What kid hasn't envisioned sliding down the stair banister? We've all seen it done in the movies. But, the simple stair banister -- also called the handrail -- serves a much more serious purpose than a quick, fun ride down the staircase. Holding onto the banister is the safest way to walk down and up the stairs. And, holding onto that banister while walking in a stately manner down the staircase makes for a dramatic, grand entrance.
The banister or handrail on any staircase performs the basic function of safety as we climb up and down the stairs. Some stairways have railings on both sides of the stairs to make it as convenient as possible for those who use them. Banisters also have an aesthetic function. They typically serve as a focal point of the room or foyer they are in, and can either enhance or detract from the chosen decor of that space.
There are as many types of stair banisters as there are decorating styles. Typically made of wood, they are cut into shapes that follow the lines of colonial, traditional, contemporary, arts and crafts, and other furniture and architectural styles. Some are intricately carved to increase their function as the focal point of a room or entryway. There are wrought-iron banisters and other metals also used in stair rails. Then there are those that seek to be out of the ordinary, such as the use of chain-link fencing or sheet metal topped with stainless steel rails as a banister, in a space that is going for an industrial warehouse look. Curved staircases in large homes have a grand effect, and in A-frame houses, the spiral wrought-iron staircase is typical and is made complete with handrails. On closed, walled-in staircases, rails are screwed securely into the walls on either side.
Curved stairs and their corresponding banisters are traditionally made counterclockwise. Whether the staircase is curved, or one long staircase with no landing, or if it has one or two turns with landings at the turns, the size of a stair banister should correspond with the size and style of the staircase so they look like they belong together. The banister and spindles should also look like they belong together, so choose wisely when you are selecting the components.
Because a staircase is typically the focal point of whatever space it occupies, you want to make certain it doesn't look dated, unless a period look is what you're going for. For example, in the 1980s, light to medium oak wood was a very popular look in furniture and woodwork in homes, along with gold toned hardware. Walking into a home with a light oak staircase and a bright brass or gold chandelier reflects the '80s. If that's what you want, great. But, if you want your home to look stylish for today, look around to see what will still fit your style while updating your home. Maybe a different color of stain on the stair banister and wood or even a coat of white or cream-colored paint will provide the effect you desire.
Safety should be the first and foremost consideration of any stair banister you choose for your home. The secondary consideration should be the way it looks and harmonizes with your home's architectural style and interior decor.