Interview: Orion Henderson, The Head + The Heart of Horton Brasses

Orion, you bought the company from your mother.  What were you doing before taking over your family’s hardware manufacturing business?

I joined the company in 2001 and purchased the company at then end of 2006.  Prior to joining the business I was in sales.

If you weren’t running Horton Brasses, what other career path would you have taken?

My professional passion is sales without a doubt.  If I was not involved with Horton Brasses I would be in commercial sales in some capacity.

What’s stayed the same throughout the years, what’s changed under your guard?

There is always a desire to change a company when you take over; to put your stamp on it so to speak.  In our case though I think that is a mistake.  We have a 70+ year legacy of making reproduction early American hardware and that continues to be essential to our business and our identity.  My aim is to keep making traditional hardware and expand into related areas.  Before my time, in the mid to late 90’s, we expanded into kitchen cabinet hardware and hand forged iron.  Our path forward is simple really. We want to do three things.  To expand our selection through production of new items in house and with carefully selected vendors.  To become ever more efficient in our own factory to control cost and to stay ahead of foreign competitors.  And to grow the business by filling hardware needs of existing customers and finding new customers.

How do you keep a period hardware company current?

New finishes are the single best way to stay current.  Until 1998 or so we had three finishes–antique brass, semi-bright brass (matt gold), and polished brass.  Now we have 7 plus an entirely separate line of hand forged iron hardware.  We added satin and polished nickel to kitchen hardware in 1998 and about the same time we added “dark antique” (oil rubbed) to a line of arts and crafts styled hardware.  In 2004 we made dark antique a standard finish choice on every piece of brass hardware we make.  In 2009 we added a light antique to every piece of hardware.  In 2010 we added custom finishes to the line.  They include satin nickel, polished nickel, silver plated, and gold plated finishes.  Towards the original question-one way we keep traditional hardware relevant is to make modern finishes available.  Our traditional Hepplewhite and Chippendale pulls are simply spectacular in satin and polished nickel.

How do you define “period?” I mean, isn’t every style of a certain period? What periods would you say are the focus of Horton Brasses hardware?

In my grandparents day, period meant pre-1900.  Or more generally hardware for furniture that specifically pre dated mass production of furniture.  Essentially, up to the time of the industrial revolution.  Times change. Today period can mean the mid century modern furniture and cabinetry of the 1950’s.  My grandfather rather famously, at least famously with us, told a long time customer once that he would never, ever, make that lousy arts and craft style hardware because it was junk.  My great grandfather thought Victorian era furniture and hardware was just awful.  He thought of Victorian style in much the same way we think of the home furnishings from the 1980’s today.  Now?  We make lots of Victorian hardware, have our own line of arts and crafts hardware, and some of our hardware is even appropriate for that mid century modern aesthetic.  Satin and polished nickel finishes date to the 1920’s-just after the arts and crafts movement but pre-world war II.

Is there really a difference between a satin nickel plated brass knob bought in a pack from Target and a brass knob with nickel plating bought from Horton Brasses?

The difference is in the details.  The big box stores sometimes have solid brass knobs, but not usually.  They are usually either brass plated or hollow brass with a nickel plating.  The finishing work is usually sloppy with lots of drips, lousy threading, and no durability.  The plating needs to have a sufficient thickness to last.  Cheap plating flakes off over time, ours doesn’t.  The texture and luster of our finishes are simply better.

Horton Brasses’ classic kitchen bin pull in satin nickel.

If I were to set 20 different 4” satin nickel bin pulls in front of you, would you be able to pick out the Horton Brasses design?

Yes.  But I don’t think I can explain why beyond the answer from the previous question.

Recently you’ve introduced a suite of high end luxury hardware. Considering the housing market and the U.S. economy in general, from a business point of view, what’s the strategy there?

Good question, and one I have asked myself repeatedly.  There are three aspects to our new lux line.  One-there simply aren’t very many good appliance handles on the market and even fewer suited sets of handles that cover all the sizes needed in a modern, yet period, kitchen.  Most appliance handles are either ultra modern, chintzy, or much too expensive.  There are very nice handles like ours out there that cost 3X what ours do.  Secondly, I feel as though the economy is improving and we had been seeing increased demand for good cabinet hardware.  Lastly, Our existing appliance handles are wonderful handles, but stylistically they are limited.  They simply did not work for a lot of our customers.  If we are going to provide our line of hardware we had to be able to meet the demand for appliance handles.  I visited SBD kitchens about a year ago and spoke with 3 of their designers, including Sarah Blank.  She told me that the first thing she does when looking for hardware for a kitchen is look for the appliance handles.  If the company didn’t have a good handle, she moved on to the next.  Simple as that.

New hardware, straight from England. The newly introduced Queslett has already become a favorite amongst customers and designers, proving that Orion has the eye for style.

I know you visited England to check out the manufacturing facility and review the design of the new hardware before it was launched. That seems really hands on to me. How typical is that in your industry?

Well, I am not sure it is typical at all.  Certainly, no one has ever visited us to see if we are who we say we are.  But I had a longstanding relationship with Armac and this hardware is very different than what we buy from them now.  I needed to see how it was made and meet with the principals to be sure it would be consistently excellent and to cement the relationship regarding a significant expansion of our product line.  Armac has been extremely helpful with the rollout of our new hardware and it has been essential to our early success.  We have never had a new line of hardware sell as quickly as the Bakes and Queslett pulls. 

There are lots of companies that make hardware, want to make hardware, or think they make hardware.  There are very few that actually can actually deliver what they say they can.  We have had some recent bad experiences with different vendors who simply couldn’t do what they said they could.

As you mentioned, Armac is in Birmingham (England) and manufactures the new line of hardware. They have a huge online catalog. How did you end up choosing the pieces you’ve introduced to the Horton Brasses line?

The Bakes and Queslett pulls are both new for Armac and they were presented to me along with the knobs.  I fell in love with the whole line on sight.  It filled a need and is simply spectacular hardware.  I have gotten calls for years from homeowners who wanted hardware in the style of a rather well known English cabinetmaker living in America.  While that person uses custom hardware that is not available elsewhere, this hardware gives you that look.

Although you sell directly to the public, I know most of your business is to cabinetmakers. Some of the most prestigious custom cabinets are outfitted with Horton Brasses, but often the homeowner has no idea that you are the brand behind the gorgeous knobs. Talk about keeping a low profile! Seriously. Don’t you want the credit for your hardware?

Of course we want credit for the hardware!  It is up to the individual furniture maker and cabinet shops whether they wish to share our name with their customers.  Some find it better to keep their vendors private to remain more competitive.  For example-the cabinetmaker mentioned above.

Who thought anyone could be sentimental over a knob! Orion’s favorite is still made with the same tooling designed by his grandfather.

What’s your favorite knob + pull?

My favorite part is not a typical kitchen knob, it is the H-30 1-1/2″.  The H-30 1-1/2″ is, according to family history, the first punch and die that my grandfather Frank made.  That tooling, which we use today, dates to the 1920’s sometime.  In the 1920’s my great grandmother sold antiques and my great grandfather Frank was a diesinker for the silver industry.  He made the tooling to produce the Disney decorative silver spoons at the time.  Anyway, she would have a piece of furniture that needed a matching piece of hardware, typically American Federal period (Hepplewhite and Sheraton style), and she would give Frank the hardware and he would make it.  He would punch out the pattern of the hardware into the punch.  Then he would do the negative onto the die, all by hand, and account for the thickness of the metal that would be punched between the two pieces.  Diesinking is a lost art.  Today, you can do some of what he did with CAD, but really, even CAD won’t give you the detail.  The patterns and originals were all perfectly imperfect.  Computer design really requires symmetry and perfect radii.

As far as business goes, you seem to me a bit of a maverick. You like being small. You eschew the advertorial. What philosophy guides your business style?

Well, I don’t necessarily choose to be small.  Our product is a niche product and likely always will be.  Our customers produce cabinetry and furniture that is the best of the best and is, to be frank, expensive.  With that in mind, we choose quality over price every time.

Advertising is a different story, on the one hand we simply don’t have the budget for glossy magazine hands.  On the other hand, I don’t believe they are productive anyway.  So we choose to create online “content” to give people a chance to see for themselves if our products fit into their lives.

Okay. The Horton Brasses latches have gone through a few revisions. How does one improve hardware. I mean, how complicated does this stuff get?

We have no in house engineers, just my shop foreman and myself.  Neither of us have professional training.  We knew what we wanted it to look and work like, but it took a while to actually get the components just right.  It took us 9 months to develop the current latch.  Sometimes I think Ford could design a new car faster than we can make a pretty simple latch.  But in the end, you can make it right or you can make it fast.  You can guess our choice.

Finally, what trends have you seen reflected in your sales in the past five years and where do you see your business going in the coming five?

The last 3 or 4 years have seen a bit of return to traditional styles.  Maybe in the boom years people bought the newest latest trends, it seemed like they could always just throw it away when it went out of style.  Recent events have changed in that we see people making purchase decisions related to their homes on a longer time frame.  Our hardware is not “trendy”.  We think it is timeless and we know it is durable.  Everything we produce should last, essentially, forever.  Finish choices have evolved, “oil rubbed” and polished nickel finished hardware continues to become more popular.  The next trend, which we are seeing more and more interest in, is “unlaquered brass”.  The concept varies from person to person but generally is some variation of polished or lightly antiqued brass left without a lacquer coating to develop a natural patina over time.  This is a rather nice trend from our point of view; we don’t lacquer any of our brass hardware and we never have.  We offer lacquering as a custom finish option only.

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Expanding Options for Narrow Cabinets

Going the route of custom cabinetry? Take advantage of every last inch of storage space without worrying how you will match your hardware across door fronts of varying sizes. Even some well designed RTA stock cabinets, such as Ikea’s, come in narrow widths to make the most of your kitchen space.

Whether you use choose a standard spice pullout or have your cabinet maker sneak in hidden broom storage, narrow cabinets present challenges when choosing hardware.  Some people seek out mix and match hardware for their kitchen, yet a large number of homeowners desire a uniform look, using a single style pull throughout the entire room.

House Beautiful

Vertical pulls fit the narrowest of cabinet fronts. Get the look with Horton Brasses Bakes Pull, available in 7 different finishes and made of solid brass.

But what do you do when that 8” pull simply won’t fit on a 6” cabinet? Knobs are compact enough to fit on any cabinet front but for some, knobs are not an option. That is why Horton Brasses carries the Queslett and Bakes Pulls. If you want beautiful hardware that flows with continuity througout the kitchen, these pulls are a wonderful option.

top / available in 6,7,10,15 inch sizes) & Queslett (bottom)

Art of Logic

Wouldn’t those tiny Queslett Pulls look adorable on these apothocary drawers? An unexpected departure from knobs.

Moon to Moon

A salvaged library card catalog defines this quirky space. Finger bin pulls accentuate the piece. Replicate the look with distressed custom cabinetry and tiny Quesletts in the antique finish.

Unlike other suited bin pull sets that typically run from 3.5” to 8,” The Queslett runs from under 3” to over 9.” Woo-hoo! This allows a singular hardware look from appliances to apothecary drawers. And the unique look of the Queslett’s backplate sets it apart from other bin pulls.

Don’t let the catalog pic of the Bakes Pull fool you into thinking it must be mounted horizontally. No! Do a quarter turn and mount that pull vertically for hardware that will fit anywhere.

The Cabinet Factory

Ditch the knobs and up the style ante with pulls! This small kitchen is a perfect example of maximizing storage with bespoke cabinetry. Those small cubby drawers would look darling with tiny, chunky pulls dressing them up like buckles on a pair of pilgrim shoes.

Kennebec Cabinet Company

Of course, Horton Brasses has nothing against knobs! Especially if your cabinet design is traditional, knobs on your tiny fronts will augment the look of ageless elegance. Horton Brasses has both simple, pared down knobs as well as more decorative styles.

Interview With a Designer: Monica Mackenzie

When reviewing the portfolios of designers who’ve used Horton Brasses hardware, I was floored when I set my eyes upon Monica Mackenzie’s kitchen designs. Her use of painted and distressed cabinetry defines the look that many customers are striving to achieve with their remodel. I definitely wanted to interview her for the HB blog. Here we  talk a lot about finishes—both cabinet and hardware. Also, I want to note that this is the second interview I’ve done in a week where the designer commented on the importance of lighting. Jot that down!

You’ve been designing interiors since 1999. What’s your background and how did you get your start?

I have been designing both interiors and remodeling since I started a business in interior design in 1999.  I started by working on friends homes when my children were small. I have always loved design and color and my business has expanded to include both interior design as well as new builds and remodeling. I now have a general contracting license and home improvement license. I have a great team of subcontractors. I often go to the Boston Design Center  for inspiration and read everything on the subject.

The homes you work on are largely old houses with historical architectural elements and new builds emulating that feel. How do you manage to negotiate retaining the old charm while ramping up the function?

I work on a lot of older homes. I love the details. They often have little things that make them so special. The problem is that they are often not what people are looking for for the way they live now. I try to open the house up. The kitchens and baths usually require a redo. I usually get requests for mudrooms and pantries. I also do a lot of master bedrooms and baths.

White or wood? Do you think the white kitchen craze is a trend or will it be around for a while?

I like both the wood and the pained finishes. The white is classic but does require a bit of maintance over the years. I like to mix the cabinet finishes then everyone is happy. You can always repaint!

Your portfolio shows a mix of wood stained, white and cream painted and distressed—or maybe “weathered” would be more accurate–kitchen cabinetry. Do you feel certain hardware finishes pair better with specific paints and stains?

I think that the painted cabinets are really in style now. I like to work with unusual colors of finishes. In the older homes the oiled rubbed brass looks authentic. Other times a modern stainless or chrome pull gives the look the client is after. It really depends on the age of the home and the look we are trying to achieve.

monica’s free street kitchen illustrates the popular style of mixing wood stain and white paint.

Mixing finishes has been a hot topic on kitchen forums and our blog. Do you prefer to keep the hardware, faucet and lighting finishes uniform or do you sometimes mix it up?

I like to keep the finishes the same in kitchens I think it makes the space consistent, especially if the cabinets and counters are mixed.

How long have you been using Horton Brasses hardware? What are your go-to pieces?

I have been using Horton Brass for years, probably 10? I love the square cabinet latches, the cabinet pulls and the simple knobs.

What is it you look for when choosing cabinet hardware?

I love that with Horton Brass the cabinet hardware can be different sizes or styles but the finish will match. I look for a good size, matching hardware pieces and the shipping and availability is terrific.

If someone’s remodeling a kitchen on a budget, what would you recommend they make a priority and splurge on?

I think that the overall design is the splurge. If a client wants a high end appliance that’s always a splurge.

What are some of the often overlooked details in kitchen design?

I like to have a second prep sink. I like to have pull outs near the stove for utensils and oils etc. I think that there needs to be a place to relax when someone is cooking. I like a TV in my kitchen but I want it built in. Lighting is also important.

Your kitchen designs are full of texture–from the backsplash to the cabinet finish. Your School Street kitchen really showcases this. How do you create layers of tactile finishes without overwhelming the space?

The school street kitchen is great. Its an old cape but the kitchen is in a totally new space. We used old materials salvaged and custom cabinets designed for the owners who loved the distressed look. They loved to cook. The Aga is great and the teak distressed top to the island gets better with time. They are great clients who encouraged the creativity. Loved that job.

Kitchens in portfolios and magazines are staged to look picture perfect. Right now if we were to visit your own kitchen, what would it look like? Is it spic and span or do you have your morning cup of coffee sitting in the sink?

My kitchen looks clean and organized.  That’s because I spent a good amount of time planning it out–what I need to store as well as what my family needed the way we are now. Its on my website under affiliates if you want to take a peak.

Enduring Design Classics: Bin Pulls & Farm Houses

Just outside Stockholm, Wisconsin, a modern custom farmhouse built amidst 40 meandering acres cuts the dramatic skyscape with the gentleness of a butter knife.  Simple in design yet high in function, this weekend getaway pays tribute to  the Swedish influenced mid-western sensibility of the region. Clean lines, nuetral colors, large windows, natural materials, high ceilings and built in cabinetry add to the design’s efficient grace.

Horton Brasses Nickel Pulls & Knobs

With 27 years of marriage under their belts, Jay and Jennifer Olson-Goude presently use the house as a weekend retreat. Eventually, they will retire there, along with their Golden-Child, Otto.

Homeowners Jennifer and Jay Olson-Goude designed their future retirement home in conjunction with Todd Hansen of Albertsson Hansen Architecture.  The custom blonde wood inset Shaker style kitchen cabinets were crafted by Ted Nolen of Total Home Cabinetry (Hudson, WI) and feature Horton Brasses’ hardware as the finishing touch.  Horton Brasses bin pulls and knobs are throughout the house,  contributing to the streamlined yet inviting aesthetic.

Dining Room Storage / Built-in Buffet

 

Built-in storage throughout the house keeps things neat and tidy.

Jay, who works in architecture, was looking online for bin pulls for cabinet drawers when “an internet search led us to Horton Brasses, who’s products looked much nicer than the many cheaper options out there. “ Jennifer works in the financial services industry. It is no wonder that between the two of them, they outfitted their home with an eye for detail and value.

For a complete look at the house, from construction (Hokeness Construction) to the breathtaking countryside, visit Jay’s online album.

Gasp! Gorgeous. Thanks for the pictures, Jay!

Ikea Budget Kitchen Remodel : Tuscan Style

I am really excited about this post. Traditional style kitchens are not my personal thing, but I do believe I’ve put together a great kitchen evocative of that Tuscan flava’. No, not pecorino and prosciutto but earthy textures, varied metals and warm colors. While this kitchen lacks the extensive corbels and molding found in most American takes on the Tuscan style, this Ikea-based kitchen forgoes the fussiness, letting the eye enjoy the richness of subtle details.

Of course, if you must have corbels and rope molding to build out that hood enclosure, head to Home Depot or Lowe’s to buy some stock trim pieces. You will save loads of money over getting this stuff from a cabinet company. Try to match the paint/stain of the Lidingo doors below. Or take a walk on the Tuscan side and think outside the cabinet box with an olive, burgundy or mustardy paint to make those embellishments pop (“pop” is such an over-used designy word, isn’t it?).

Ready to see what old style charm you can create around stock Ikea cabinets? Here we go…

                           tuscan inspired ikea furniture mixing

 

This first style board represents the perimeter cabinets, done in a creamy white, more commonly known as Lidingo to the Ikea Vikings. The sienna bordaeux granite really takes this kitchen home to Italy, despite the glaring Frenchness of the name. Iron hues,  sandy swaths and purplish dusky reds–the countryside laid out flat and pressed into stone.

If the Tuscany kitchen had a calling card, it would be etched on a piece of travertine tile. Chosen for it’s calm echo of sienna bordeaux’s color palette, tumbled travertine’s tactility furthers the romantic seduction of Tuscan design.

A weathered copper sink and copper faucet convey warmth, transforming your kitchen into a place not just for food preparation, but informal family gatherings. Yes, all that from a sink! Did you ever imagine?

Elaborately styled antiqued hardware from Horton Brasses is one of those subtle details that won’t go unnoticed. Especially since the creamy cabinetry will stand in such high contrast with the cacao colored hardware. Bold and delicious.

Speaking of delicious, a copper KitchenAid stand mixer is beautiful enough to leave resting on the countertop, just like that pasta dough!

                        tuscan style antique furniture decorations

 

The island. This is what you’ve wanted. A massive hunk of chocolate brown cabinets topped with granite–again, sienna bordeaux to unify the look. A gathering place. A work station. A vast slab of stone suitable for rolling out raviolis, decorating Christmas cookies, setting out elaborate family buffets.

Lilje dark brown cabinets are your own dark chocolate chunks, adding an unexpected richness from Ikea. Shiny brass hardware from Horton Brasses evokes the traditional look while the wrought iron turns of the island pendant lighting and the decorative fruit urn mixes finishes without competing for attention. Like the bucolic Tuscan lifestyle, there is a natural harmony flowing throughout these kitchen design choices.

Beautifully simple stoneware plates in organic hues and unrefined strokes adds to the relaxed feel of the decor. Formal meets rustic continue to mix as handscraped flooring in a dark stain contributes texture, warmth and instant patinated old world charm to the kitchen.

 

                        modern style mixed with tuscan decorations

 

Finally, carefully chosen, understated yet appropriate details impregnate the kitchen with authenticity. More wrought iron is brought in with the ornate wine rack, echoing the style choice of  the island lighting. Small details, such as Horton Brasses’ selection of iron hooks hearkening back to the romantic ideal of village life, make nothing in this space look like an afterthought.

The turned legs of the dining table, the leather and wood composition of the dining chairs and the antiqued copper of the wall mirror reflect simplicity, craftsmanship and a commitment to natural materials without sacrificing artfulness.

A simple valance curtain capped with creamy urchin finials captures this reoccurring diametrical tension of the simple vs. the ornate, which seems to reconcile itself through organic materials and colors, detailed handcrafted ornamentation and formal embellishments coupled with rustic textures.

To complete the Tuscan kitchen look, crisp towels decorated with a traditional Tuscan rooster design can casually lay across the front of the copper sink or hang on a wrought iron hook next to a favorite apron dusted in semolina flour.

Without a doubt, the Tuscan kitchen is a popular trend with endurance. By creating a space that is warm, usable and accommodating to many cooks and bystanders, your Tuscan kitchen will serve as the hearth of the home.

 

Materials Pictured:

Big Pacific 4″ x 4″ Scabos Travertine Tile / $1 / Lowes

KitchenAid 600 Series 6 Quart Stand Mixer in Copper Pearl /  $338 / Amazon

Sienna Bordeaux Granite

Danze Opulence Pull Out Kitchen Faucet in Copper / $200 / Buyplumbing.net

Premier Copper Products 25″  Hammered Kitchen Single Basin Sink / $650 / FaucetDirect.com

Lidingo Doors + Akurum Cabinets / Ikea

Scroll Fruit Bowl / $20 / Pier 1 Imports

Delicious Salad Plates / $7 / Pier 1 Imports

Barrett Place Mocha Bronze Foyer Pendant Light / $160 / Lamps Plus

Lilje Cabinet Doors + Akurum Cabinet Boxes / Ikea

Virginia Millworks 1/2″ x 5″ Yorktown Plank Handscraped Wood Flooring / $3.69 sq. ft/ Lumber Liquidators

Antiqued Copper Mirror  / $200 / Home Decorators

Ivory Tuscan Rooster Towels (set of 2) / $16 / Williams-Sonoma

Urchin Finials + Iron / $38 / Anthropologie

Ibiza Valance / $25 / Target

Tristan Bi-Cast Leather Fanback Dining Chair (set of 2) / $340 / World Market

Medley Round Hammered Metal Table in Penny Patina Finish / $600/ Restauarantbarfurniture.com

IMAX Wrought Iron Wine Cabinet / $150 / CSN.com