San Diego Home/Garden (November 2017) – “A New(el) Perspective”


La Jolla, CA


"A New(el) Perspective"


Marley McCaughey


November 2017


Larny Mack Photography

A New(el) Perspective

Note: IS Architecture’s work is reflected in the bottom right photo only. This staircase is from the project, West Coast Hamptons.

From a sweeping flight of steps that seems as though a procession of debutantes should be descending its gleaming incline to a minimalist structure leading to a nother level, a key factor determines much of staircases’ appearance: the railing.

When selecting the handholding portion of your staircase, contemplate the overall aesthetic that you are trying to create in your home. Glass and metal lend themselves to fans of modernism, while the warmth and classic nature of wood and iron evoke a more traditional – or even rustic – look.

It need not be an “either/or” decision. Mixint materials can lead to lovely contrasts and a space that is more inclusive to a multitude of styles. Dark wooden handrails with elaborate wrought iron scrollwork acting as siding and gleaning glass panes encased in a lighter timber offer arresting gustapositions.

The supporting structures are equally essential to take into account. A newel post, the pillar that marks the end of the baluster and handrail, is often one of two types: a box post or turned post. Box posts are rectangular and typically simplistic in design, whereas turned posts are cylindrical and often more decoratively crafted.

Classic staircases feature either a post-to-post system, in which the handrail runs between two newel posts, or an over-the-post system, where the handrail runs over the newel posts. Each has its own merits. With a post-to-post system, you can add style with detailed newel posts. An over-the-post system allows for the elegance of a volute: a horizontal scrolled end to the handrail.

If you are looking to try the latest innovation, there is a trend toward forgoing a standard railing completely and instead enclosing one side of your staircase with floor-to-ceiling vertical poles (these can be wood, cable or other metals). While this is visually striking, keep safety in mind – especially for young children and the elderly – and perhaps place a floating rail on the opposite wall.


Wood (photo bottom right on right page)

The classic railing material, wood offers the greatest variety of looks and prices, depending on the type and finish you choose. Options include carving, painting and staining to present a great diversity of appearances. Wood lends itself to a homier atmosphere. Preserving wooden railings is more time consuming than alternatives, as it is susceptible to warping and damage from termites, thus requiring protective coatings to be reapplied every few years.