Wondering how to achieve that clean, hardware-free look for your cabinetry? Touch latches may be the answer. These ingenious contraptions are mounted behind cabinet doors, enabling them to open and close with a gentle push. Sound too go to be true? Touch-latch hardware has its fans and detractors. Here's why.
Above: In a remodeled Brooklyn kitchen by Oliver Freundlich of Oliver Freundlich Design, the island is fronted by shallow storage cabinets that have touch-latch openings so they look invisible. See more at Cobble Hill Kitchen Makeover, Before and After. Image by Matthew Williams for Remodelista.
What is touch-latch hardware?
A touch latch is composed of two parts: a latch mechanism and a corresponding strike plate. These latches can be used on a wide variety of doors, ranging from single- and double-cabinet doors to large solid-slab doors. They're usually paired with Concealed Hinges for a complete, hardware-free look.
Above: A remodeled kitchen in Austin, Texas, by architects Rick and Cindy Black, includes a pantry wall of teak-fronted cabinets that are concealed thanks to touch-latch hardware. Image by Whit Preston via Rick and Cindy Black Architects.
How do touch latches work?
There are two types of touch latches: mechanical and magnetic. Both use springs to drive cabinet doors open. (The strength of the springs—their push and pull force—is measured in pounds; it's important to have a pound rating that provides enough power, or "throw," to open your doors.)
Mechanical: Mechanical touch latches use a ratchet and spring mechanism. When the door is closed, the ratchet engages and holds the door closed. When tapped or touched, the ratchet releases and the spring mechanism pushes the door open. A benefit of mechanical touch latches is that they can't be accidentally opened by objects falling against the inside of a cabinet door (a good thing for those living in earthquake zones). But they are finicky; the pin and the ratchet need to be perfectly aligned.
Magnetic: The more commonly used magnetic touch latch employs a magnet at the end of a spring-loaded plunger. When the door is closed, the plunger is pushed inside its casing, compressing the spring behind it. The plunger is held in place by a small catch, and the door stays closed because of the magnetic plate that clings to the top of the plunger. When the door is pushed, the plunger is compressed slightly, disengaging it from the stop and releasing the spring, which pushes the plunger out and the door open. N.B.: This hardware is not to be confused with the commonly used magnetic catches that hold cabinet doors closed but have no opening mechanism; they require a door handle or pull.
Above: Touch latches by Japanese hardware company Sugatsune include the Sugatsune Magnetic Touch Latch for Small Doors (L), with a pull force of 2.6 pounds, and the Sugatsune Mechanical Touch Latch (R), with a pull force of 6.6 pounds; $2.65 and $4.99, respectively, at Woodworkers Hardware (more sizes and styles available).
Above: An all-white kitchen with touch-latch cabinetry in a Brooklyn loft designed by Alloy in collaboration with Marco Pasanella and Rebecca Robertson. Tour the space in our post A Whimsical Family Loft in Dumbo. Image by Matthew Williams for Remodelista.
How do you install touch-latch hardware?
Installing touch latches is simple. The latch is placed (with screws) inside the cabinet or door frame so the plunger is flush with the front of the frame when it is in the closed position. The latch is typically positioned near a corner, in an area where it will be out of the way. The corresponding plate is screwed to the inside of the door.
This Old House offers a great tip for placing the strike plate: "To position the plate properly on the inside of the door, color the back of the plate with a chalk, lipstick, or a felt-tipped marker, then affix the plate to the latch, the marker side facing out. When you close the door, the inked plate will leave a slight mark on the inside of the door where the plate should be positioned."
Above: A magnetic touch latch installed in the lower corner of a bottom cabinet. Image via Rockler Woodworking and Hardware.
Where are the best places to use touch-latch hardware?
Touch-latch hardware is most commonly found in kitchen and bathroom cabinets. There are considerations to make before you race to equip your home; some situations are better suited than others for touch-latch hardware. Here are some questions to ask.
- Will you be accessing the cabinet frequently while cooking? If so, touch latches may not be the way to go because cabinets will get smudged by greasy hands.
- Is your cabinet high gloss or mirrored? Speaking from experience (my mirrored bathroom cabinet has a touch latch), fingerprints are a huge issue.
- Is the visual impact of no visible hardware key to a section of your kitchen? Upper cabinets and island cabinets are often great choices for touch-latch hardware.
- Do you have storage closets and cupboards in high-traffic areas? Protruding hardware can be a hip or shoulder hazard, which touch latches avoid.
- Are you furnishing a minimalist interior? Touch latches are a good solution for a custom credenza or clean-lined office cupboard.
Above: Henrybuilt, maker of custom kitchens, furniture, and storage systems, tends to limit the use of touch-latch hardware to upper cabinets that are not accessed often. "Anything with a soft-closing mechanism (which is what we use on our doors and drawers), doesn’t work well with a touch-latch. And below counter height, touch latches can get bumped by knees and hips and opened accidentally, which gets annoying," says Henrybuilt vice president, Chris Barriatua. "Once you factor in all the practical considerations, touch latches are only right for limited applications." Image via Henrybuilt.
Above: Space is at a premium in designer Tim Clarke's attic bedroom. To keep storage hidden, he designed his closets and shelving behind tongue-and-groove paneling with invisible touch-latch doors. Image via House Beautiful.
Above: Hardware can look fussy on clean-lined furniture, such as this floating credenza, a DIY project from the Brick House that makes use of touch latches.
Is all touch-latch hardware created equal?
Not at all. The market is flooded with inexpensive, poorly made hardware that's to be avoided. A 99-cent touch latch might be enticing (especially if you're outfitting a number of cabinets), but going cheap will likely cost you more in the long run when replacements are required. Touch latches are a hardworking piece of machinery with small parts and latches that need to stay in alignment. It's worth investing in hardware that's made from high-quality materials and built for durability.
Above: The gold standard: Industrial Touch Latches, shown here in closed and open positions, from Austin's St. Louis Designs, a company that manufactures latches for use in aviation (think Learjets) and marine interiors. Made in the US, their hardware uses noncorrosive alloys with titanium components and is engineered for precision, high-load, and longevity. It's reflected in the price: $95 per latch from Better Building Hardware. But with a 12-pound opening force, one of these latches is all you need for a full-size, solid-core door.
Are there alternative ways to achieve the no-hardware cabinet look?
Yes, here are two good options.
Use minimalist hardware. Consider discreet cabinet hardware, such as edge pulls that practically disappear. "When our clients mention wanting a kitchen with no pulls—a common request—the first thing we do is dig in a little to figure out what’s behind that. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it’s not really about no pulls, it’s about making sure the hardware is cohesive with the rest of the design," says Henrybuilt's Chris Barriatua.
Go hardware-less. When it comes to cabinets, San Francisco designer Dagmar Daley advises "getting rid of the dog and pony show." Daley likes cabinets with simple beveled edges on top for fingers to grab. "Go basic: It keeps costs down and there are fewer things that can break."
Above: Dagmar Daley's kitchen has a streamlined wall of walnut cabinets and drawers. Instead of invisible hardware, openings have beveled edges at the tops that take the place of pulls and knobs. Tour the kitchen in the Remodelista book. Image by Matthew Williams for Remodelista.
Touch-Latch Hardware Recap
- Invisible, creating a hardware-free look.
- Easy to use.
- Mechanical touch latches prevent cabinets from opening when knocked from the inside (an earthquake-safety plus).
- Can open when accidentally bumped.
- Can result in fingerprints and smudges on doors.
- Does not work with soft-closing drawer and door mechanisms.
- Wears out faster than other types of hardware.
Considering cabinetry? A must-read from our resident architect, Christine: 5 Questions to Ask When Choosing Kitchen Cabinets.