Choosing the perfect ornamental railings for your home is somewhat like accessorizing an outfit. Railings are finishing touches that should complement and not overwhelm the look of a house. The term "railings" encompasses exterior and interior stair balustrades as well as fencing for yards, porches, decks and balconies. It is important to consider the period and style of a home when selecting railings to dress it up tastefully. In addition, homeowners need to consider what materials are suitable and affordable, such as concrete, wood, metal, vinyl and glass.
Cutout panels and elaborately turned wood spindles and banisters decorate the stairs and porch railings of Victorian homes. Ornamentation is so plentiful in Victorian construction that it is often referred to as having a "gingerbread" look. Stairs and porches of simpler 20th century styles such as Craftsmen bungalows tend to have heavier porch finishes such as solid brick or stucco walls topped with wooden columns rising up to the roofline. One-story, suburban ranch-style homes often have no railings, especially if stairs and porches are minimal or nonexistent.
While the boxy, flat-roofed International style that originated in the 1920s features railings, they are often made of sleek, tubular metal that one historical society describes as being "suggestive" of railings on an ocean liner. Newer high-tech railing styles even incorporate glass panels in place of pickets and spindles, to keep views from being obscured. Although Italianate and Spanish Colonial architecture are quite different, they share a passion for fancy wrought-iron railings both indoors and out.
Neighborhood Walking Tours
It isn't necessary to be a purist about architectural styles. Bland bungalows and ranch homes can be perked up with carefully selected eclectic details. However, staying true to style can keep the diversity of choices in home railings from overwhelming homeowner and house. A neighborhood walking tour is a good way to get ideas about what looks good. Bring a camera along as you walk around looking for appealing porch and fencing details that would fit well with your home's style. Attend local house tours to view interior railings. Research online websites such as the architectural style guide of the Washington's Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation. Then take an armchair tour of architectural styles by skimming architectural magazines and books, such as the classic paperback Clues to American Architecture. All this information is helpful before talking with design professionals, looking through railing catalogs and making purchases.
Choosing Railing Materials
Another question when selecting railings concerns the kind of materials to select based not only on style, but also on practicality. Poured concrete balustrades are handsome additions to stately homes and, similar to wrought iron and other metals, require little upkeep. Wood railings are less expensive, but regular sanding and repainting or refinishing are necessary. Vinyl is one of the least expensive and most low-maintenance choices. It looks crisp and clean, especially in picket fences, yet shatters more easily than the other materials when hit by heavy objects. Finally, selecting a finish you love may be more cost effective than picking a material you will be tempted to upgrade later.