By Hebe Hatton
Staircase railing ideas are all about balancing form and function. Above all, a staircase has to be safe and practical, but that's not to say it can't be beautiful too, a style statement that adds more to your home than a means to get from one floor to another.
In terms of materials available for railings, balustrades, and banisters, the choices are infinite. And you have so many options in terms of design too, plus you will need to decide if you are going to for pre-fab options or go bespoke and hire a designer to create something unique to your space. There's lots to consider. But we have made it easier by bringing together all our favorite staircases ideas, from traditional wooden railings, to minimalist glass panels. Plus, we've spoken to the experts to get all the practical information you need before deciding on the best design and material for your home.
1. Consider your home's style when choosing staircase railings
Whether you are designing a staircase from scratch or giving your current one an update, a simple place to start when deciding on the design of your staircase railings is to look to your home's style and era. More often than not the best option is to stay in keeping with the architecture of the house. So in a period property consider more traditional styles and materials like wood and wrought iron and in more contemporary homes look to sleek designs made with steel and glass.
There are of course exceptions. Modern designs can look striking in period properties, and the clash of old and new can add a beautiful centerpiece. But if you have an original staircase that's just in need of some modernizing, give it a modern twist by replacing the spindles for something more minimal.
2. Keep it sleek and simple with steel spindles
Steel is one of the most popular and practical choices for staircase railings, and you can find designs to suit any style, contemporary or traditional. If you are after a sleek, clean look, be inspired by this staircase railing idea and keep it simple with clean bold lines. Minimize visual clutter by going wider with the distance between each railing and allow light to easily flow through the space.
3. Choose a contemporary curved design
And not all staircase railings are about spindles, as this beautiful contemporary design demonstrates. If you are working with a designer or architect to design your staircase, considering going for something more sculptural. This staircase, designed by architecture studio De Rosee Sa, has a very organic feel to it. It's minimalist and the gloss white works perfect with the cool tones ash of the treads, but despite being so neutral the sweeping contours that turn down every level are so eyecatching.
4. Go for a traditional look with a wooden staircase
In a period property, it's likely you will have inherited a wooden staircase. With original staircases, we always recommend preserving the design and choosing railings that fit seamlessly with the original design by replacing almost like for like and giving the space an update with a bolder colorway. Or you could replace the spindles with something slightly less ornate if you are after more of a fuss-free look.
In this Victorian home, the original staircase railings and banister have been given a modern update in keeping with the properties by contemporary interior style. Just a coat of black paint to contrast the white walls give the traditional space more of a punch.
5. Give the traditional a twist with plywood
Wood doesn't always have to be traditional. This contemporary staircase design by David Money Architects is made from birchply, offering a sleek modern look that still adds natural texture to the otherwise very pared-back industrial living space.
Also, note how the railings are not taken all the way to the bottom of the stairs, two steps are left bare. This is a nice touch if you are designing a staircase for a small hallway or if it's in an open-plan space, as it creates more of a seamless flow and prevents the space from feeling boxed in.
6. Mix and match materials
This classic hallway idea nails that balance between old and new by mixing simple powder-coated steel spindles with a more traditional seamless curving oak banister. The slimline, straight railings are far less fussy than what would have been here originally and yet they don't look out of place or overly modern for the space. The look is elegant, simple and perfect for a period home that's been given a contemporary redesign.
7. Switch railings for glass panels
Again, a lovely idea for a smaller space or if your staircase runs through the center of your home. Opting for glass panels over spindles creates a simpler, seamless look with less visual clutter, allowing light to flow through the space uninterrupted. It's an understated look that's best suited to more modern homes, although you can opt for designs with wooden handrails that can work in more traditional spaces.
8. Go for a classic look with wrought iron
Wrought iron staircase railings, often found in period properties, add instant elegance and sophistication, and they needn't be heavy or ornate if you like a more minimal look. In this hallway, contemporary meets traditional with bold colors and contemporary artwork blending with those beautiful stone steps and original railings. The railings have been given a more modern update with a coat of cool, grey-blue.
9. Contrast staircase railings with treads
In this light and airy entryway, designed by Archos studio, simple black iron railings keep the open plan feel and create a constrast with the pale concrete staircase. Horizontal balusters also contrast the long vertical lines created by the low-hanging pendants and from a safety perspective are more effective as a guard rail on this mezzanine landing.
10. Give staircase railings a quick update with paint
A quick staircase railing idea that can completely transform your balusters without replacing them is simply to paint them. A coat of paint can take a traditional wooden staircase from heavy to chic. Darker colors work especially well for giving traditional designs a modern overhaul, as this staircase proves, and take that darker shade onto the stairs themselves too for an even more dramatic painted staircase idea. See how here though the banister remains in its original polished wood, to create a slight contrast.
What the best material for a staircase railing?
The best material for a staircase railing will depend on the look you are after, plus your budget and the materials used in the rest of your staircase design. A popular choice however, that can work with a number of styles and designs is steel. Steel railings are durable, low maintenance and versatile, ranging from slimline spindles to more ornate traditional designs. Other metals like aluminum and wrought iron are also good options from staircase railings.
Wood is another popular material for staircase railings often chosen for more traditional styles however wood can be paired with other materials for a more contemporary look. The benefit of wood is it's versatile, there are lots of different options and it can be stained or painted to suit any style, it's also one of the most affordable choices too.
'Pine is commonly used for stair balustrades but oak has become the timber of choice in recent years.' explains Zoe Goff of staircases designers Richard Burbidge. 'A popular option for consumers is to mix and match materials rather than just choose one timber type. For example, painted balusters with a luxurious oak handrail are a great option or an oak handrail with a glass infill or sleek black balusters. Glass can help make a smaller hallway look much bigger by giving the illusion of space.'
How much does a staircase railing cost?
The cost of staircase railings will come down to the material you use and whether you can going bespoke or opting for a kit. It will also depend of course, on the length of your staircase too.
Just talking materials, the most expensive choice out of the most used materials would be wrought iron, glass can be pricey too if you want uninterrupted sheets of glazing. Steel is a slightly cheaper option and wood tends to be the cheapest. But there are other costs to factor in to, like if you are working with a designer or carpenter plus the labor costs for installing the staircase.
Hebe is the Digital Editor of Livingetc; she has a background in lifestyle and interior journalism and a passion for renovating small spaces. You'll usually find her attempting DIY, whether it's spray painting her whole kitchen, don't try that at home, or ever changing the wallpaper in her hallway. Livingetc has been such a huge inspiration and has influenced Hebe's style since she moved into her first rental and finally had a small amount of control over the decor and now loves being able to help others make decisions when decorating their own homes. Last year she moved from renting to owning her first teeny tiny Edwardian flat in London with her whippet Willow (who yes she chose to match her interiors...) and is already on the lookout for her next project.
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