Photo: Courtesy of the retailer
“If you’re trying to make your old home look new, doorknobs are one way to do it,” says designer Barbara Schmidt. “It’s not nearly as costly as painting everything.” Switching out doorknobs can be a quick afternoon project — in most cases, you won’t need anything fancier than a screwdriver to install them — but takes some advance consideration. To ensure a cohesive look, interior designer Raena Albers suggests keeping your home’s existing fixtures in mind; she advises against mixing “’80s faux-French brass” hinges with modern black door levers, for example.
Doorknobs run the gamut from fantastically ornate antiques to low-profile, unobtrusive sets you can buy at Home Depot. It’s probably wisest to err on the side of unobtrusive — you don’t want to worry that every new piece of furniture will clash with a set of Victorian floral knobs, for example — but we’ve included a range of styles on this list, including a few voicier options. For some knobs on this list, you can customize the shape of the “rosette,” the term for the backplate mounted onto the door that conceals the knob’s internal hardware. To simplify the process, we spoke to 11 designers and DIYers about what makes a great doorknob.
Doorknobs are made of materials that are sturdy enough to stand up to frequent use and resistant to being damaged over time by the oils and grime on hands. Metal, porcelain, crystal, and glass work well, and although you’ll occasionally see a wooden or plastic doorknob, they tend to be less hardy in the long term. For metal doorknobs, zinc and brass are two of the most common materials. Brass tends to be more expensive, but has some useful doorknob-specific qualities: It resists corrosion and rust and is naturally antimicrobial, so brass doorknobs are less prone to germiness. Zinc or brass knobs are often finished in another metal, and which is mostly a matter of aesthetics. For a home with a lot of antique or vintage furniture, you may want to match brass fittings; matte black, chrome, and nickel are more neutral options.
There are four main styles of doorknobs: “passage” knobs, also called hall-closet knobs, which turn and latch but are non-locking; “privacy” knobs, also bed-bath knobs, which have a pin, thumb-turn, or push-button locking mechanism built into the kit; keyed entry knobs, which have a key-operated lock; and “dummy” knobs, which are non-latching, decorative knobs, sometimes used for closet doors without a latch or to balance the back side of a set of doors. We’re prioritizing doorknobs with a passage or privacy option, which are the most versatile, though many styles also come in dummy or keyed entry options.
Material: Zinc, four finishes | Closing mechanism: Passage, privacy, dummy, and keyed entry
This Kwikset doorknob checks all the boxes: It’s versatile and affordable, and it’s available as a passage, privacy, and dummy knob, as well as an exterior keyed-entry knob. It’s also highly customizable: It comes in four finishes, and is also available with either a square or circular rosette. Stylist and interior designer Emily Henderson likes that this knob is “modern, but can talk to almost any other style,” especially in the matte-black finish, which is her favorite.
When I tested the Pismo knob, it felt substantial and turned smoothly. The entry knob also has a neat feature called SmartKey, which allows you to reset the lock to correspond to a new key without calling a locksmith, which sounds more complicated than it is — it took me three-and-a-half minutes to figure out. Following the instructions step-by-step, I rekeyed the lock in 40 seconds once I already knew what I was doing. It’s especially useful if you want to be able to operate multiple locks with the same key, or have members of your household who lose their keys often. (You do need to have at least one copy of the previous key on hand to reset the lock.)
Material: Zinc, six finishes | Closing mechanism: Adjustable passage or privacy
This Schlage knob has the useful feature of converting from a passage to a privacy knob, helpful if you’re not sure which type to buy or if your needs change. Designer Ana Claudia Schultz also loves its look: she says the bevel on the edge of the knob “makes more of a statement than a simple round doorknob.”
Material: Brass | Closing mechanism: Passage
“Nothing says well-curated and thoughtful like finding options that are from the same era as your home,” says Schultz, who suggests searching for vintage knobs online and mentioned the retailer Olde Good Things. This brass option from the 1890s has an intricate geometric and floral Art Nouveau pattern — and there are enough in stock that you can buy them for multiple doors, so your vintage hardware will match.
Material: Brass, three finishes | Closing mechanism: Passage, dummy
This simple knob with an elongated backplate is “the perfect complement to both traditional projects as well as more contemporary designs,” says Joe Berkowitz, president and designer at JAB Design Group. He especially likes the brass finish, also popular with several other of the experts we spoke to.
Material: Brass, six finishes | Closing mechanism: Passage, privacy, dummy, and keyed entry
Both Schmidt and designer Lauren Cox mentioned this pared-down Baldwin knob, which Schmidt describes as “sleek and simple” with a “barely there” silhouette. Cox especially likes the chrome finish: “Chrome is making a huge comeback, and I love the round shape with the square backplate,” she says.
Material: Brass, six finishes | Closing mechanism: Passage, privacy, and dummy
Emtek is a favorite brand among the designers we spoke to for its high-quality knobs. Schmidt especially likes this octagonal knob, which she describes as “very Hollywood Regency” and which would also look at home in a Memphis-inspired postmodern space full of geometric furniture.
Material: Zinc, glass knob; five finishes | Closing mechanism: Adjustable passage or privacy and dummy
This versatile crystal knob is “a great blend of styles,” according to Schmidt, with a vintage-inspired glass knob and a modern square backplate. It’s also adjustable and can be converted from a passage knob to a privacy knob.
Material: Brass, porcelain; eight finishes | Closing mechanism: Passage, privacy, dummy, and keyed entry
A few years ago, on the advice of an interior-designer friend, New York deputy editor Alexis Swerdloff searched for vintage knobs to refresh an apartment that looked “a little Pottery Barn circa 1998” and ended up with this kit. Although it isn’t vintage, it looks it, and has the benefit of being “very easy to install,” according to Swerdloff.
Material: Brass, three finishes | Closing mechanism: Passage, privacy, dummy, and keyed entry
If you have an unlimited hardware budget, designer Briana Nix calls this style her “dream doorknob.” She says that its skinny, long backplate helps “elongate a door, bringing height to a room.”
Material: Zinc, five finishes | Closing mechanism: Passage, privacy, dummy, and keyed entry
Foregoing a traditional knob for a door lever is also an option: “I think they’re a little more interesting than a knob,” says Albers. Rayman Boozer, principal designer at Apartment 48, agrees; he especially likes this Kwikset lever in a polished-chrome finish because it “is budget-friendly and provides a shiny, jewel-like accent to your space.”
Material: Brass, seven finishes | Closing mechanism: Passage, privacy, and dummy
For an upgraded door lever, Schmidt likes this one for its knurled handle — the textured industrial finish is used to make tools easier to grip, and she’s noticed it gaining popularity for appliances and faucets. “This is a piece of art that you’d want to touch every day,” she says.
Material: Zinc, nine finishes | Closing mechanism: Dummy
Sarah Leon and Teddy Wolff, who have spent the past year renovating their home in Brooklyn, bought a few of these brass-finished knobs as a dupe for a similar DeVol knob that was backordered. After they arrived, they looked so good that they decided to use them on swinging double doors throughout a main hallway. “I think we ended up with 12 or 14 of them,” Leon says. “They’re totally nice. I’m sure the [DeVol] ones are nice too, but they look the same to me.” Woolf likes that the knobs feel substantial: When buying hardware, he recommends paying attention to weight, which indicate whether an item is “something that can wear and look better versus wear and look worse.” The Amerock knobs pass the durability test — Leon and Wolff report that they’ve been installed for six months and are still looking good.
• Raena Albers, interior designer
• Joe Berkowitz, president and designer at JAB Design Group
• Rayman Boozer, principal designer at Apartment 48
• Lauren Cox, interior designer
• Emily Henderson, stylist and interior designer
• Sarah Leon, editorial consultant
• Briana Nix, interior designer
• Barbara Schmidt, founder of Studiobstyle
• Ana Claudia Schultz, interior designer
• Alexis Swerdloff, New York Magazine deputy editor
• Teddy Wolff, photographer and co-founder of The Deligram
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