Antique/Vintage Door Hardware – an Evolution in Style

Victorian to Atomic – 1860 to 1960

Victorian Style – 1860-1900

Victorian Era door hardware is lavish – with complicated and swirling floral patterns in relief. At the peak of the American decorative hardware industry, there were new and inexpensive casting procedures emerging, innovative finishing and plating techniques – this developing into an overall hardware aesthetic.

As well, the American Industrial Revolution was exploding with choices, styles and materials. Door hardware was becoming mass-produced and world-marketed: while some of the most prominent hardware manufacturers were being founded.

Eastlake Style / Stick and Queen Anne -1860-1910

Charles Eastlake’s book on 19th Century design “Hints on Household Taste” was published in England in 1868. This English-turned-American style was elaborate and stylized with incisive lines; Charles dubbing it himself as “weeding out the overgrown Victorian parlor-garden.” Good design was foremost, with “appropriate and sane” decoration, and the value of partnering function with beauty.

Arts and Crafts Movement – 1860-1930s

Initially a philosophy denouncing the excesses of the Industrial Revolution, the Arts and Crafts movement in England gave birth to a mass-produced American style. These designs look towards the past, the door hardware featuring function over form. Pieces are simple, stylized and contain a “handmade” quality, never meant solely for decoration..

The Prairie School, late 19th / early 20th century

The Prairie School developed by Frank Lloyd Wright embodied the ideals and design aesthetics of the door hardware of the Arts and Crafts Movement. This architectural style was common to the Midwestern United States, with the aim of Wright and his cronies to integrate with the landscape and embrace handcrafting. As a reaction against the new assembly line and mass production manufacturing techniques, Prairie style came into being continuing to be greatly appreciated today.

Beaux Arts – 1880-1920

This “Neo Classical,” Parisian style, was inspired by the rediscoveries at Pompeii and Herculaneum. Door hardware relief patterns have moderate projections and recessions, subtle affects of light and shadow. These articulated motifs are isolated, standing alone in composition rather than interpenetrating. Vases and medallions are suspended on swags of laurel or ribbon, with slender arabesques against their backgrounds; aiming at the authentic Rome.

Art Nouveau – 1890-1910

The name “Art Nouveau” is French for “new art”, an inspiration which traveled the sea from its native France to America. As a reaction to the academic art of the 19th century, this door hardware style was influenced by natural forms and structures, flowers, plants and curved lines, inevitable to harmonize with the natural environment.

American Revival Styles: door hardware

Borrowing themes and forms from the past, the Revival styles elicited the romance and security of long-ago times right in the heart of booming America. These styles ranged from rustic to fine in decor, and from old world to romantic. American Hardware manufacturers were mass-producing “handmade / historical” iron and brass pieces by the millions.

Classical Revival / Neo Greco – 1880-1930s

This period emerged and became widespread in America after it had already taken root in Europe. It is inspired by and created after the early Classicism of Greece and Rome, less ornate than Beaux Arts style, graceful and curved lines. These door hardware design motifs were symmetrical, centered, and in low relief consisting of vases and medallions and suspended on swags of laurel or ribbon.

Colonial Revival – 1880-1940

An off shoot of the earlier Federal and Georgian styles, Colonial Revival became a standard American style in the 20th century originally spurred on by The Centennial Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia. Americans were reawakened to their colonial past which is noticeable in the door hardware revival styles. These are traditional in design, made according to the colonists’ country of origin; Sweden, Holland, Finland, Germany, and England.

Gothic Revival – 1850 – 1925

The high style of Gothic Revival became popular in America for public buildings and churches and eventually translated into a smaller scale family home style. This style of door hardware was adorned with translations of castle-like towers, parapets, tracery windows, steeply arched Gothic windows and entries. The sharp-angled patterns were lavish and ornamental like authentic Gothic metals were themselves.

Spanish Colonial Revival – 1915-1931

The Spanish Colonial Revival movement emerged with Spanish colonization to the Americas and was embraced primarily in California and Florida. This architectural style is marked by stucco wall and chimney finishes, low pitched clay tile roofs, wood casement windows, and decorative iron hardware and trim. Door handles, knobs, levers, rosettes and escushion plates seem to be designed along with the door itself, iron, banded hinges, bars and other decoration.

Industrial – 1920-1940

Industrial Style refers to an aesthetic in design where a collection of shapes are unified into a composition with the connections between these shapes pronounced, resulting in a design that is fully utilitarian. This door hardware design has moving parts, is made of iron and brass, is tough and functional, useful hardware with the purpose of use in American industrial age factories. This is not a style to be confused with “rustic” – which is “Primitive” and a sentiment that leans more to the Agricultural use.

Art Deco – 1920-1940

Art Deco originated in France and was the first comprehensive American decorative style looking towards the future rather than the past. The style utilized elaborate geometric motifs and materials that never been used for hardware before. Art Deco door hardware was commonly chrome-plated, steel or brass, reflective, the shapes of the new modern America.

Streamline Moderne – 1930s and 40s

After several years of visual luxury and extravagance, Art Deco merged with the Bauhaus-born International Style to create Streamline Moderne. The style emphasized sweeping, aerodynamic curves, and circular forms. Streamline Moderne door hardware is often chrome-plated, brushed steel or brass with aluminum is also used extensively.

Mid Century Modern 1933-1965

Moderne became Modern as America created its own look of door hardware. It did this by mixing clean lines with a stark functionalism.

The doors themselves are flat paneled, sometimes a series of small windows in various embedded shapes. Door hardware is linear and solid, refuting past, historical embellishment. It epitomized the innovative, no-nonsense spirit of the times, with function becoming a style all it own.

1960s Suburban – Atomic Age

The demand for new housing grew in America and by the end of the war it was “sky rocketing”. With a record number of marriages and births in 1946 and 1947, this was the Baby Boom generation and the dawn of the “suburbs.” The Rambler and the Split Level became dominant home styles and were not created by redoing the past. Houses were all alike, with each individual family making theirs unique, (my own family home). Door hardware designs were inexpensive and simple, an unadorned, happy style with space-agey shapes.

Interested in exploring further into antiquity, you might like to look at this post on our top 10 antique and/or reproduction hardware stores Harry Potter like – interesting and obscure!

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