A dramatic staircase can be the focal point of a home?s interior. Remember Scarlett O?Hara?s sweeping entrances down the central stairway at Tara, in Gone with the Wind? Even 60s sit-com The Brady Bunch had a stairway that saw a lot of action. But some of the most endearing moments have surrounded the newel post. Who can forget George Bailey?s daily encounters with the newel post knob in It?s a Wonderful Life?
The newel posts are the taller posts on a stairway at the head, at the foot, or when the stair changes directions. In a spiral staircase, it?s the central post or column around which the steps wind, providing support for the entire staircase. Although structurally important, this does not begin to convey the dynamic possibilities for design and style inherent in these stairway focal points.
It?s no wonder that owners of old houses wax eloquent about stripping and refinishing newel posts that have suffered the indignities of time or redecorating. Others search through salvage and antique shops looking for just the right cap or light to set the post off as the crown jewel of the staircase.
A staircase is one of the primary mood-setters of a home, a place where the homeowner can announce his or her individual style. It might range from understated Early American to the ornate boldness of Victorian excess. The quickest and easiest way to make a design statement is by redesigning the decorative elements of a stairway, such as the handrail or banister, the vertical support balusters, and the anchoring newel post at the base (all together called the balustrade).
To make the most of your staircase?s beauty, be sure that newel post is not only sturdy and strong, but it also reflects your style.
Newels can be square and imposing, or they can be larger versions of the other stair rails. They can be turned in similar shapes as the rest of the stair, or they can have distinctive shapes or carvings.
Top them off with an interesting shape?the caps on top come in countless shapes such as balls, acorns, pyramids, or simply square or flat. Newel post caps can even be custom carved to reflect your interior. For example, in log cabins, newel caps have been known to take the shape of forest creatures such as squirrels or owls.
For a home
of one of the types below, use these stairway design ideas to complete the look.
Saltbox, Federal, Colonial Revival houses
The simpler the better in these early examples of American architecture. Amateur carpenters built the earliest American houses, and their designs reflected their modest decorative skills?straight, sticklike balusters and unadorned newel posts. Often in Federal homes, the rectangular balusters were painted to blend in or disappear against the walls.
Greek Revival, Italianate, Colonial Revival houses
For one of these homes, you?ll most likely want your stairway to include more subtle decoration. Architectural pattern books, which came into vogue in the early 19th century, gave carpenters the resources they needed to add decoration to their stairways, with more complex profiles and newel posts with simple caps or classical cornices.
Second Empire, Queen Anne, Tudor houses
These homes require more elaborate detailing. The mid- to late-19th century brought high decoration to the masses, as industrialization and the transcontinental railroad allowed manufacturers to churn out and deliver factory-made house parts. For the first time, middle-class homeowners could afford the most ornate and intricate details. Elaborate stair designs of the period featured complicated carving, newels embellished with urns and other fanciful caps, and thick turned balusters meant to evoke the solidity of carved stone.
Neoclassical, Spanish Colonial Revival houses
If you were wondering where is the place for ornamental metalwork, you?ve found it. Cast- or wrought-iron elements, more products of the decorative late-19th-century Victorian era, are flashier than wood and lend themselves to grand, curved staircases. Metal?s versatility allows design details to be simple and linear or wildly elaborate. Unpainted iron, dark by nature, can make a room without ample light seem even dimmer. Lighter metals like bronze, used to create the sunflower and leaf details pictured here, lend a more open feel.
Craftsman, Prairie houses
Here, of course, the look would include natural simplicity. In a backlash against late-Victorian-era busyness, artisans of the early 20th century started a movement that celebrated handcrafted details and the beauty of natural materials. On staircases, this arts-and-crafts aesthetic took the form of boxy newel posts, often topped with pyramidal caps or rustic lanterns, and slat-shaped balusters designed to show off the grain of the wood.
International, Post Modern, Contemporary houses
The bold geometric shapes and metallic surfaces of these houses lend themselves to a more minimalist look. Most modern stair designs take the natural simplicity style one step further, exposing all the working elements and eschewing trim, moldings, and other decoration. Because this type of stair is meant to be viewed as if it were a piece of sculpture, it looks best in an open space where the entire structure is visible.
From the newel posts to the shape of the stairs, your stairway says something about your and your design sense. Bring your stairway beyond merely the functional with rich design.