Should I Use Handles or Knobs on Kitchen Cabinets?


Choosing between handles and knobs for your kitchen cabinets is an important decision that can dramatically impact the look and feel of your kitchen. Both options have distinct pros and cons to consider when deciding which is best for your space and personal style. This comprehensive guide examines the key differences, benefits, placement tips, and factors to weigh when selecting cabinet hardware. Read on for expert insights on whether handles or knobs are the better choice for your next kitchen design or remodel.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Handles vs. Knobs

When deciding between cabinet handles or knobs, there are several factors to take into account:


  • Style – Knobs have a more traditional look, while handles can create a more contemporary, streamlined aesthetic. Consider the overall style you want for your kitchen.
  • Finish – Both come in a variety of finishes like brushed nickel, bronze, chrome, etc. Finish impacts the look drastically.
  • Size – Knobs are typically smaller than handles. The size can make the cabinets look more ornate or minimal.
  • Shape – Knobs come in simple round shapes, while handles can have different shapes like rectangular pulls. Shape affects visual appeal.


  • Opening cabinets – Handles may offer better leverage and ease of opening cabinets. Knobs require grasping and twisting to open.
  • Senior-friendly – Handles are typically easier for seniors or those with arthritis/mobility issues to open.
  • Small hands – Knobs can be difficult for small children to grasp and open. Low cabinet handles cater to kids.
  • Space – Consider the clearance based on cabinet configuration. Handles need more room to open without hitting walls.
  • Weight – The weight of the cabinet door should be balanced with the right hardware. Handles tend to better support heavier doors.


  • Cost – Knobs are generally more affordable than handles, which are viewed as a premium upgrade.
  • Installation – Handles require more precise installation and two screws per handle. Knobs just need one centered screw.

Other Factors

  • Cleaning – Handles have grooves that can collect grime. Knobs have less space for grime.
  • Durability – Both come in durable materials like brass, zinc, and steel that resist corrosion.
  • Personal preference – Go with the look and feel you find most appealing for your daily use.

Pros and Cons of Cabinet Knobs


  • Traditional style – Knobs have an old-world, classic look many homeowners love.
  • Easier installation – Knobs require just one centered screw per knob, making installation simpler.
  • Inexpensive option – Knobs are typically the more budget-friendly choice.
  • Variety of shapes and finishes – Choose from simple round shapes and finishes like bronze, nickel, etc.
  • Compact size – The small size keeps them looking minimal and less noticeable.
  • Easier to clean – With less grooves, knobs allow for quick dusting and wiping.


  • Less grip – Round knobs require you to grasp and twist to open doors and drawers.
  • Harder for kids – Small children may have difficulty grasping small knobs to open cabinets.
  • Less support for heavier doors – Knobs don’t provide as much leverage for especially heavy cabinet doors.
  • Prone to breaking – The small screws can be more prone to loosening and breaking over time.
  • Less access – Those with mobility issues may find knobs hard to operate.

Pros and Cons of Cabinet Handles


  • Contemporary style – Handles have a sleek, modern look popular in contemporary kitchens.
  • Easier to open cabinets – Handles provide you leverage to easily pull open doors without twisting.
  • Kid-friendly – Low cabinet handles are easy for small children to grab and open.
  • Senior/disabled friendly – Handles are easier to grasp and open for those with mobility challenges.
  • Support heavy doors – Long handles better distribute weight for heavy cabinet doors.
  • Cleaner look – Full length handles create a streamlined look.


  • Higher cost – Handles are generally priced higher than knobs.
  • Trickier installation – Installing handles requires precise measurements, leveling, and two screws per handle.
  • Collect dirt – Grooves along handles can collect dust and grime more readily.
  • Takes up space – Handles need clearance from walls/corners when opening drawers and doors.
  • Harder to find options – Fewer shape and finish varieties than knobs.
  • Not as classic – Those preferring traditional styling may find handles too modern.

Factors to Consider When Selecting Handles

If choosing cabinet handles, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Length – Allow a minimum of 3-4 inches length for proper clearance. Too short won’t offer enough grip. Avoid extra long handles that look awkward.
  • Projection – The projection, or distance from the cabinet face, impacts how easily your hand fits around the grip. Around 1 1/2″ – 2″ projection is optimal for easy gripping.
  • Shape – Bar and arch shapes allow fingers to naturally curl around the underside shape. Flat styles don’t fit the hand as comfortably.
  • Thickness – Slim, thinner handles around 1/2″ thick or less fit hands the best. Chunky handles over 1″ thick are hard to grip.
  • Base Size – The attached base plate should be large enough to adequately support the handle. Opt for a base size of 1 1/4″ or more.
  • Spacing – Space multiple handles on doors evenly apart, around 8 inches between handle centers.
  • Finish – Finishes like brushed nickel, oil rubbed bronze, and chrome are popular choices that resist fingerprints.
  • Brand – Choose high-quality brands like Emtek, Richelieu, and Amerock for the best grip and longevity.

Factors to Consider When Selecting Knobs

For those selecting cabinet knobs, keep these key tips in mind:

  • Size – Most cabinet knobs range from 1″ to 1 1/2″ in diameter. Oversized knobs can look overwhelming.
  • Shape – Simple round knob shapes fit most cabinet styles. For contemporary designs, try square, faceted, or asymmetrical creative knobs.
  • Projection – Knobs should project around 1/2″ to 1″ from the cabinet to make gripping and twisting easy.
  • Base size – Choose a base diameter of 1/2″ to 1″ so the knob feels stable when grasping and twisting.
  • Finish – Polished chrome, oil rubbed bronze and brushed nickel knob finishes are versatile and durable.
  • Brand – Opt for trustworthy, quality knob brands like Amerock, Belwith Keeler, and Liberty for long-lasting hardware.
  • Grip ridges/grooves – Choosing knobs with etched ridges or grooves can enhance grip and make opening cabinets easier.

Placement Tips for Cabinet Handles and Knobs

Proper handle and knob placement improves functionality and achieves a cohesive look. Follow these guidelines:

On Doors

  • Place equidistant from top and bottom of the door, usually 3-5 inches from either edge.
  • Align handles and knobs horizontally, keeping equal space at the top and bottom.
  • Position vertically centered between door stiles either side.
  • Ensure adequate clearance from walls, corners and other doors. At least 1/2 inch, up to 1.5 inches clearance.

On Drawers

  • Mount horizontally centered on the drawer front.
  • Align drawer pulls 3-5 inches above the bottom of the drawer face.
  • Position handle ends 1-2 inches in from either side edge of the drawer front to avoid bumping into adjacent cabinets.

Back-to-Back Cabinets

  • For cabinets with doors back-to-back, allow proper clearance between handles by installing them off-center.
  • Position handles slightly diagonal to each other rather than directly horizontal or vertical.

Multiple Drawers/Doors

  • Place pulls in identical spots on doors and drawers in the same row or stack for consistency.
  • Use same amount of space between the pulls for symmetry. About 8 inches apart.
  • Align the midpoint on multiple pulls for continuity.

Near Appliances

  • Allow proper clearance between cabinet hardware and appliances like refrigerators and stoves when opening. At least 1.5 inches distance.

Cabinet Hardware Ideas for Specific Kitchen Styles

Traditional Kitchens

  • Knobs – Ornate ceramic, crystal or scalloped metal knobs work for traditional spaces.
  • Finishes – Unlacquered brass, bronze and brushed nickel knobs complement traditional kitchens.
  • Handles – Antique brass or bronze finished pulls with shapely curves or angles fit traditional style.
  • Style Tip – For very ornate traditional spaces, pair knobs with decorative backplates for an extra dose of detail.

Contemporary Kitchens

  • Knobs – Streamlined square, round, or faceted knobs in matte black, brushed steel or chrome suits contemporary style.
  • Handles – Horizontal straight bar pulls or flat rectangular pulls in stainless, chrome or matte finishes keep it modern.
  • Finishes – Matte black for a monochromatic look or polished chrome/stainless for slick pop works with contemporary style.
  • Style Tip – Opt for oversized knobs or long pulls to make a unique contemporary statement.

Farmhouse Kitchens

  • Knobs – Distressed metal or porcelain knobs with antique appeal complement farmhouse chic style.
  • Handles – Wrought iron finished handles with subtle curves work for the farmhouse aesthetic.
  • Finishes – Oil-rubbed bronze, antique brass, and distressed whites/creams enhance the vintage farmhouse vibe.
  • Style Tip – Coordinate cabinet hardware with other metals like faucets and lighting fixtures to tie the whole room together.

Transitional Kitchens

  • Knobs – Ceramic, acrylic or metal knobs with clean lines, both traditional and modern.
  • Handles – Simple squared bar pulls or flat rectangles pulls in chrome, brushed nickel or black.
  • Finishes – Brushed metals like nickel, stainless steel and chrome pair well in transitional spaces.
  • Style Tip – Mixing knobs and handles together can create the perfect split transitional style.

7 Creative Alternatives Beyond Typical Handles and Knobs

Beyond standard knobs and handles, some creative cabinet hardware ideas include:

  • Cutout pulls – Handles with fun geometric, oval or flower cutout designs.
  • Hardware with integrated lighting – Knobs and pulls that light up via battery-powered LEDs.
  • Hammered metal – Hand-hammered iron, bronze or copper handles with artisanal style.
  • Antique glass knobs – Glass knobs with distressed or crackled etching for vintage flair.
  • Natural materials – Handles made from wood, bamboo, marble or stone for organic texture.
  • Architectural shapes – Graphic square, triangular or curved pulls that make a statement.
  • Two-tone hardware – Handles mixing two finishes like matte and brass provide contrast.

Should You Mix Knobs and Handles?

The choice of mixing knobs and handles comes down to personal preference:

Consider mixing if…

  • You want a transitional blend of traditional and contemporary.
  • Prefer knobs on doors but want handle ease on drawers.
  • Want to add visual interest and contrast.
  • Mixing finishes already, so variety fits your eclectic kitchen.

Keep consistent if…

  • You have a strong traditional or contemporary theme.
  • Prefer a streamlined, uniform look.
  • Your kitchen is small – mixing could create clutter.
  • You’re pairing with ornate decorative backplates.

When mixing knobs and handles:

  • Use finishes that complement each other like brushed nickel with polished chrome. Avoid clashing metals.
  • Incorporate same finishes on sinks, lighting, and other fixtures to tie mix together.
  • Stick to one style of knobs like traditional scalloped porcelain.
  • Select handle shape/size that works with knob style – like dainty knobs with substantial handles.

Additional Tips and Considerations

Beyond the major factors covered so far, also keep these tips in mind:

  • Opt for quality metal construction like die-cast zinc or stainless steel for durability at a moderate price point.
  • Complement handles and knobs with hinges, pulls, latches and other hardware in the same or coordinating finishes.
  • Be mindful of the door and drawer overlay on cabinets. Handles work best with full overlay.
  • Pick a finish that disguises fingerprints and matches your faucet finish to minimize a mismatched look.
  • For more modern styles, continuous hardware running the full width of the cabinet offers a sleek, streamlined appearance.
  • Test out display handles/knobs in stores to get a feel for comfort, ease of gripping, and overall impression.
  • Plan your hardware selection early as you design your kitchen to ensure it works with the cabinet style.
  • Calculate the number of handles/knobs needed based on your cabinet configurations to purchase sufficient hardware.

The Bottom Line – Should You Choose Handles or Knobs?

When deciding between cabinet knobs vs. handles, weigh your priorities in terms of style preferences, functionality, ease of use and budget. Here are some final recommendations based on key factors:

  • For contemporary style on a budget, sleek modern bar handles are ideal.
  • If ease of use is critical , especially for kids or the elderly, handles provide better grip.
  • If choosing handles, opt for at least 3-4″ length for good clearance and leverage.
  • For a traditional look and smaller budget, classic porcelain or metal knobs fit best.
  • If concerned about resale value, versatile brushed nickel or chrome handles have the most widespread appeal.
  • For high-traffic kitchens, smooth rounded handles are easiest to wipe clean of fingerprints and oils.

There is no universally superior option between knobs and handles. Evaluate your own needs and kitchen style to decide which is ultimately the better choice for your space and taste. Take time to view hardware in person, ask for samples and visualize the finished look before making a final decision. Whichever you select, the right cabinet hardware brings the perfect finishing touch to your kitchen design and function.