Knobs and Hinges
Using antique hardware can add timeless elegance to a home.
Eugenia Uhl Photograph
Six years ago my husband Philip and I bought a late 1800s cottage in the Garden District. Over the year of renovation, we painstakingly saved every piece of moulding; many doors; and accompanying hardware to strip, polish and repair to reuse in the house. Our goal was to preserve the architectural integrity of the house and to make everything look as if it had always been this way, while functioning as a 21st-century home.
Some people might consider this hoarding, but trust me, it isn’t.
When we renovated the master bath a few months ago, I had a small stash of leftover brass doorknobs and screws, some original to the house. In the box, I found some Victorian treasures, two beautiful matching brass doorknobs, perfect for my closet doors. After a quick trip to my favorite plating shop to have a brushed nickel finish applied, they added the Old World pop to my new space.
Using antique hardware from the era of your house can add a touch of timeless elegance to a home. If you are planning to do this, first consider the style of your home and what it may require.
The many Victorian homes in New Orleans, built in the mid-1800s to early 1900s, feature brass, bronze and iron hardware with intricate patterns and details. Arts and Crafts-era homes (1890-1920) which dot Mid-City and Uptown, display simply designed hardware, some hammered by hand. These often are made of copper, brass or bronze and when in good condition, have a warm patina. An Art Deco style home, built from 1925-’40, begs for sleek, stylized hardware with a bolder design.
So if you are on the hunt for antique hardware for you home – door knobs, hinges, kick plates, cabinet pulls – how do you know if these are authentic?
“Look at the design and the finish,” says Henry McCloskey, a third-generation metal refinisher who now works with his son Cory at Zito’s Plating on Banks Street. “Older pieces often will be painted over or if it is made of iron, it will have lots of rust. They are often heavier than newer pieces.”
Finding these jewels is not has hard as you might think. A trip to a salvage store like Ricca’s, The Bank, the PRC’s Salvation Store or Habitat’s Restore will often showcase a cornucopia of possibilities. Rault’s Locksmith on Magazine is another source. The hardest part will be sifting through dusty piles, boxes and drawers of treasures. But isn’t the hunt half the fun?
Buying online is risky, says McCloskey. “You can’t touch, examine or feel the piece online. You can’t be sure if the lock will fit your door. What you buy is what you get, and it may not be the real thing,” he says.
Once you have found your hardware, you can have it polished or even replated in a different finish. Nickel plating can be applied over brass and vice versa. The only metals that cannot be plated are stainless steel and aluminum. Outdoor hardware, like that on your front door, needs to be polished every three years or so because the sun and humidity cause discoloration and pitting to the finish. Interior hardware lasts much longer.
“I tell my customers to save every piece of hardware they have. The quality, weight and workmanship of the old pieces can’t be reproduced today,” says McCloskey. “And in 10 years, your taste may change and you may want those old pieces. Almost any antique hardware can be refinished to look as good as new.”
Or if you love antiques as I do, they’ll look as good as old.
Make sure your brass or bronze hardware has a lacquered finish. Body acids damage pieces that are not lacquered.
If you choose not to lacquer pieces, clean them often. Exterior brass, even lacquered, must be professionally polished every three years.
Home remedies do not work and often damage metals. “I’ve had customers use pickle juice, vinegar and salt, even toilet bowl cleaner on their antique hardware,” says McCloskey. “These home remedies cause brass to turn red and blotchy and damage the base metal.”
The less you handle the hardware, the better.