Can you picture in your mind having a traditional 1950's refrigerator/icebox that looks like it survived a journey in a time machine? Those appliances can be delivered to your doorstep now sans the time machine.

I would consider looking at restoration hardware for any drapery rods, coat hooks, shelf brackets and even electrical switch and outlet cover plates. If you can find older brass light fixtures, you can replace any missing glass pendants and crystals with ease. One very attractive trim item, I used in my own home, is period stair rods and holders. When you place an Oriental stair runner carpet on a set of steps and then trim it with twisted rope stair rods, your friends and neighbors will know you are a serious restoration hardware buff.

Don't forget about the heating and cooling aspects of your home. Be on the lookout for authentic heat register covers. They are available in a multitude of finishes including brass, cast iron and nickel plate.

Cabinet knobs, drawer pulls and small door pulls are available in hundreds of classic styles and finishes. Hinges of all types are also ready for you to bring your home back to its former glory.

All of this restoration hardware can be used on new homes. In fact, the only things that separate a new home from an older home are the woodwork and the hardware. You can visualize this with ease if you stop and think of what a new house looks like just after drywall is finished and sanded. It looks identical to a 150-year-old home where the plasterers just left to ride home in a horse-drawn wagon. The walls and ceilings in both cases are flat, smooth surfaces just waiting for the finish carpenters to arrive the next day.

If you want to make a new home look old, you must pay attention to other things in the planning process. Older homes often had taller ceilings and they had windows and doors that were proportioned to the wall height. Many modern homes have simple 8-foot-tall ceilings instead of 9 or 10-foot-tall ceilings.

Give serious consideration to the flooring in a new home. Old homes almost always had hardwood floors that were often partially covered with gorgeous area rugs. That look can be easily duplicated today. Be sure to consider exquisite inlay borders for the hardwood flooring, or at the very least, create borders in rooms by mixing different species of hardwood flooring. Walnut hardwood flooring can be easily installed with select red oak for a stunning look. Try to stretch your budget to include as much quarter-sawn hardwood flooring as possible for a truly authentic floor.

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