Constantly handled yet oft ignored, doorknobs spent decades in need of an upgrade, after a scarcity of brass during the Great Depression and World War II left the market full of bare, skeletal designs. Recently, though, renewed attention to hardware design and consumers' hankering for standout fixtures have led to a crop of new knobs from unexpected designers.
"I had so many customers calling to see if we did doorknobs, we started putting their emails and names up on the bulletin board," says Tracy Glover, who creates made-to-order mouth-blown-glass lighting and decorative pieces in her Pawtucket, Rhode Island, studio. "Finally we said, 'We gotta start making doorknobs.'"
For retailer Anthropologie, releasing a line of candy-colored, cheeky, and offbeat hardware—such as the best-selling Scrimshaw knob, carved from repurposed camel bone—sparked the launch of new decor-focused spaces within its stores. "We don't treat it like a hardware store, where it's all function. It's more about aesthetic and design that's rooted in travel," says Aaron Hoey, head merchant of its home department. "We create a fantasy."
A version of this article appeared in the June 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.