A staircase isn’t just a practical structure which lets us move between floors. It’s also an important interior design element and, as such, deserves our full attention.
Today we’re focusing on stair railings, specifically on a few very impressive and inspiring makeover projects. They show how easy the transformation is and how big of an impact it can have on a home’s decor and ambiance.
Common railing materials
As you probably know from experience, handrails and railings can be of several different types and can be made from various different materials. Each type has its own pros and cons. Let’s go over some of the most common ones.
This is typically the material of choice when it comes to industrial staircases and it’s also a material typically associated with durability and strength. Steel is also one of the safest materials for handrails and railings because of that. These require very little maintenance and can be easily cleaned. Moreover, steel railings are weather-resistant and are suitable for both indoor and outdoor spaces.
Some of the cons associated with steel railings include the raised cost compared to other more affordable materials such as wood for example as well as the increased weight which can make DIY installations difficult.
Aluminum is the next best thing if you want metal railings but you don’t want steel either because it’s too rough-looking, too heavy or for other reasons. Aluminum handrails and railings are lightweight but still strong and durable which increases their safety. They’re also weather-resistant which is a great pro is they’re exposed to the elements.
Because aluminum is lighter then steel it’s better-suited for DIY projects and also easier to cut and to install. However, it is more expensive than steel which is a pretty big disadvantage. Also, aluminum scratches and dents more easily than steel so keep that in mind.
You’ve probably seen this material being used for railings and you may have thought it looked classic and elegant. Wrought iron adds a sophisticated look to staircases and is really great if you want to achieve a more retro design. It is of course very versatile and can also look great in a modern context. Like other metals, it’s strong and durable but quite expensive as well.
Wrought iron handrails and railings are also heavy which makes installation more difficult and increases the overall cost. Unlike steel or aluminum however, it requires more maintenance because it can rust.
Of course, we can’t talk about stairs without mentioning wood. It’s a classic, traditional material used for not just the stairs but also the posts, the railings and the handrails and it’s very versatile. There’s a variety of different types of wood to choose from and each has its own unique characteristics.
Wood is a naturally beautiful material and doesn’t need a lot of help to stand out. You can however stain or paint the railings to match the staircase and the rest of the décor. Wood railings are also quite affordable and easy to install and to maintain. It can however appear outdated in some cases.
One of the best railing materials for modern and contemporary designs is glass. It may not look very durable and save but it’s actually a lot tougher than it seems. There’s a few varieties of glass to choose from such as clear, tinted, frosted or etched which gives you more design options.
The main advantage that glass railings offer is the fact that they add a safety barrier but they don’t obstruct the view. They also let the light pass through them, they act as a wind barrier and they’re versatile and easy to clean.
Of course, glass is fragile so there’s always the possibility that it can get damaged during transport or installation and that presents a risk, especially for DIY projects.
Common railing types
Picket stair railings – these are the most common type of railings which are usually used in residences but also in commercial areas, offices and more. They’re very versatile and easy to install and they’re also inexpensive overall. The main disadvantage that they tend to have is their bland and dated look.
Multi-line stair railings – these consist of multiple horizontal rods which connect the railing posts. These can be made from various materials and can have different sizes and styles. They have a clean, simple and timeless look but they’re not as safe as other types because they can be quite easily climbed by children.
Cable stair railings – these have either horizontal or vertical metal cables instead of the more common pickets or panels and these act as a barrier or railing. You can pair them with lots of different types of handrails and posts. They’re versatile, durable and strong and they require minimal maintenance plus they don’t obstruct the view. They are however quite expensive and they require professional installation.
Wire mesh railings – as you can probably tell, these railings consist of panels of wire mesh which are welded onto a solid frame. They can be made from various different metals and they can have different sizes and shapes, allowing you to customize the design. They’re really great because they’re very safe and durable but at the same time they allow for ventilation and visibility. The main disadvantage here would be the cost which gets higher if the panels are custom-made.
Panel railings – these are similar to wire mesh railings but can be made from various different materials, not just metal. Glass panels are a frequent option. Panel railings are safe, easy to maintain and they’re great for customizing the design of the staircase. Compared to other types of railings however they can be a bit more expensive.
Simplify an outdated look
It’s not very often than we replace stair railings since they’re meant to be durable and long-lasting for safety reasons. When we do replace them it’s most likely because they look outdated, like this
Try a more modern aesthetic
Another wonderful makeover project that we really like was featured on welcome-to-the-woods. The new railing is made of steel conduit and MDF. It has a simpler and more modern appearance compared to the old, more traditional design. The change influences the entire house, not just the staircase. The spaces in its immediately vicinity look and feel a lot more open, bright and welcoming.
An aesthetic transformation
A staircase makeover doesn’t necessarily have to imply the replacement of the old railings with new structures. The transformation can be purely aesthetic and can be done using nothing more than paint. For example, if you want to update the look of your old oak stairs to make them better-suited for a modern environment, consider using white paint to give the stairs and the railings a fresh makeover. Check out seasidesundays to see how it could all look like in the end.
Change the pattern of the posts
If you’re planning a staircase makeover, consider refreshing the look of the railings by changing the pattern or orientation of the posts. It’s easier to understand this by visualizing such a look so check out magnolia to see a very suggestive example. Originally the staircase railings featured an array of vertical wooden posts and the new design plays with horizontal lines large-scale geometric patterns.
Add a handrail
You can also update the look of your staircase without even touching the stairs just by adding a simple handrail. It doesn’t have to look sophisticated or to be flashy in any way, especially if you’re doing this for the basement staircase. A simple handrail made of metal pipes and fittings would be just perfect. Check out imgur to find out how to make one from scratch.
Add some color and texture to the design
Want to add a little bit of color to your staircase and at the same time make the handrail soft and pleasant to the touch? How about a yarn cozy? You could use a knitted blanket. Just wrap the blanket around the handrail, stitch the edges together and then trim the excess. It’s that simple. This awesome idea comes from blogalacart.
A big change without structural modifications
If you want to give your staircase railings a complete makeover without actually replacing anything, there’s one particularly creating idea you could use and it comes from remodelaholic. Basically the suggestion here is to cover up the existing posts and to conceal them behind a brand new design.
Try something completely different
An entirely different idea is to replace the staircase railings with something else, like a bookcase. This actually makes a lot of sense, especially if you plan on using the area at the top of the stairs as a sort of open reading nook. Just make sure you secure the shelving to the floor properly and that everything is safe and durable. You can find details about this makeover on justcallmehomegirl.
Add railings to an exterior staircase
Things are quite different if the railings you plan on building are for an exterior staircase. For example, let’s say you want to add railings to the deck stairs. That shouldn’t be too complicated but a lot of the ideas we showed you today don’t really apply here. You’ll be interested to check out the project featured on bowtospecialist for some useful tips in this case.
Replace the treads to change the look
Replacing the treads on the stairs can be a change that really makes a difference and turns an old and outdated-looking staircase into one that’s refreshingly different. A very inspiring redesign in this sense is featured on tmoorehome. Here you can see how the old staircase was carpeted which gave a bulky and less than appealing look. The remodel brings out the beauty in its original design.
Incorporate reclaimed materials
Another really cool and interesting idea is to build stairs out of wooden crates or, to make things easier, to paint the existing wooden stairs so they look like crates. The beauty in this design strategy is that you get to showcase the logos and designs on the crates and mix them to create an eclectic and unique staircase design. Complement that with a simple railing and it will look magnificent. Check out funkyjunkinteriors to find out more about this project.
Add some carpet
Carpet can add a lot of character to a staircase but can also interfere with its design in a way that’s not so inspiring or aesthetically pleasing. Whether you’re installing or removing carpet from your stairs, it needs to be done with care and attention.
More inspiring design ideas
Hang some pictures on the wall
A classic wooden staircase can sometimes be the answer if you want the entryway to look welcoming without standing out in a weird and unconventional way. To capture that classical and traditional feel even more you can hang picture frames on the wall as the stairs go up. This example by Jill Wolff Interior Design could be a nice source of inspiration.
A clean geometry
On the other hand, contemporary space is defined by a certain type of simplicity that classical staircases just don’t have. This particular style exemplified here by DKOR Interiors sums it up: a clean geometry, sharp and straight lines and a clear glass railing on only one side. It’s not symmetrical or common but it’s not overly unusual either.
Make the most of a traditional design
Going back to traditional staircases, they have a certain unmatched charm that really makes a space feel like a home. The way in which the ornate posts line up with the stairs, the handrail that follows the contour in a smooth way and the use of wood as a primary material all contribute to make staircases like the one designed by Lorraine G Vale look just right in a lot of different setups.
Use rustic charm in your favor
Here’s an example of a rustic staircase which is also a really great style if you want to add more warmth and character to a space. It’s designed by Crisp Architects and although it has a lot of the usual rustic characteristics infused into its structure it also has a certain modern flair added by the railings. They’re slender and contrast with the robust wooden posts.
Opt for a spiral staircase to save space
Spiral staircases are often appreciated for their space-efficiency and the fact that they can fit in tiny spaces, like this one for example. A traditional staircase would have taken up too much space but something as sleek and slender as this is barely noticeable. The railing smoothly follows the stairs and bends and turns along with them, helping to highlight the stylish silhouette of this design even more. This is an interior remodel by SV Design.
Let the railing stand out
Another example of a contemporary staircase design can be seen here and in this case it’s the railing that takes center stage. It’s made of metal and painted black which allows it to contrast with the white walls. The design has a graphical and eye-catching look with an emphasis on simplicity. It’s a design by studio McRae Lambert Dunn.
Mix several styles together
A staircase doesn’t need to be big in order to stand out or to add something to the design and décor around it. It also doesn’t have to follow a single particular style. In this case a hybrid design was chosen by Glenn Layton Homes which combines elements of modern and traditional design. The cable railing in particular stands out.
Because cable railings tend to be more tricky compared to other types, they’re best left to a professional. Of course, that doesn’t mean it would be impossible to install them yourself. If you’d like to give this a try, there’s a tutorial on garrisonstreetdesignstudio which specifically demonstrates how you can build and install cable railings from scratch.
Horizontal railings are a really nice option if you want to break up the super straight and flat lines of the walls and the ceiling and to add some diagonals to your décor. The design featured on clarkandaldine is quite simple itself but it stands out visually. Check out the tutorial to find out how this was built.
Vertical railings like the ones featured on thoughtfullylovely have their own simple and stylish way of standing out. These are made of iron and they’re sleek and slender which means they don’t obstruct the visibility but still provide a strong safety wall. Also, the combination between iron and wood is well-balanced and looks beautiful in a lot of different contexts.
You can also build outdoor railings from scratch and it could actually be easier compared to the indoor kind. Pay attention to the materials used. These should be weather-resistant, strong and durable. There’s plenty of options to choose from. Steel conduit railings like the ones featured in this tutorial from instructables offer many advantages one of which is their low cost.
Changing the railings on your staircase has a much bigger impact on the overall look and feel of the space than you might think. In this video tutorial from Mr. Built It you can clearly see how the new railing design makes the staircase and the area around it feel more open and airy and give it a more modern overall aesthetic.
If you’re planning to replace the existing railings with new ones, you might as well consider giving the whole staircase a makeover. Surely the stairs themselves and the handrails could use some attention and you can take this opportunity to make them better match the new design of your railings. Check out this complete staircase restoration by The Restoration Couple if you need some tips and ideas for this project.
Even if the change is mainly aesthetic and you don’t really replace your railings or do any structural modifications, that can still have a big impact on your staircase. A really inspiring staircase remodel project was shared by Perspective Design Co. and shows how a fresh color palette can totally transform an old staircase and make it look amazing.
Solid panel railings or staircase walls have their advantages but they tend to make the area around them look dark and closed off. Replacing them with railings that let light through can thus prove to be a very practical and pleasing choice. This is the type of project that you could potentially do yourself from start to finish and this tutorial shared by Mech Master guides you through the entire process.
There’s also this really inspiring video by Welcome to the Woods which shows how rewarding and wonderful installing new railings on a staircase can be. This will also helpfully show you it’s not that difficult to attempt something like this yourself. The new horizontal railing design chosen here replaced the vertical and dated design and looks absolutely refreshing here.
If you want something modern and cool
As always, just because we have all these common types of railings to choose from doesn’t mean we can’t think outside the box and come up with something completely different. With that in mind, consider an abstract geometric design if you want something that looks both modern and cool.
Glass railings are one of the go-to options when it comes to modern and contemporary design. They’re highly appreciated for their transparency and you can see that being emphasized in designs that this one by Lilian H. Weinreich, Architects.
Here’s another beautiful use of glass railings, this time in the context of a big and open space. The glass helps to preserve the view throughout this area and allows light to pass through which helps the décor stay bright and airy. This was a project by Architectural Atlantic Stairs.
Metal railings and modern design also go really well together. Isn’t this wooden staircase and metal railing combo by studio David Clark Construction great? The design is simple but well-balanced. The clean and simple lines of the railing complement the soft curves of the bottom stairs.
Glass railings are an even better choice for outdoor staircases and that typically has to do with the view. This metal and glass staircase by studio Inson Dubois Wood shows how natural such a combo would look in a small backyard which also brings us to small spaces which often benefit from the use of transparent materials such as glass.