It happens like clockwork: As soon the temperature rises—and the weather becomes even more irresistible—we redirect all of our attention to the great outdoors. With that comes our natural inclination to decorate it to the nines. After all, what good is spending the entire season in the hot sun if you don’t have a chic umbrella to loll under? But before you buy well-appointed patio furniture and install an outdoor kitchen, you’ll want to think about the essentials like a deck and its railings.
At first thought, deck railings may seem like a simple feature; however, they hold the power to transform an ordinary outdoor space into a captivating oasis. Whether you’re enjoying a sunset view or hosting a lively gathering, the right deck railing can be the subtle yet stunning detail that elevates your entire deck design. And, with so many styles and materials to choose from, you can add railings that truly enhance your home’s look and feel.
But how? For designer Beth Martin, it’s important to consider the elements your railing will be facing before you choose your materials. “If your deck is in full sun or in a very humid area, a wood handrail will need to be repaired or replaced frequently,” she shares. “Metal, marine-grade plastic, or other more durable materials will look good longer and take less upkeep in these environments.”
Meanwhile, Chango & Co.’s Susana Simonpietri recommends factoring in your day-to-day routine. “If you’re trying to avoid blocking a view, skip the thicker wood posts,” she adds. “It is also important to consider who is using the space. For homes with small children, a horizontal railing is discouraged as it’s so easy for little children to climb it.”
To help streamline your search, read on for the best deck railing ideas that hit the sweet spot between form and function.
Traditional Deck Railing
Think of a baluster and spindle railing as the deck equivalent to a little black dress: It's a polished classic that can adapt to any style. Baluster and spindles with carvings are well suited for an ornate space, while the pared-back set Ghislaine Viñas selected to accompany this Arcologica-built property is perfect for minimalists. While this classic arrangement comes in an array of materials—including wood—consider opting for a weather-resistant vinyl or composite to keep wear and tear to a minimum.
Drink Rail Border
If you want to give your traditional baluster and spindle setup a thoughtful twist, take a cue from Erin Fetherston. For this Napa, California, project, the designer enlisted TimberTech to install a flat drink rail to the mix.
“Drink rails provide a flat surface on the top rails for people to set their glasses down or to lean back and relax while chatting on the deck,” Fetherston explains. “It’s a simple addition to the railing material of choice but adds elegance and functionality to the deck.” A flatter railing may not be for everyone, but it’s an especially good idea for making the most of limited space.
Crossed Deck Railing
For tradition with a twist, consider a crisscrossed railing, just as Bria Hammel did here. This option exudes rustic beauty, and it also serves as a sturdy and reliable safety barrier: The crisscrossed pattern ensures that the gaps between the beams are small enough to prevent accidental falls while allowing for a pleasant view of the surroundings. So if you’re looking for the best of both worlds, X marks the spot.
Chippendale Deck Railing
X might mark the spot, but if you're itching to add some m ore pizzazz to your deck, try a Chippendale style as seen in this space from Stofft Cooney. Named after the renowned 18th-century cabinetmaker, Thomas Chippendale, the typically wooden railing style uses straight lines to create eye-catching geometric patterns. It's packed with personality, but won't upstage the charm of a classic Cape Code home or beach bungalow.
Cable Deck Railing
Cable deck railings have become a popular choice among homeowners seeking a sleek and modern aesthetic for their outdoor spaces. If you need any more proof, just take a look at this project from Gustave Carlson. The thin stainless steel cables create an open and airy feel and makes way for unobstructed views of the surrounding environment.
Typically made from durable materials such as stainless steel or aluminum, they are built to withstand harsh weather conditions without corroding or deteriorating. Though cable deck railings can get a tad pricey, their durability, low maintenance requirements, and timeless appeal make them a worthwhile choice.
Thin Metal Deck Railing
When it comes to searching for the perfect deck idea, it’s important to consider how to maximize your view, too. “We usually recommend being as transparent as possible with thin metal,” explains Simonpietri of Chango & Co. “If you’re trying to avoid blocking a view, skip the thicker wood posts,” she says. This contemporary twist on traditional railings brings a sense of modernity and sophistication to outdoor spaces. Plus, this style can achieve an open and unobstructed view while maintaining safety and security.
Glass Panel Railing
If you’re lucky enough to have a stunning coastal view or a picturesque landscape, glass panel railings might be the ideal choice. These transparent barriers offer unencumbered vistas, allowing you to soak in the natural beauty surrounding your deck. Take a tip from designer Heather Hilliard, who uses glass paneling to highlight the lush garden below.
Wrought-Iron Deck Railing
For a deck railing idea that’s flush with old-world charm, wrought iron is an obvious choice. Renowned for their robustness, wrought-iron railings are built to withstand the test of time, ensuring long-lasting structural integrity for outdoor spaces. Pragmatism aside, these railings often boast classic scrollwork and intricate motifs—bringing an elegant je ne sais quoi to your backyard.
While wrought iron is known for its durability, it is essential to maintain its surface to prevent rust and corrosion. A fresh coat of paint acts as a protective barrier, shielding the iron from moisture and preventing oxidation.
Geometric Deck Railing
For a decorative moment that doesn't totally block your sightline or sunlight, take a cue from Handsome Salt's Sara Simon. The geometric pattern on this railing brings some personality to deck, while the negative space and mesh-like paneling will create a sun-dappled look.
Colorful Deck Railing
Just because you’re craving a little privacy doesn’t mean your deck railings can’t be fun too. Trisha Snyder at Butler Armsden Architects found the best of both worlds with a custom steel frame and 3Form panels in varying shades of orange, red, and yellow. “The clients’ favorite shade of orange was a theme throughout the project,” she explains. “While it was used more sparingly inside, we decided to really have some fun outside at the pool terrace.”
Deck Railing with Built-In Seating
For a deck railing that punches its weight, look for an option that includes seating. “This deck railing functions as a bench as well as a railing and seems to beckon you out toward the view beyond,” shares Ron Radziner, design partner at Marmol Radziner. “The natural wood blends with the surrounding landscape,” he says. The sloped railing offers a way to recline and also plays nicely with the home’s angular facade.
Mixed Materials Deck Railing
Why select one material when you can enjoy a few? For a dreamy space, Ike Baker Velten’s John Ike juxtaposed galvanized three-quarter-inch-diameter steel tubes with wooden posts. The result: decking railings that have just as much visual intrigue as the rest of the backyard. “The mixed materials play into the midcentury modern design of the house and its surrounding environment,” he says.
Kelsey Mulvey is a freelance lifestyle journalist, who covers shopping and deals for Good Housekeeping, Women's Health, and ELLE Decor, among others. Her hobbies include themed spinning classes, Netflix, and nachos.
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