Friday, May 1, 2009

Staircase Railing Series Part Four: Newel Posts & Other Design Elements

Whew! Did you realize up to this point we have climbed 52 sets of stairs! If each staircase averaged 20 individual steps, we have climbed over one thousand steps, (1,040 to be exact)!  Let’s quit climbing and take a look at some design element options you might want to consider for your own staircase.

I realize some of you reading my blog are architects, interior designers, and builders who speak a language and use terms that can intimidate others who read my blog. I tend to write my posts in descriptive layman’s terms so that all can understand. Quite honestly, there are times when I am puzzled by a term. I try to figure out why it is called what it is called and unsure of how to use the term. For instance, in the illustration below is a face string or face stringer as I have seen it also called. I am do not understand how the word string or stringer applies. If you know, please comment. There are times when I am not sure of the proper design term to use and do not have time to do the research. Scanning photos, then downloading them, then uploading to my post does take quite a bit of time, so please forgive me when I do goof. Feel free to leave a comment and correct me when necessary.

I happened upon a book I own titled The Visual Dictionary of American Domestic Architecture by  Rachel Carley which is full of illustrations showing readers how to identify and describe a given style. The illustrations also show different design elements and identifies the proper term for that element. Below are three illustrations found in Rachel Carley’s book which will help you identify the staircase terms. These are Queen Anne styles.

IMG_0006  IMG_0016 IMG

Besides the illustrations shown above, I came across two internet sites with illustrations and a glossary of staircase terms that may also be of help. Click here and here, too.


Isn’t the photo above a cool design. I think the staircase above looks like an optical illusion? How the heck is the “stack” of stairs supported?



^How do you like the design of this staircase? What a beautiful underside and the wood is divine. I think it is a grand architectural design element for a home.

Source: Veranda March/April 2007^



I am loving the distressed look of the face string and the outside of the riser on what appears to be a very traditional staircase in the two photos above. Also the finish on the spindles.


^The stained wood design on the outside of the tread above really stands out on the white paint.  Also, be sure to pay attention to the panels on the underside of the staircase.


^Yet another example of a design element on the outside of the tread.


The newel post above makes quite a design statement. It is hard for me to tell in this photo but it appears there is a design element that follows the design of the newel post on the face string of this staircase. Is it painted?

Source book titled Southern Style by Mark Mayfield


^More design elements for the outside of the riser.

Source: Traditional Home October 2006^


In the photo above is a combination of designs on the outside riser /face string.


^Instead of the staircase railing ending with a newel post as shown in the photo below, in the photo above, the railing makes a grand ending with a tapered wrap around design.




Above, the newel post ends up being just another spindle or baluster.

Photography by George Cott^


Source: Southern Accents March/April 2008


In the photo above, the newel post is located before the last step. Below it is positioned at the end of the last step on the floor with the entire post showing. In the second photo below even though the newel post is on the floor, it is positioned as part of the first step. As you can see, there are many options for newel post design and positioning.

Source: Beautiful Homes Winder 2005


Source: Traditional Home Holiday 2008


In these last two photos below, the bottom of the spindles or balusters are attached to a rake wall or knee wall cap (I have heard both terms).  In previous five photos the spindles or balusters are attached directly into the tread or step because it is an open       string(er) and there is no rake wall or knee wall.  You have the option of having an open string(er) in which the tread or step of the staircase is open on the side or you can have a closed string(er) in which there is a rake wall or knee wall or as I call it a “curb” on the side of the tread.  I know all of this lingo and terminology can be daunting. Often there are two terms that mean the same thing depending on what area of the country you live.  That’s why I like to present photos and illustrations which are a great tool in helping a client to explain what they want and then the experts can provide the correct terminology.




Photography by Lisa Romerein^

Thanks for visiting. I hope you have enjoyed the newel posts and other design elements. Please let me know what you think.  The final post of the staircase series will be the Mistakes to Avoid. My goal is to post it on Monday or Tuesday. 

The source of many of the photos shown is unknown. If you will contact me with the source I will add it or delete the photo.


Susan said...

These are some exquisite examples. Some truly knocked my socks off!
Now you've set me off to dreaming...

Tina { Luphia Loves... } said...

wow that first image is so amazing!!

Misti of Studio M Designs said...

The details on the undersides are phenomenal! I love the second picture..just want to rub my hands all over it! Thanks for the lesson Susan, those looks like a few great books to own!


Rachel Follett said...

These stairs are absolutely beautiful! Great post!

Anonymous said...

These railing systems look grandiose! I know that's a common praise, but I don't really have a post-structuralist term to describe this.

Kim said...

Some of the more interesting newels and staircases I've seen - am I'm in the business.