How To Choose Antique Hardware For Historic Homes

Renovating a historic property requires attention to detail and a commitment to accuracy. Some people relish the thrill of the chase in finding an exact copy or stellar reproduction of antique hardware, while others find the process of historical preservation maddening. This guide to selecting antique hardware to go with historic homes in Charleston will help you find the right pieces.

Inventory the House

Before you can search for antique door hinges or mortise lock sets, you need to know what’s already in the home and its condition. Conduct a thorough inventory of window hardware, door hardware, and cabinet hardware. Unless you have a deep knowledge of period antiques, you may find it helpful to conduct your inventory along with a specialist, such as a contractor specializing in historic renovations.

Your historic home renovation contractor can point out instances where original, period-appropriate hardware may have been updated. Decide whether you wish to keep the updated (but still historic) hardware or if the newer hardware must be replaced with something original to the house’s historic era.

As you inventory what you have, think about what qualities are most important to you. Is historical accuracy your guiding principal, in which case the antique window hardware must be authentic? Is it sufficient that a cabinet knob have the right patina, look, and feel–in other words, a high-quality reproduction will suffice?

Thinking through these considerations ahead of time will help you determine your preferences, so you feel confident in the choices you make. An experienced contractor will be able to make recommendations, so you can begin to browse for replacement or original hardware and get a sense of what’s out there.

Finding Original Hardware

Original hardware can be challenging to find, especially if you’re seeking ten identical Victorian pocket locks for interior doors. For some people, there is no substitution for the original. Flea markets and antiques fairs can be fun to browse, but when it comes to finding original door hardware, you might feel as though you’re looking for the needle in the haystack.

Online antique dealers and salvage dealers are a great place to start a more focused search. Browse online, but it’s worth following up with a phone call or an email, as many salvage dealers don’t post everything they have. You’ll get a faster response if you’re able to send images of the existing hardware along with specific measurements for every element of the hardware. Here’s where your contractor can help you provide complete, accurate information.

As an example, let’s say you’re seeking a crystal door knob for an interior door. While you may think to measure the diameter of the knob and pass along an image, you’ll also need to provide the following measurements:

  • Door thickness – A standard interior door is 1-3/8 inches thick, but always double check to ensure a correct fit
  • Bore hole – This is the hole where the knob sits; while standard nowadays is 2-1/8, an antique door may vary
  • Cross Bore Hole – The cross bore hole sits on the edge of the door and is generally 1 inch in diameter for interior doors
  • Backset – Measure the distance between the edge of the door and the bore hole to determine the backset, which generally ranges from 2-3/8 to 2-3/4 inches for an interior door

For hardware that’s patterned, such as a brass doorknob with rosettes, notice the details in the pattern. How many rosettes are there, and what size are they? Knobs that might seem identical at a glance can have subtle variations.

This attention to detail takes time, but it’s well worth it as you hunt for original hardware. You’ll be able to quickly tell whether or not something is a good match.

If you find a high-quality lead at a nearby salvage dealer, visit in person and (when possible) take along your original hardware. This way, you can compare the aging and patina on the items before buying.

If you’ve conducted a faithful search for original hardware and turned up short, a restoration specialist may be able to help you. Ask local historic homes for the names of metalwork specialists who’ve maintained and replaced their hardware. These professionals can fix a broken window latch or fashion a replacement that is a perfect lookalike. The best of these craftspeople can even create something authentic to the period when all of the original hardware is long gone.

Finding Replica Hardware

While a purist may need that original lock and skeleton key, many historic homeowners will accept a high-quality replica that maintains the look and feel of the original. Premium replica window, door, and cabinet hardware is out there provided you know where to look for it.

Here again, you’ll need to note all of the measurements and any striking details from the original hardware you’re looking to match. You’ll also have some choices to make before you begin to shop for antique cabinet hardware. Will you be happy to mix and match original and replica, or is your preference to remove all the current hardware so everything matches? Does a replica need to have the same style and markings as the original items, or is it enough that the two be of the same style–say, bronze oval doorknobs with different markings?

There’s no right answer to these questions, only your particular preference as the homeowner. You may decide that certain elements need to be an exact match–for example, all the interior door hinges–while it’s less important that the window latches be identical. You may prefer something a bit less ornate than the highly decorative Victorian brass doorknobs that were original to the home. Many homeowners find that if things are in different rooms, subtle differences are less noticeable. You’re unlikely to remember that the door knob in the guest bedroom is of a slightly different size than the one in the downstairs bathroom. You are likely to notice when the kitchen cabinet door knobs are of different sizes.

After you’ve considered these questions and decided on your preferences, you’ll begin to shop for replicas. Online antique reproduction websites make it easy for you to browse cabinet pulls, door back plates, knobs, and hinges. For some shoppers, the hardest part of the decision may be choosing from among all the options!

Historic Renovation Trends

Some shoppers might be wondering what current trends could influence their historic home renovations. By keeping an eye on current tastes, historic homeowners can honor the home’s past while appealing to a modern sensibility. This can keep an old house from feeling like a museum and may help the property appeal to buyers when it goes on the real estate market. Blending old and new also works well with historic homes that have a contemporary addition not entirely in character with the original property.

Two hardware trends in particular blend past and present: black and brass. Black hinges and locks are popular nowadays because they go with everything; unlike metals, there’s no worry about clashing by mixing metals when a new finish becomes popular.

The brass door hardware that is trending now has a subtle glow from a matte finish, in contrast to the high-gloss brasses that were popular in the 1980s. The modern brass doorknob trend gives a warm and inviting feel to a home. With antique hardware reproductions, you can look for black and bronze finishes that are historically appropriate or offer a modern update to what would have been the fashion of the day.

With an understanding of modern and historic home renovation trends, and these strategies for finding authentic and reproduction antique hardware, you can start to shop with confidence and enthusiasm. We are always here as a resource, so do not hesitate to reach out if you have questions regarding antique hardware for doors, windows, and cabinets.