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"Why Peter van Cronenburg is the design worlds go-to for hardware and handles", H&G Magazine

What is fascinating about handles is that they are an architectural element that concentrates so much on something so small. They can fit into the palm of your hand and yet they speak of the history of the building, the owner's taste and the time they were made.' Peter van Cronenburg and his partner Régine Yvergneaux are extolling the virtues of hardware from their workshop in Ghent. The van Cronenburg collection consists of thousands of models, from sixteenth-century Venetian door handles to Shaker knobs and Bauhaus latches, but, accourding to Peter, they all have one thing in common: 'They have been designed and created according to a purity of shape, function and proportion.'

Peter started his career in the early Eighties as a cabinetmaker; he specialised in panelling, libraries and interior doors. Hinges and handles formed the basis for much of his work, but he could rarely find the hardware he wanted - the market was saturated with pieces that 'were too nineteenth century, with a mechanical finish and artificial patina'. So he started collecting historical items in order to reproduce them. A second building, just behind the workshop, now houses this collection. Row upon row of shelves are packed with handles, knobs, draw pulls, escutcheons, latches, bells, door plates and numbers - an invaluable reference library for Peter and his team, who use these models to inform their own designs.

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In 2008, Peter and Régine quit their day jobs (Régine had been an antiques dealer after working in banking) and turned this sideline into a fully fledged business. In the years since, the collection has grown at a rate they couldn't have imagined; their list of clients is as gilded as their designs and a very well-kept secret, although Peter does concede that Ilse Crawford is longterm collaborator. 'We have shown our handles to the world,' he says proudly. 'They have travelled the globe on yachts, been installed up Swiss mountains and overlook the Hollywood sign.'

The demand for van Cronenburg's products shows little sign of abating. In March last year, the company opened a showroom in New York and the team spent much of their time on the Eurostar flitting back and forth between London and Belgium.

Back in the Ghent workspace, headed by veteran craftsman Alex Lambert, a cacophony of grumbling and grinding machines is interjected by the occasional high-pitched shriek as brass is polished, while the constant thud of hammering signifies detail being chased back into metal.

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Until recently, casting took place on site, but noise complaints from neighbours and workers suffering from constant colds due to the damp forced Peter and Régine to relocate this part of the process to a foundry in France. Pieces arrive in Ghent with a hard-surface crust - this is removed, the seams left from casting are ground down and the piece is then filed - or if it is round, hand turned. Depending on style and shape, it is then brushed and polished before the detail is chased back in, the piece is then plated or patina is applied by hand. This element is key: 'Turn a rich, gold-finished piece to gunmetal and it becomes country; use chrome for a Renaissance handle and it instantly becomes modern.'

Chasing can take up to three hours per handle. Serge Sushnikov, who is responsible for this part of the process, uses an arsenal of tools including tracers, embossers and rifloirs to make between 5,000 and 10,000 knocks a day; with each knock delicate indents gradually form and out of the 'spongy' brass springs a berry, a leaf, the mane of a lion, or a sharp line.

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"Our handles have travelled the globe on yachts and been installed up Swiss mountains"

Peter van Cronenburg

Peter and his team scour flea markets and eBay for old tools made from strong steel. 'Today's alloys aren't strong enough,' he explains, 'so we use old equipment and cut it to make our own tooling.' For every new design, a new instrument is made and every worker has their own set with wooden handles specifically shaped to fit his palm.

It is the handmade element that makes this hardware so special. It is imperative that machines don't dictate the design. 'At van Cronenburg, we are striving for the perfect imperfection,' says Peter. With over 20,000 designs under his belt and a rapidly expanding empire, he has clearly found the recipe for success.

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