English vs. American Decorative Hardware Styles

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English vs. American Decorative Hardware Styles

Looking at the trends in decorative hardware styles in America and Europe offers very interesting insight into the different concerns of each region, in terms of architectural and overall design aesthetic. While early American decorative design was puritanical and concerned mainly with function rather than style, after the Industrial Revolution and the advent of mass production American designers openly embraced the possibilities offered by mass production. European designers and architects, meanwhile, often came out against the excess of mass production and consumerism, attempting in different ways to bring back the artisanal, hand-made quality of past hardware styles.

American Decorative Hardware

Because America, or what we're here referring to as America, a.k.a. the U.S., was a product of European expansion into the new world, much of its style in terms of art and architecture was, throughout its history, highly influenced by European (primarily English) trends. Thus, in pre-industrial America, what style there was in terms of decorative hardware was taken from neo-classical styles popular in England at the time. For the most part, though, early American hardware was functional and in line with the puritanical ethics of early settlers.

The first popular decorative hardware style in America after the Industrial Revolution was the Eastlake style, named after Charles Eastlake, an English architect who, ironically, highly disapproved of the style that bore his name. Eastlake style hardware reflected American designers' enthusiasm with the possibilities of industrialization and mass production. It has often excessively elaborate. England designers like Eastlake were calling for a return to the more artisanal aesthetic of pre-industrial styles.

Excess, however, continued, both in England as well as in America, with the popularity of Victorian style architecture. Victorian hardware was lavish and mass produced products like brass cabinet knobs. Victorian excess consequently led to what became known as the "Arts and Crafts" style of hardware design. It valued handmade hardware that harkened back to pre-industrial styles. In America, this took the form of the so-called Revival Styles that became especially popular as the 1900s got under way and the suburb came to dominate the American landscape. Revival style hardware was mass produced, but made to look as if it was handmade. Now, each household could have its own private haven in whatever distinct revival style they wished.

The first decorative hardware style that began to look towards the future, rather than the past, was Art Deco. It originated in France and became highly popular in America, where designers were starting to look at a complete break with traditional way of thinking about architecture and hardware style. Modern decorative hardware started to emphasize function as a basis for style.
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