Getting a Handle on Handles

If you think door handles are all the same, then you haven’t a) been looking very closely, b) ever gotten stuck with a doorknob in your hand, or c) crossed very many thresholds. In fact, the door handles of your home or office can make or break your interior design. Door handles can range from the old-fashioned to the avant-garde, from round wooden objects to straight metal slivers. Even the movie people know about the importance of door handles. Take Quantum of Solace, the latest James Bond film, wherein 007 traps a villain in a bathroom by completely busting the door handle.

SOM New York Duemilasette. Designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill for Valli & Valli.

So, they matter—that’s all I’m saying—and Valli & Valli agrees: “The handle, as conceived by Valli & Valli, has traditionally conveyed a home’s style and functional elegance and, as a decorative object therein, will remain an important element of interior décor well into the future.” It needs to remain important, since our entering and exiting depends upon it.


Everyone loves a rags-to-riches story and Valli & Valli offers one that nobody can resist. Mr. Pasquale Valli began his vision by securing employment in an umbrella factory in Italy, where he learned that a handle isn’t just for holding. As an aesthetic object, the handle can also do more than fit nicely in one’s grip. Under Valli, “fancy took flight. The handle articulated the true personality of the umbrella.” If you think this is not so, then you can’t be familiar with luxury umbrellas (or antique), which make of the handle a true art. From ivory odalisques to amber frogs, umbrella handles define the look of the entire package. After Mr. Valli’s time at the factory, he became “fascinated with the ergonomic relationship between hand and object”—a fascination that led him to study sculpture. From sculpture he leaped into entrepreneurship, founding Valli & Valli.

The flagship collection known as Fusital employs famous architects and designers, continuing Mr. Valli’s insistence on craftsmanship. One of their new handles demands attention: the H 359 SOM New York Duemilasette, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). Made of solid brass, the H 359 is finished in satin or polished chrome. Valli & Valli explains the handle’s design: “The handle’s shape is a single broad stroke that implies the motion required to operate it. The twisting shape morphs from a cylinder to an ellipse to comfortably accommodate the hand while announcing the function.” The thoughtfulness behind H 359’s summary is a result of SOM’s incredible staff. The architects behind the Cathedral of Christ the Light and the Infinity Tower in Dubai, with offices all over the world (from New York to Shanghai), SOM obviously designed the door handle they needed, wanted, even dreamed of for themselves. In doing so, they have gifted everyone else with a gorgeous door handle, reminding me of the commercial where a customer asks a famous architect to design a home built around a faucet. I don’t think SOM would appreciate anyone building backwards in such fashion, but their handle might just be worthy of it.

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