Stair Designs, continued

THE LOOK: Ornamental Metalwork
AT HOME IN: Neoclassical, Spanish Colonial Revival houses
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. Most metal balustrades have wooden handrails, such as this one in mahogany, to soften them to both the eye and hand. (Photo 4)

THE LOOK: Natural Simplicity
AT HOME IN: Craftsman, Prairie houses
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 takes 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. While the endless forest of wood can darken an interior, a stair rail like this one adds strength and structure to a room. (Photo 5)

THE LOOK: Minimalist
AT HOME IN: International, Post Modern, Contemporary houses
Most modern stair designs take the Arts and Crafts emphasis on simplicity one step further, exposing all the working elements and eschewing trim, moldings, and other decoration. Here, the "floating" stair has open risers and exposed stringers; even the bolts securing the tension-wire balusters are fully visible on the newel post. (Note: Some local codes prohibit balustrades that create such a "ladder effect.") 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. (Photo 6)

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