What direction should lever-style door handles be oriented? According to this guy on YouTube, the traditional way is "middle of the curve up, end of the curve down", which "looks better", but you can do it the other way "for disabilities".

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My thought is that a "middle of the curve down, end of the curve up" doesn't look better or worse, but it is a little bit better UX, in that the hand coming from above can get a better grip on the handle, regardless of disability.

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If that's the case, why does the other way seem to be more popular? Obviously, consistency is most important, but if doing all doors, which way should I choose?

7 Answers 7


Use your ADA manual fella's. The upward curve on the handle end could get hung up on a disabled person's cuff, clothing, wrist watch, hand bag, etc. Usually not much of a big deal, right? Unill the building is on fire or a natural disaster, earthquake. Anything can happen in race for life. ADA people need all the help they can get in a calamity, residential, institutional or commercial

  • 2
    Well, anyone's clothing or what-not -- remember that universal access benefits everyone :> Apr 11, 2018 at 11:38
  • I presume that the "upward curve" at the end is referring to the second, brass handle. Couldn't a sleeve just as easily get caught on the "downward curve" of the first, black handle?
    – FreeMan
    Nov 5, 2020 at 14:16
  • It would be great if you could provide a quote of the relevant passage from the manual. And also if possible, provide a link... so much of the time a standard might say something "should" be done, or "must" be done, or "may" be done a certain way, or further passages may include exceptions. I'm not saying that's the case here, but if you provided an exact quote, and a link, readers could be confident they're getting all the information. Mar 19, 2021 at 2:18

If you look at the palm of your hand, you will see that it is concave. Generally you therefore want the majority of the handle to have middle of the curve up, ends of the curve down.

In the top handle it is clear that this has been done.

In the bottom handle it is less clear, as the majority of the handle seems to be flat. What curves there are at the end would suggest from my logic that it's been installed upside-down... but its installation doesn't look wrong to me. In fact it looks right - the curves at the end look more decorative than practical to me.

I'd therefore suggest that I'd install the handle however it was designed. Both handles in your images look to me to have been installed the way up they have been designed.

There are sometimes other clues as to which way up a handle is designed to be installed.

In the top handle you can see that the handle is narrower at the bottom than the top; this is therefore installed the correct way up. You wouldn't want the the top of the handle digging into your hand as you pushed the handle down, you want your hand to land on a nice flat surface. This helps the confidence that the top handle is installed correctly, but it unfortunately doesn't help with the bottom handle, which is the one I'm less sure of!

Sometimes the top face of a handle isn't horizontal, but is at an angle sloping down towards the door (i.e. sloping away from you). The reason for this is that your arm is generally pointing downwards (your shoulder is higher than the handle, unless you're a small child) and hence it is less comfortable (requires less angle in your wrist) to not have to rotate your hand to horizontal. This doesn't apply to either handle you have pictured.

  • Do you open doors with the palm of your hand? I usually use my fingers. Apr 11, 2018 at 20:34
  • @PatrickSzalapski - Yes and no. The top part of my palm (directly under my knuckles) goes on top of the handle, my fingers then wrap round. The top part of my palm does still exhibit the concavity, but to a lesser extent than the main palm.
    – AndyT
    Apr 12, 2018 at 11:48

I don't think it makes much difference.

Assuming no disability (you are opening the door with a fully working hand, not a stick or your foot, or unable to grip things), the first option (curved up) is a bit easier to open.

In the first image, I would grab the handle with my left hand, with my wrist starting slightly rotated clockwise, and rotate it counterclockwise to open it.

In the second image, I would grab the handle with my right hand, with my wrist starting slight rotated clockwise, and rotate it further clockwise to open it.

So in the bottom image, I have to rotate my wrist further past it's normal center. The top image puts the motion on either side of center, meaning I don't need as much range of motion in my wrist. But the difference is still tiny.

If I had disabilities to deal with, the curled stub at the end might help keep my hand on the doorknob with the curve down. Or I could just push it up from the bottom with my hand/stub/stick/whatever and get the same effect.

  • I think the second image is atypical--usually, both orientations make the overall appearance "horizontal" like the first image. Does this change your answer? Feb 19, 2015 at 15:41
  • 1
    I realize the second image is taken at a different angle, if that's what you mean. The pivot point of the handle and the curled ball at the end make a roughly horizontal line in either orientation. Doesn't change my answer. The orientation in the top image means I don't have to rotate my wrist as far.
    – Grant
    Feb 19, 2015 at 15:45
  • So would an optimal UX be the bottom image, but with the lever assembly designed so the lever points at 2 o'clock instead of mostly horizontal? In other words, the best of both? Feb 19, 2015 at 15:53
  • 2
    If I were going to redesign it, I'd have it installed like the first photo, but the curled bit at the end either split off so there's one on the top and bottom, or larger so it covers both sides. That way my hand doesn't slide off no matter whether I push it up or pull it down.
    – Grant
    Feb 19, 2015 at 16:16
  • Both images are handles designed for right hand to turn clockwise.
    – AndyT
    Apr 11, 2018 at 8:34

I'm in the middle of replacing all knobs in my home and doing levers on the french doors and non-locking closets.

My first intuition was to go with the first option (middle of the curve up, end of the curve down). For what it's worth, I think the aesthetic of the handle looks more natural...it just seems like that's how they're designed to be placed. A lot of pictures of nicer homes on pinterest and general image searches will support this.

That being said, I like the other way (middle of curve down end of handle up) for straight usability. The lever in this position is curved to "catch" your hand and responds nicely. The other way (middle of the curve up, end of the curve down) seems less usable - where your hand can kind of slide off the end of the handle before the lever has done it's job.

I think the other factor is what type of handle design you are using. I have selected a modern look with very subtle curvature. It looks good either way. I can see more decorative/Victorian models with a more flared curvature looking much better the more traditional way (middle of the curve up, end of the curve down).

So - as everyone said - it comes down to preference. I ended up asking wifey which she preferred and she liked the more usable, less common way (middle of the curve down, end of the curve up). So, that (as we all know) is the determining factor :)


Tradition (historic levers) and ergonomic design would dictate that the curve goes up.

If you look at levers from the "Queen Anne" period or other historic periods, the curve is "up".

When you place your hand on a lever, it's placed at the end of the lever, (not near the pivot point,) and therefore the curve should be up so the natural curve of the hand ergonomically "fits" to the handle.

Plus, that's the way they are in my house....

  • Plus, that's the way they are in my house.... That's the real answer ;)
    – atconway
    Jul 3, 2018 at 17:18

Searching “contoured door handle orientation” in Google Images, has multiple example mixed in with various levered and knob-style handles. All of the examples, like the style in question, are oriented as in the First example here. The oiled bronze with the apex of the curve upward. Seems backward to me, but this seems to be the consensus according to my limited “research”. 100% with the lever terminating downward.

  • Hello, and welcome to Home Improvement. Thanks for the answer; keep 'em coming. And, you should probably take our tour so you'll know the details of contributing here. Feb 29, 2020 at 11:29

For residential fixed French door type handles it is your preference. For operating locksets some may find curve up is more natural for operation.

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