When to Use Kitchen Cabinet Knobs vs. Pulls, and More Hardware Questions Answered

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Picking out kitchen cabinet hardware as your renovation wraps up is like getting the dessert menu at the end of a meal. It’s a sweet way to end things. Still it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the choices before you. Latches, handles, knobs, or pulls? Matte black, antique brass, or polished nickel? Tiny and seamless or oversize? Understanding the ins and outs of each is the key to making a confident decision.

“Sizing and function are the two most important factors when considering what cabinet hardware is best,” says Kimberlee Gorsline, founder and principal designer of Kimberlee Marie Interiors. So let’s begin with the most common hardware on kitchen cupboards: knobs and pulls. Their end goal is really the same—to give you access to the stuff that’s on the other side—but the two options serve a space differently. So here’s everything to know about knobs versus pulls, upper cabinets versus lower cabinets, and getting the scale right in your space.

When Should I Use Knobs on Kitchen Cabinets?

The general rule of thumb is that knobs are best for cabinet doors, though you can certainly break said rule. “We might do a single knob on a smaller drawer,” says Gorsline. It doesn’t matter what shape you go with (they come in round, square, oblong, octagonal—you name it), what’s important is location—place them 2 1/2 or 3 inches from the corner of the door. 

When Should I Use Pulls on Kitchen Cabinets?

Pulls offer a bit more flexibility because you can put them on both drawers and doors. “Overall I think that pulls are easier to grasp than knobs,” adds Michelle Lisac, founder and principal designer of Michelle Lisac Interior Design. That’s especially nice if your cabinet fronts are on the larger end and you need a bit more leverage to open them. 

What Size Should My Knobs and Pulls Be? 

Start by accounting for the length of your cabinets. For smaller nooks, like spice pull-outs or slim doors that hide cutting boards, go with knobs that are 1 inch in diameter or smaller. Otherwise, knobs that are between 1 ¼ and 1 ⅜ inches will suffice. That said, there are benefits to supersizing your knobs. Not only does it make them easier to grab, but the visual effect (especially if they’re painted the same color as your cabinet doors) is showstopping. 

Pulls are a bit trickier to get right. “If you have a long drawer, you will need a long pull to support the weight of pulling out the drawer,” explains Gorsline. To simplify your shop, consider picking one size and using them throughout on your cabinetry. A 3¾-inch distance between the screw holes looks nice on most cabinets and is large enough to grip comfortably. 

What Finish Should I Choose?

Let your cupboard color and style guide your hardware material. Check out a few of our favorite pairings, including iron on beadboard fronts, glass against a high gloss finish, and wood painted to match vibrant doors. But don’t forget about satin and polished nickel, chrome, matte black, and copper. “In some scenarios hardware is best applied like jewelry, and in others, you want it to be understated,” says Caitlin Murray, founder and creative director of Black Lacquer Design, who is obsessed with the former lately (she’s into organic shapes that look sculptural, like in this Bel Air kitchen). 

“I’m currently loving an unlacquered brass, but I also love pulls with a combination of either textures or finishes, like Emtek’s knurled bars,” says Lisac. Style aside, her most important rule is to invest in quality. After all, “these are items that you are literally going to be touching every day,” she points out. 

Can I Mix Knobs and Pulls in the Same Kitchen?

There are two ways to go about incorporating knobs and pulls seamlessly in one kitchen. The first route is to put knobs on all the upper cabinets and pulls on all the lower cabinets for visual balance. The second option is to put knobs on all the doors and pulls on all the drawers, prioritizing function. But who said you can’t throw out the rule book entirely? Shea McGee mixed knobs, latches, thin pulls, and cup pulls in her kitchen, above—and thanks to the fact that they’re all the same brass finish, it totally works. Open sesame.

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