Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Liz Strong
When you think of a Southern home, one of the first things to come to mind is probably an inviting porch. But take a closer look, and you’ll see it’s the little details that make for such picture-perfect porches. One such detail is the railing style.
“The fun thing about railings to me is it’s like the jewelry on the house,” explains Mary-Dolph Simpson, president of Simpson Builders, Inc. “You can do anything.”
So how do you choose? Two important factors in deciding which style is right for your home are the architectural aesthetic and location. Houston-based interior designer Katie Davis explains that though homes may be similar, each will require a different treatment.
“There are a few factors we consider when deciding on a railing style,” Davis says. “First and foremost we look at the bones of the house: Is it a historical home? What style architecture is it (or was it)? We always try to stay true to the home’s origins. Another thing we look at is height, for code compliance…We pick a style of railing we love that works within the aesthetic of the neighborhood and also serves a client’s needs.”
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Kevin Clark, a senior principal with Historical Concepts, says it comes down to both precedent and personality. Sometimes, simple and timeless is best. “Railing styles should be compatible with the overall aesthetic of the home and its locale,” Clark says. “Simple square or round “pickets” would be very appropriate on a vernacular Southern home.”
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Slim Spindles and Classic Balusters
Clark reports that turned balusters would pair well with a Georgian design. According to A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia Savage McAlester, both slender spindles and classical balusters boast a wide range of architectural styles they’re compatible with, from Georgian, Federal, and Colonial to Spanish Revival and French Eclectic.
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Geometric and Chippendale
A Chippendale pattern might be a good fit for those looking to outfit their colonial cottage or Greek revival home with a bit of pattern play. Simpson reports she likes to connect the inside of the home to the outside by incorporating a Chippendale pattern on both interior and exterior railings.
Simple and sweet, horizontal railing can play to several different styles, always adding a touch of clean modern sensibility.
Simpson reports an uptick in the popularity of cable-style or wire railings, which are right at home in Southern coastal design. “There is a new wave of coastal modern or coastal farmhouse,” she says. “Look to places like Seaside or Rosemary Beach. It’s like boat wire, so it’s especially good in coastal towns.”
Cables Porch Railing
Looking for another way to add panache? Dial up the details by introducing a motif. Simpson says while it’s not for everyone, it can be another fun way to connect the exterior to the interior of the home by repeating the same motif on interior staircases.
Clark highlights how this is another great way to play to your locale: “For example, a farmstead estate might introduce a balustrade with a wheat sheaf motif as seen on the homes on the Natchez Trace.”
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Don’t Forget: Safety and Maintenance
Finally, don’t forget. There’s a reason the railings exist in the first place. Whatever style you choose, railings will have to comply with local codes.
“With most raised porches, handrails will need to be 36″ tall (or higher, based on local codes), with tightly spaced balusters and sturdy components,” advises Clark.
Additionally, Clark suggests homeowners consider long-lasting materials that “feel good to the touch, as handrails offer an ideal spot to lean against, or even hold one’s drink!”