Back to Aesthetics in Casement Hardware
It seems the tide is turning a bit when it comes to product development in the casement hardware arena. The focus used to be on performance and durability, but today the trend is toward enhanced aesthetics and developing hardware with style. That’s not to say performance isn’t important—just that window manufacturers are looking for product that looks good while it’s working well.
“The trend is to deliver new refreshing styles that have been proven through extensive research and interviews with consumers,” says Dean Pettit, senior product manager for Ashland Hardware Systems. “They’re less obtrusive, deliver a choice of trend-setting finishes and offer fold-down crank handles to avoid window blind interference.”
Most of the major suppliers to the residential market have rolled-out products for casements with interchangeable covers and handles that work on the same platform of operators. This shift in the market has been driven by window manufacturers looking to streamline inventories while increasing aesthetic options, suppliers say. Building on the current casement trend, hardware suppliers note they are exploring interchangeable aesthetics in other window styles as well.
“Any time you have more options, you provide more flexibility to the end user,” says David Gilson, national sales and marketing director for Roto Frank of America. “And that usually equates to more sales and better margins for our customers.”
“The majority of the driving force behind the casement hardware trend is the idea of interchangeable aesthetics and we really are adopting that across all of our platform products,” adds Brian Dallmann, product manager for casement and awning window hardware for Truth Hardware. “We’re expanding it to all product lines so we can leverage that product and give our customers their own looks.”
The need for multiple finish options is growing, as architects, builders and homeowners move to “whole house” packages calling for matching décor styles and finishes, from the kitchen faucet to cupboard handles to window and door hardware, suppliers say. “Cabinet hardware is what led this evolution,” says Matt Kottke, Truth’s marketing support manager. “Owners were looking at that first as hardware they wanted to have a similar look or finish. They might have even taken that finish into the bathroom or bedroom. I think people are starting to understand that locks and window and door hardware also fall into that line of thinking. It can be taken one step further to have a whole house with the same look.”
Roto Frank of America introduced its X-Drive line of compact casement and awning operators at GlassBuild America last fall. The hardware has an aesthetic cover on the operator, which can ship from the window manufacturer as-is, or a colored or metallic finish, snap-on cover can be attached later to give the window an alternate look. “This sort of flexibility allows manufacturers to go anywhere in the nation and provide a potentially unique look for that region with the same product line,” Gilson explains.
Ultra Hardware launched a similar line at GlassBuild. “The housing covers are interchangeable and available in a variety of standard colors,” explains Rob Munin, vice president, “which allows Ultra’s customers to stock the operator alongside a number of covers, reducing the number of SKUs in inventory.”
Truth’s Encore Operator system works similarly, which allows the supplier to offer the same component to many manufacturers while still meeting each window company’s need for a different look to offer the marketplace. “We’re spending a lot more time and effort on the aesthetic side of the products,” says Dallmann. “The traditional, ‘timeless’ hardware, as I like to call it, didn’t really have a style. Today, we’re developing different looks for specific segments.”
This is particularly important, suppliers note, for larger manufacturers that offer various lines with different frame material in varying regions of the country. “One of the things we designed X-Drive to do is play across different material types, whether PVC or wood or aluminum or a combination of products,” explains Greg Koch, Roto president. “Each one has different requirements for hardware. X-Drive minimizes your inventory but is flexible enough to cover all of your window types with one operator baseline.”
The same benefit comes into play with different window styles and sizes within the same product line, Kottke adds. “This approach allows a customer to use an operator or a family of operators across their window offerings, whether they’re narrow windows, tall windows, whether egress or washability are issues.”
Aside from the aesthetic and inventory benefits, common mechanisms have benefits in terms of production. Using Truth’s Maxim operator platform, for example, Dallmann says the machining and manufacturing processes are the same for all the different types of casement and awning windows. “The cut-outs are in the same location, the tooling is the same. It simplifies the manufacturing process and therefore helps to eliminate the training and multiple tooling that would be associated with carrying both casements and awnings.”
In the high-end and custom residential markets, casement hardware is reverting to simpler designs and European-inspired functionality. Hardware suppliers to these segments note that push-out casement options are gaining momentum among owners and specifiers who want distinctive window styles. “I think it’s a niche market, meeting the demand for something a little different, but we are seeing old world, traditional casements that push out rather than cranking out,” says Dan Alexander, national sales manager for G-U Hardware .
Nancy Miller, marketing services coordinator for Hoppe North America, sees that trend too, noting that a number of wood window manufacturers are enjoying success with push-out and French-style casement models. The company offers hardware that allows the production of true French casements, with no fixed center mullion, as multiple locking points secure the sash to each other and to the top and bottom of the frame.
Another European inspired option where some suppliers see growth is in tilt-turn hardware. Companies like American Douglas Metals, which distributes Savio hardware from Italy, are seeing greater demand for tilt-turn products in multi-unit residential and commercial applications, but Patrick Revenew, corporate vice president, won’t be surprised if the reputation for functionality seeps into the high-end residential market as well. “Historically, tilt-turn has been a very niche market,” he notes. “But in the last 24 months, the demand has tripled with the number of consumers trying to get tilt-turn windows. Architects are starting to get a bit more educated about the product and how extremely user-friendly it is.”
Revenew points out that his company’s tilt-turn hardware provides options to the aluminum market, which has arguably taken a back seat to other materials like wood and vinyl, which have more volume. “Aluminum producers are using some of the same hardware they’ve been using for 30 years and we’re trying to change that a bit with these products,” he says.
STILL, NOT ALL ABOUT LOOKS
Another trend among casement windows in all segments of the market—not just high-end, custom homes—is that windows are drastically increasing in size, suppliers highlight. Bigger windows means more daylight in the home, or better views of the landscape, but it also means hardware has to be engineered to meet the requirements of larger designs. “Traditionally, you couldn’t build that size window other than in a double-hung,” says Dallmann. “Now, with the heavier-duty hardware, you’re able to build casements to fit those same openings.”
G-U’s Alexander points out that bigger windows are driving an up tick in the demand for multipoint hardware. “If the window is bigger, the glass is bigger,” he says. “The multipoint ties in well with that for the obvious reason of ease of operation.”
Today’s casement hardware also has to keep up with the performance requirements of coastal markets, which is why many suppliers are reporting an increased demand in stainless steel operators. More manufacturers are offering stainless steel as a standard offering, rather than the typical upgrade, to avoid warranty issues down the road. “In the last year and a half, we’ve seen a lot more demand for stainless steel,” says Gilson.
“Some customers are taking stainless steel and making it their standard,” adds Koch. “They might not know where these windows are going. They’re opting for stainless steel to eliminate the service call from North Carolina when the hardware has rusted up.”
And while the coastal markets may be driving the demand for stainless steel arms, other regions’ manufacturers are sitting up to take notice of the performance of these products as well, Alexander notes. “Whether it’s stainless steel or high performance finishes, they’re definitely more mainstream,” he says. “Performance is an issue for the industry in general.”
Stainless steel is also a talking point for selling, Dallmann says. “It’s still premium customers that are adopting stainless steel as a standard to have a perceived edge over their competitors,” he says. “In a way, they’re adopting stainless steel to make it easier to sell their product. They don’t have to explain the life expectancy of painted finishes on steel—when they say the product is stainless steel, it sells itself.”
As the demands on the industry evolve, so too will the components that make up windows and doors, notes Ashland’s Pettit. “Long gone are the days for DP-20 hardware rating,” he says. “Hardware technology has taken a dramatic leap to raise the standard up to DP-50 and beyond. Hardware needs to handle not only larger size windows, but also heavier sashes that include upgraded glass strength and options.”
Window hardware may never reach the point where consumers recognize it by brand, but it is being looked at more closely. Suppliers expect at the very least that manufacturers and their customers will continue to demand more of hardware, in terms of performance and aesthetics. “I suppose it’s no different than any other industry,” says Kottke. “A good car mechanic will know the good components that make up a quality product.”
The Next Intel Inside?
Certainly, component suppliers are stepping up branding efforts in recent years within the industry to gain manufacturers’ attention. Going back to hardware with changeable cover options, suppliers rolled out these products in big ways with across-the-board branding efforts—trade shows, mailings, advertising.
While these efforts were primarily aimed at producers, the messages have rippled down the supply chain as well. “We’re getting increased requests for alternate orders,” Truth’s Dallmann says. “A lot of our customers are getting requests from their field people about this. They’ve seen the product in magazines and various competitors’ products, so it is traveling down through the industry.”
Gilson says Roto’s campaign for its new casement offering has had far-reaching effects as well. “We’ve gotten the most phone calls based on a new product that we’ve ever received.”
With the interest these suppliers are drumming up concerning new hardware options, is it possible that the industry will see, in the coming decades, window and door hardware become the next “Intel Inside?”
“We need to stay on top of our game if they’re going to specify hardware,” Revenew says of end buyers. “I really don’t think it’ll happen in the next 10 years, but it’s possibly a trend that will start turning as new blood in the architectural world helps promote this change.”
Alexander doesn’t see end users demanding specific brands of window hardware at this point, but he does acknowledge that trends in other, better-branded building products like kitchen and bath fixtures filter into window and door hardware trends. “I don’t know from a component standpoint if we are to where consumers are asking specifically for hardware from particular vendors,” he says. “But we follow the market, for sure. The kitchen and bath sets the standard. Whatever finishes are popular now in kitchen and bath are going to be popular in the window industry.”
Brand recognition among builders and homeowners may be years away, but several hardware suppliers, including G-U, make a point to exhibit at end user trade shows, such as the recent International Builders’ Show in Orlando. “We’re there to exhibit to the exhibitors,” Alexander says, “but we also get a little pull through business as well when builders ask where they can find our hardware. We point them to our customers in their area.”
Still, while suppliers primarily target their educational marketing messages to manufacturers at this point, most anticipate the day that the marketing goes beyond the producers. “Roto in Europe has started that campaign,” Koch says. “They’ve started going directly to the homeowner and saying, ‘We have a tilt-turn package for your child’s room that only tilts in from the top.’ To take it to the next level, or the level after that, that’s the trick.”