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Interior Inspiration: Current Trends in Handrails

By on Jan 29, 2014

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Staircases, formerly somewhat overlooked in the world of interior design, are beginning to be appreciated as important design elements.Spectacular architectural feats such as “floating” stairs, cantilevered stairs and dramatic helical structures have helped to reveal the form’s inherent design possibilities, while homeowners with more conventional stairways seem to be taking an increased interest in staining, remodeling and refinishing them.

The new awareness of stairs as a design element extends to handrails,as well. Innovative materials and finishes, unexpected combinations of colors and textures, and intriguing new shapes are all helping handrails assume their place in the limelight.

Safety Function of Handrails

Although handrails are often taken for granted, it turns out that they actually play a vital role in preventing accidents and injuries. In a residential safety study conducted by Cornell University, a large percentage of serious, injury-causing falls were attributed to the simple absence of handrails, which prevent falls in two ways -- not only do they help prevent stair users from losing balance, but they provide a means to quickly regain it after a trip or stumble.

Ideally, your handrail will do double duty, performing as both a useful safety feature and a striking design accent.

Wood Atop Glass: A Clear Contender

Glass guardrails -- panels of clear or translucent glass mounted on sturdy metal supports -- are making an appearance in a growing number of upscale contemporary homes. A slender wooden handrail --often featuring some particularly pleasing element such as a sinuous curve, striking stain color, or mirror-smooth finish -- is a popular choice for completing the look. By adding a note of organic warmth, the wooden rail helps to balance the minimalist appearance of the glass, and provides a clear line of demarcation.Carpeting in a neutral palette can add even more warmth and texture, and helps to unify glass and hardwood into one cohesive look.

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Magnificent Metal

Staircases, guardrails and handrails made entirely of metal – once associated only with industrial and commercial areas, public spaces, and lofts -- are beginning to appear in residential homes.Chromed metal, stainless steel and aluminum lend themselves well to minimalist,architectural lines and angles; they are equally at home describing whimsical, playful curves.In some cases, the guardrails are composed of slender, horizontal stainless steel cables, which create a light and “open” look.

Metal staircases and guardrails are often paired with cylindrical metal handrails for a look that is unexpectedly light, airy, contemporary and clean.

However, metal doesn’t always mean minimal: wrought-iron balusters and handrails featuring intricate scroll work are currently chic,as well. These ornate pieces, often finished in silver or gold, can lend a feeling of “old world” elegance to a design scheme.

Mix and Match

Although it is hard to beat the timeless – and popular -- look of crisp white risers, darkly stained wooden treads, and white balusters topped with a handrail stained to match the treads, there has been a movement towards the eclectic effectof combiningdramatically contrasting themes and colors. When properly executed, this confident, upbeat look adds drama, makes the stairway a focal point, and can actually help to unify the design scheme of the whole.

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A black metal staircase accented with chrome handrails and arising from a checkerboard-patterned hardwoodlanding uses an unexpected combination of elements to create a look that is bold, intriguing and avant-garde.

In another scenario, black risers could be paired with treads of oak for an ambiance that is sophisticated yet still warm. Add an architectural guardrail with reed-thin wire rails, and top it with a hardwood handrail in a contrasting finish that is darker than the oak steps but lighter than the black risers. Because everything is done in clever gradations of color intensities, the look succeeds.

Now that you have an idea of the intriguing design possibilities, it may be time show a little love to your stairway’s unsung hero, the handrail. Paint, stain, refinish, or even replace with a more eye-catching model…the dramatic impact of this seemingly minor renovation may surprise you.

About the Author

Molly Hilton is the owner of Renaissance Painters in Toronto and has devoted more than 30 years to home renovation, painting, and custom home building. Her unique design concepts bring homes to life with colours and unique pieces that are artfully placed to draw attention to the most powerful and distinctive features of a home.

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