New Staircase Railing Design – Ugh, It’s Not Working!

Last Sunday, we looked at staircase decor, design, and mistakes. 


Today, I will share more related information about staircase railing design. I am focusing on my new staircase, in this case. As most of you may recall, one of my primary objectives in my upcoming renovation is to put in a typical staircase instead of the abomination, below.


living room staircase April 2022 before new staircase railing designUgh. For more about the spiral staircase from hell, please go here.

And, also this post about staircase safety.


Okay, let’s get rid of that baby right now! Well virtually.


living room no furniture - new stairwell for new staircase railing designTo give you an idea, here is approximately where the new stairwell will go.

Please go here to see how this works with the new downstairs area.

Please note that I’m not doing the fireplace, in the downstairs bedroom. There is a newer version of this design, but for now, this will suffice.


Integrated with the new staircase railing design is the design for the new French doors.

Before I show you the staircase, I need to mention the new French doors. If you’d like to know more about them, you can visit this post about the French doors, written January 2020, shortly after I moved.


New French Doors - Custom transom window

I love these doors with the Georgian style transom. The transom is not just for interest; it’s because the opening is 36″ wide by 108″ high. A typical door is about 80″. So I think the transom will provide a better balance. In addition, an 18″ door that’s 108″ high might be prone to warping.

Could I do a single door? Yes, but it would be in the way, so no, I’m not going to do that. I need a door because otherwise, it’s not a legal bedroom. The other set is for balance and creating more privacy if I’m having guests.


Continuing with the French doors for a sec.


Douglas Vanderhorn Architects - classical architecture - stunning dining room - French doors


I love this French door style in this exquisite dining room by Douglas Vanderhorn Architects. Especially for a narrow door. I don’t think these are more than eight-feet, however. For more of Douglas’ gorgeous work and other favorite classical architects, please check this out.


Hudson valley houseparts french doorsAbove are some tall skinny French doors from Hudson Valley Houseparts. However, I don’t know how tall and skinny they are.


furlow-gatewood-painted-mirrors-FrencAnd then, Furlow Gatewood is known for his commandingly awesome French doors. You can see more of them here.


Okay, let’s dive into the new staircase railing design.


My goal is to give my apartment styling in the neo-classical, Georgian, Greek Revival, classical revival– any of those related styles.


my living room holiday 2021-warm lighting

It’s already there with the classical revival Victorian architecture from 1880. Well, it’s classical with some quirks. But, quirks are okay.

What’s not okay is going something contrary to that. So, I would never do a solid wall for a stair railing design. Nor do I wish to do a wooden railing. While it wouldn’t be wrong, I’ve had a vision of a wrought iron stair railing design from the beginning.


Below are some inspiration images I’ve saved for the staircase railing design.


black-windows-wrought iron balcony railing for new staircase railing design


This is one of my favorites. However, I don’t think it’ll pass muster code-wise.


Scott Yetman staircase - inspo for new staircase railing design

I also love this old classic by Scot Yetman.


Back Bay Marlborough Street lovely railing - photo LB - inspo for new staircase railing design

Last year when strolling down Marlborough Street, I couldn’t help but take a pic of this gorgeous railing. This would be a viable solution to replace the X design with the wide gaps.


source unknown - inspo for new staircase railing design

Above is a similar design I found, but don’t know the source.


inspo for new staircase railing design
This design is too much for my staircase railing design, I think. However, I do like it.

Something like this might work if I only did one repeat in the center. And then the rest with spindles as shown below.


staircase railing - inspo for new staircase railing designI don’t know whose design this is, but I love it in this setting.


Okay, here’s another look at the fugly spiral staircase before.


living room staircase April 2022Ugh–again.


living room no furniture - new stairwell
And above, the beginnings of the new staircase rail design by first creating a stairwell! Yes, I realize that you can’t see the stairs. Please accept that they will be there. ;]


However, please notice what is missing and NOT coming back.


  • The ugly off-center track lighting.
  • The speakers. I definitely do not need them in the living room. There are wall speakers in the den, and the sound carries beautifully into the living room.
  • And, the sconce which is too high and too far in. Okay, it’s time for the fun part, which is to see what Laurel has done for her staircase rail design.


living room x railing railing with transom - staircase railing design


The first design for the new staircase rail design is with the x- design, but probably not up to code.


I love it, but I’m not 100% sure I love it with the transoms.


 railing with neo-classical transom - staircase railing design

Alas, the staircase railing design probably needs to look like this. However, I feel this railing is not living harmoniously with the transom design. I don’t think it’s terrible, but it feels like a designer trying to throw too many cool elements together in one space.


Laurel, sorry to interrupt but is that your Zuber screen on the wall? And did you cut off the top arch?


Yes, and yes.  ;]


my antique zuber screenI forgot I had this image! I spent too much time finding the wallpaper and then trying to recreate it for my mockup!

Huntington Double Sconce in gold Circa Lighting - Visual Comfort


And, yes, those are the Visual Comfort Huntington sconces with black shades. Yummy!

Up top, I replaced the glare-y track lighting with a long library light. I did debate keeping the track lighting, but it’s not right for me in the end.


But getting back to the staircase rail design, I tried something else for the railing that would go better with the Georgian transoms.


living room center straight railing with neo-classical transom - staircase railing design
Above is an adaptation of the simple staircase rail design. This is much better with the doors/transoms. However, I am underwhelmed by the design of this staircase railing. It’s reminding me too much of my prison bars behind my big living room windows. I’m hoping to get rid of those one day too.

I did try it with a center design, but it called attention to the fact that the staircase is not perfectly centered on the back wall.


Next up, I tried eliminating the transom altogether.


living room x railing railing no transom - staircase railing design
I dunno. I do think a transom is a good idea. Those doors look ridiculously tall and skinny. However, I’m not ruling this out.


Then, I thought of doing a different transom design.


I messed around with doing an x design and other variations. None of them thrilled me.

And then I remembered the beautiful paintings of Carl Vilhelm Holsøe, the gorgeous impressionist Swedish painter of the early 20th century.




For more inspiration by Holsøe and a lot more transoms, please check out the ultimate guide to window and door transoms. There’s tons of inspo here!


Using the inspiration of Halsoe, I came up with one final design for the transom windows.


living room x railing railing - divided transom - staircase railing design

What do you guys think?

I think design-wise, this is an elegant and beautiful design. There is a subtle theme of squares, including the moulding detail on the door casing.

But, does that mean I have to forgo my dream Georgian transom?

No, it doesn’t. I might be able to use it downstairs.


In the meantime, I am waiting for a quote from a wonderful cabinet maker I found through a friend.


There are still months ahead, having to get permissions and permits for building, along with shop drawings for cabinetry and from the structural engineer. That’s for the new stairwell.


***In other news, the Laurel Home 10%+ 10-year-Blogiversary sale is ending April 20th at 11:59 PM ET. (More information below)***




PS: Please check out the newly updated HOT SALES!


Guys, it’s early on the 21st!!! Unfortunately, a few of you have crossed the line and if you see your comment missing, it was deleted. I do not allow rude, inflammatory comments on the blog.

Most of your comments are fine. However, some of the advice is based on limited information. Many of you seem to be forgetting that there are three other walls, a kitchen/entry, fireplace wall, and two huge windows on the 4th wall.


EVERYTHING needs to work together.


Plus, the room is only 15 feet deep. The fireplace juts out two feet. The staircase is over three feet. That leaves 10 feet for furniture and pathways.  In other words, any kind of wall is out of the question. I feel quite strongly that would look even more peculiar, and like bad late 20th-century architecture.

Please remember that my apartment was never intended to be used as it is. However, this is the challenge with these chopped-up old houses. It will never be perfect. But, what you see in a 2-dimensional drawing is not the same as being in the space.


So, throwing out suggestions without first putting them down on paper to see if it’s even possible is not a good practice for anyone.

I’m going to be discussing this more on Sunday, but in the meantime, please take a look at the kitchen/entry mockup.


kitchen mock-up March 14, 2022 white marble counter schoolhouse lightTo be continued…


131 Responses

  1. Laurel, I am a huge fan of moldings in my home and I think perhaps you could use the transoms and railing you prefer if you eliminated the moldings on the stair wall. Could you draw it that way and see what you think?

  2. I appreciate the updates and seeing the process you’re going through – the questions, figuring out what will work, showing the various options and your opinions. It really helps me to learn more about design.

  3. I just was in Boston as my grandson goes to college there . We were finally able to drive and walk around see the fabulous homes that you have talked about on your blog as the weather was perfect. I have to say that your staircase presents a dilemma to me that you may not have considered. As we get older it is harder and harder for us to go and down stairs so I was thinking if there was a way for you to have a private elevator or lift that could be in place of the stairs it could be very handy when you get a little bit older. Just thinking of the future! Hoping to return to Boston again ,,its a great city! Good luck with your planning.

  4. The last design is definitely the best and all the negatives you pointed out held true with the other ones. Those curvy details on that one set of transoms are nice though. Still sticking with the last design.

  5. Firstly, let me say how very much I enjoy your blog & you ‘allowing us to be a part of your reno’. The architectural details in your new home are wonderful and I love your ideas for the entry and kitchen remodel! While I love your geometric baluster designs, I also love your curvy transom design. I changed my balusters a few years ago to those you show in the ‘I don’t know whose design this is’ photo- every 3rd baluster is an ‘S’ curved design- and the little ‘knobs’ for lack of a better word (both the simple and curved balusters) are a light glazed gold. Since I cannot attach a photo, I found a source online from ‘Kansas City Millwork’ showing the ‘S’ curved balusters. It adds that extra touch and would mimic the curves in your transoms. Just a thought for you. I so like the idea of a fireplace as a focal point in your bedroom, but totally see the reasoning for removing it to have a beautiful staircase design. Happy designing to you!

  6. Love the final design. The original transoms were so beautiful, but having a quirky old house too, I understand having to make compromises to make things work. I think it will be lovely and i love how the black iron railings will tie into the kitchen floor. It’s gonna be amazing!

  7. The doors are lovely with the original transoms. I agree with making the railing solid with a design that works with the transoms.

  8. The doors are lovely with the original transoms. I agree with making the railing solid with a design that works with the transoms.

  9. Hi Laurel! Love your blogs❤️ You may want to review your September 30, 2020 post. The home on 215 Comm Ave, of around the same age as yours, has a beautiful staircase railing solution. You definitely want something safe for everyone in that space. That hole in the floor looks scary and treacherous with such a delicate railing. A more solid railing would make the room feel more comfortable. Please take a look at how those owners handled a similar situation. Thanks for allowing all of us to come along on your journey!

  10. That’s what I was wondering too! Because I love the transoms. I so much enjoy following your progress Laurel – it’s fascinating!

  11. I love your ideas. What if, in order to be safety conscious, you did a more open iron design and incorporated glass panels. Look at Uttermost’s Spurgeon Mirror. Turn it on its side and imagine it as a staircase railing. This way you can have your Georgian look without it being too busy. Like many of your readers, I do like your original transom idea. Additionally, you could mimic the circular shapes of the transom in the iron and glass panels. Can’t wait to see what you do.

  12. I also love the transom windows from the first picture. Could the railing be done to mimic the moldings on the wall behind the stairs? Just wondering what that could look like. I apologize if someone else has already suggested the same. Thanks so much for showing how you think it all through and all the things you have to take into consideration to come up with a final design!

  13. You are so talented Laurel, and I know you’ll come up with a design that is fabulous and totally appropriate for your style and the house too.
    My two cents, you’ve mentioned those beautiful Georgian transoms many times, and I know you love them, I think they really look gorgeous in the space. When I saw your mock up of the Georgian transoms and the second more to code square x design railings, I just think it all looks yummy together. I don’t agree that it looks like a design tried to put too many cool things together as you say.
    I think you’d regret NOT having those transoms. I also think we are staring right at it on a two dimensional picture, but I think the two elements are complimentary and will look great in 3 dimension. I also love the sconces and the picture light. Gorgeous. Just gorgeous!!

  14. I so enjoyed this post,Laurel,following along tracking your designer’s thought process and mind’s eye in action. I’ll take the easy way out and just say: Black iron and the Georgian transoms are musts. (Probably not important, but apart from the harmony of the remaining design elements of the subject vignette, the numerous panels in the wainscoting seems to throw everything off. I know the design is repeated around the room so unchangeable but it keeps jumping out at me.)

  15. For me this still seems a little busy. I had a similar problem when designing wall mouldings for a room with panel doors. I ended up mimicking the size and shape of the door panels across the walls. Maybe try basing the banister on the wall mouldings in back of it.

  16. Laurel, one -hopefully last-comment from me. I get so tickled at the commenters that think that you would try to remodel your space and not bother checking with local code compliance. Or if your design can even be done within the structure of the building. Apparently they don’t really realize what you’ve done for the past 30 years! Gee, aren’t you glad to be reminded of those basics! LOL

  17. I might be the only one, but I love the Georgian transoms and think the stair railing should go away and be replaced with a half wall with nice panels, in white. It just seems a bit busy with the wrought iron railing and focus should be on other areas. The wrought iron would be lovely outside.

  18. You’ve created such lovely designs, Laurel.
    My two cents: keep the Georgian transoms, use plexiglas with a metal cap for the stair opening. And love the idea of a bookcase/storage in front of the stairwell.
    Well – you’re on the way to living in your home as you beautifully envision….

  19. Laurel,
    The more I look at your original beautiful transom with your doors, and the railing you designed,I love every part of it.
    But I wonder if you have considered making the design more rectangular. Maybe having 4-5 of the squares, making them more vertically rectangular. I love every element you designed but wonder if a rectangle would be more pleasing with the other parts.
    I can’t wait to see the finished product!
    Again, thanks for sharing the process.

  20. Laurel,
    The transom and the doors are beautiful. I would definitely keep those. I wonder with the railing if there is a way to incorporate the circular pattern in the center of the design to mimic the transom? I am sure whatever design you end up with will be fabulous! Thanks for sharing!

  21. Hi Laurel,
    The transoms are wonderful and would definitely be my choice. If you could find a railing which would echo the transoms (at least somewhat) it seems IMO would be very visually pleasing. I actually did find something called Willow Design which was a favorite pick for 2015 and should come up as one of the top 6 picks if you search it. No, unfortunately it does not have that linear look the ones you love do, but you may just like it. This is obviously a difficult call and I wish you the very best with it. Also, many best wishes on your milestone blogiversary!

  22. Okay, now I’m back….There is a LOT going on visually as you look at that wall. I love the transom- and if you want to highlight the doors- then simplify the railings….You have to choose a focus. I would also suggest not as many mouldings below the chair rail. Use larger squares…and it won’t be so messy with the railings. Plus, if you super simplify the mouldings…then the doors and transoms will pop….and then simplify the stair rails to blend (that first one you created was nice and clean) and not create more complexity. Think Paris…the juxtaposition of the old, ornate with the contemporary. Also, are you going to put any furniture in front of the railing? A bench…a loveseat, a table with a lamp. Play because you’ll want to keep that entire wall vision clean to make the doors and transom pop. That’s my amateur suggestion!!

  23. Because I love your first Georgian transoms so much, I would be inclined to keep them. I don’t hate the square design railings with the transoms. I would probably decide to go with spindles if I really didn’t like the square design railings with the transoms, but I vote to keep the beautiful Georgian transoms.
    For whatever my thoughts are worth. 😉

  24. You loved the transoms from the start, so I think you should stick with your original plan for those. I think your railing (IMHO) is missing something that connects it to the transom design. Can you add some curved line to the design or some sort of circle (like an empty monogram circle) to the railing design to marry it to the transoms? That whole repetition thing you talk about in design?

  25. First off–thanks so much for this post! I love love love seeing the design process in action. I will be delighted if you continue to share more like this.
    One thought on this decision: you are probably way ahead of me on this…but I’d imagine there will also be a handrail coming up from the stair below, visible as it rises and meets the railing you are designing here. Should that rail’s design and its effect on this view be part of what you consider now?

  26. I suggest:
    Check the floor joists before finalizing the location. You may have to do expensive bracing to make the new location work.
    Consider a Chippendale railing design, which works well with Georgian.
    Please tell us more about Zuber. IWe want a framed panel, but got no response from the NY number listed. Sources?

  27. Laurel, have you considered a wrought iron rail with a simple circle or scroll design which would be more in keeping with the transom design? I love the transoms and think you should keep them. I note circles are also seen elsewhere…I.e door casing rosette and cove moulding. I love the idea of the black wrought iron versus wood or white. Glad you’re getting rid of the track lighting!

  28. Agree with the half wall solution – gussy it up with shleves, trim, whatever but the railing is a (lovely) distraction for an otherwise masterful design

  29. Hi Laurel,

    I personally like the Georgian transoms. It balances the doors in am more harmonious way than repeating the squares. I don’t find the simple black railing looks like prison bars at all. It’s just the image makes everything look flat. Once your furnishings are in place, they will be lovely. Some readers are urging you to go with white wood railings, but I think the wrought iron would be nice unless its the only black that you have in the room. Then it might stand out too much.

  30. The code for railings can be very restrictive. I’d check code requirements as for height and spacing before you work a lot more on this. Where I live I could never get away with your beautiful first plans.

  31. Laurel, I am thinking that since the fugly stair rails are white you kinda didn’t want to go there. But could you, pretty please, redo the whole post with all the designs in white? So we can see for ourselves how that would look? PS-only partly joking :))

  32. I agree with Gail. I know you love the black iron but to me it just does not go with everything else. Why not just do white wood with black top rails OR just completely white wood.

  33. Try painting the walls of the stairwell a deeper color. At the moment, it’s a white hole, which I find equally or more distracting than the wainscoting. (Not sure what your plans are for paint colors in lower level). I agree with others, while I love the geometry of your options for the rail, something with a little movement to tie in the must-do transoms may work.

  34. Love the Georgian transoms. Would keep that. You said you thought of a centered design but couldn’t because the railing wouldn’t be centered on the wall: more space on the left than right.
    What about extending the railing on the left, making it equal? The eye follows that line, not particularly the opening in the floor. You could then mimic the transom design, an oval perhaps or something befitting the era and go simply out from there. There are so many squares and though repeating design elements is great, it needs relief, softness.

  35. I think the wainscoting is throwing everything off …not the doors. The design of the wainscoting needs to be square… that waincoting is surprisingly bossy. But I am sure your final design will be amazing

  36. Laurel, Love the Georgian transoms – I think if you choose to go that way you will be happy. In considering the railing, I had to remind myself the graphic is flat, one dimensional – so you have to see it (in your mind’s eye) in three. I favor one reader’s suggestion of carrying the wainscoting down the wall. Yet if what is there is original to your new home, I would be hesitant to remove it. If it were my staircase I would keep with the black and would go with a simpler design rather than some of the more complicated ones. The french doors (beautiful) with transom and existing wainscoting already pull the eye to an elegant pattern. An intricate railing might interfere with the effect. My two cents. Am sure your final decision will be perfect.

    1. Hi Marlene,

      Bingo on the realization that the graphic is flat and being in the room as one moves, the design of the railing moves, as well in relation to the wall.

  37. Hi Laurel, what about using glass panels with an etched design mimicking either the transom or another classic design. You get the effect, but it will be very subtle.

  38. I’m looking forward to the day when we can see your renovated home. It’s going to be gorgeous!

    It is difficult to comment regarding the staircase because I don’t know the building code applicable to where you live. However, one element that I recommend be included for safety reasons (and is required by code where I live) is a handrail within the stairwell. This was not shown in the mock up illustrations & will affect the look. (Maybe you are planning to include one but just didn’t include it in the illustrations. I think the presence of a handrail would impact readers’ assessments, so just mentioning this as a consideration.)

  39. The look is lovely but a bit busy. What about using glass panels with brass railings/fittings that match the brass color on the sconces?

  40. The Georgian transom is a dream. I agree the railings should remain black, but a soft black. The quieter linear railings look better to me. Could you add a simple Greek key design, either midway or just below the handrail? Also, does the baseboard heat need to stay? If the split unit you spoke of is not adequate, there are flat white European design units that may be less noticeable.

  41. Georgian transom, spindles white instead of black. To my eye, the black interferes with the other architectural elements. With a white finish instead of black, the spindles will not look like prison bars.

  42. I’d consider doing away withe the wainscoting on the wall and the bit of flooring beneath it. I would instead run the wainscoting down the stair wall, as you would find in most formal stairways. I think the existing wainscoting competes too much with the railing designs. Then too, you could run a lovely wrought iron railing down the stair.

  43. I love and would absolutely keep the current transoms. Perhaps if you did a simple staircase design and painted it white it would blend in more with the doors and trim, without clashing.

  44. P.S. They wouldn’t have to be boring, big box store spindles, they could be a simple but fab design. I think the architectural salvage houses in Boston would have some great ones that would be historically accurate and that would be budget friendly, too.

  45. To keep the visual focus on the architectural details of the space, a clean and contemporary glass guard for only the stairwell opening could be used. Then consider installing a metal railing design to your liking (and code) mounted on stair treads. Unfortunately for us in Canada, the only design shown that would be to code are the ‘prison bars’. The first design for the transom panels above the doors is lovely.

  46. I’ve skimmed the comments, so this may have already been suggested, but….What if you used a railing that echoed that circle in the transoms? I feel like a tradesperson who crafts railings could do a few mock-ups for you with different designs featuring a circular motif. I also agree with the commenters who feel the black is a bit jarring. What if you did a white powder-coat, not white exactly, but something light that your eye will look at but also THROUGH so you can still appreciate the wainscoting. My two cents!!

  47. I love the transom and wainscoting. In Massachusetts, the Code requires that spaces be no more than 4.5” apart at any spot. The inspectors typically walk in with a ball to test the spacing. It also requires that anything installed or replaced after August 1997 be no less than 34” high, which is tall. I do love the X designs, but in order to be code-compliant, you might have to consider going classical in the way that Thomas Jefferson did at Monticello and just do traditional spindles in white with a stained railing.

  48. I agree with Ruthie above. The Georgian transoms are THE best. Keep the spindles simple, with perhaps what Ruthie above suggested. The railing must be black. The half wall suggestions would make your room look very small.

  49. I like your last stairwell design ( single transom on top of door) the best but with the single square railing design. The double square looks too busy.

  50. I don’t think a metal rail for that house is good. All the doors are painted wood and only the floor has a wood finish. I think the railing in wood would blend in better. or at least the top of the railing in wood.

    I would keep it simple since there is so much going on in the room already.

    Lastly you should disregard our comments and do what you love!

  51. I like the stair railing in the final photograph but I would make it white. Getting my new refrig this morning and my kitchen-refresh project will be complete!!

  52. Question form a total novice facing a similar situation: Will you run wainscoting down the staircase? If so, how will that merge with the wainscoting across the top? Or how will you decorate that wall?

  53. Laurel, lots of great ideas in the comments! In the end, I would do what you love. We are looking at a straight view of a photo, where we see every element at once. I think these elements (transoms, rails, doors) will look and feel different in the actual room. As one moves through the space, the different elements will reveal themselves. What looks busy in a flat rendering might not be so much in real life…just something to ponder.

  54. Laurel –
    Thank you for years of inspiration! The detail on the wall behind the railing looks amazing with the Georgian transom design. What about making the straight iron railing white so that it disappears a bit leaving the transoms and trim work to be the star of the room?


  55. What about a beautiful bullseye transom?
    Visit Sugar Hollow Glass website. They show a transom in shades of blue done in bullseye glass that is quite lovely.
    Just a thought.

  56. It bugs me that the squares in the design are not symmetric with the wall, actually the symmetrical things on the wall. The straight spindles fix the issue or you could place things on the wall lined up with the railing squares? I like the curved transom better as well and think wooden spindles would look better as well.

    1. Hi Janet,

      It’s a 2-dimensional rendering. In real 3-d life, if you move one inch, all of the “symmetry” falls apart. The hole has to be where it is. I cannot move it over any further, unfortunately. One, I need space for the door and Two, don’t want the first step too close to the doorway! But, it’s downstairs that’s really dictating where the hole needs to be.

  57. Laurel –

    I love everything you have done except the iron railing. As many have suggested before me, it is too busy. The wainscoting on the wall is too pretty to cover up! I would love to see the white spindle idea or the half wall idea with shelves or even hidden storage ( my favorite). I also thought of the glass option but I don’t believe that’s in keeping with your Georgian theme. Good luck! I’m looking forward to staircase part two.

  58. Hello Laurel, So much fun to watch your design transformations! I would not give up the transoms you love, you might always regret it, so I lean towards your first design. However, can the railing components be “beefed up” to give the railing more presence? Were railings in the Georgian times so thin? No to the straight railings, too “today” looking, doesn’t go with the beautiful character of your home. Whatever you choose, you will make it fabulous!!

  59. I love the original transom and x design rail. Could the original rail be made smaller so it would pass code? Or could the rail mimic the transom design.

  60. Hi Laurel. Please do not change your original idea for the transom! That is gorgeous. I would incorporate the transom design into the railing. You could use white wrought iron, wood, even black wrought iron if you feel the need to add black. I like the square within a square, but feel it detracts from the transom. What if you took your first design, left the exterior square, and then added a rectangle inside the square, which would then leave you room to add the circle and extending lines to the corners? If this is too matchy-matchy for you, I think some curved or circular lines inside the large square would make the railing reminiscent of the transoms. Which are so beautiful. Good luck and keep us posted!

    All the best,

  61. I love the beautiful transom window over the French door, and I love the black iron railings, but they seem to be competing a bit on paper. Perhaps trying some form of white railing design (spindles? Chinoiserie?) to see if it blends in with the rest of the room, including the white wainscoting directly behind, would be a valuable comparison. But whatever you choose, I know it will be beautiful!

  62. I’m a fan of your final design in the post. It’s restrained and very elegant. My favorite of your inspiration transoms was Furlow Gatewood’s. Your final design is similar in that you are repeating the pattern of the doors in the transoms. To my eyes, there were too many mixed elements in your other designs.

  63. I would love to see a mock up with the Georgian transom plus the railing designed with that transom geometry flipped verically – 6-7 panels. If you give it a try, it would be interesting to see it in white as well as black.

  64. I agree with the poster who quoted her contractor, “The whole is greater than the sum of all parts”. I think right now people are getting bogged down in some of the details (millwork, transoms) that will be less pronounced in reality.

  65. I understand why you are leaning towards the final drawing. It does have a clean look to it. However, it is very linear and “boxy”. When I compare it to the drawing with the same banister but the Georgian transoms, I see the linear lines broken up by the transom and the sconces. To my eye, that is more pleasing. Obviously, the final decision is up to you. But it seems to me that you should go with the finishes that you love.

  66. Hi Laurel,
    I think the Georgian transom looks fabulous. The second transom looks okay but not great.

    Regarding the stair rail, I would do something simple that minimizes rather than drawing attention to it. I think black wrought iron of any sort is too attention grabbing. If wrought iron is a must then I would go with simple spindles. Sue

  67. Laurel,
    The original transom was gorgeous and worked beautifully with the cures of the room. Sorry, I feel like you’ve squared everything off too much and it’s become uninteresting. I would consider a new railing design and not sacrifice the beautiful round transom. Can you add a cure or round element to the railing? You’re amazing!

  68. I prefer your first option even if railing is not code compliant. It’s visually interesting without being overwhelming and works with the Georgian transom. I also agree with others that a short wall with shelving or white painted wood spindles would work beautifully, as well. What a fun design challenge. Thanks for sharing your process with us.

  69. I do think you need to give up the transom of your dreams above the doors. The 2 box transom makes the doors feel too tall. How about a rectangle in a rectangle (if you know what I mean) for the transom? Something a bit more horizontal might make the door way look wider too. Good luck with your project.

  70. You know that scene in Mel Brooks’ The History of The World Part I where Madeline Kahn sings, ‘YES!!!!’? That was my reaction to the last shot of the simple Holsøe inspired transoms with the squared railing design. I was surprised to like the repeating 90 degree angles on this wall, but I felt it so much more graceful than the other combinations. Thanks for letting us look over your shoulder as you decide which look you prefer for your space. It’s great to see how you visualize the choices! What graphics program are you using?

  71. Hi Laurel,
    I also love the Georgian transom and feel if you mimic that in the railing it would look good …. If you consider it in wood painted same as wainscoting color. Otherwise I go along with the glass instead of a railing. The black, whatever design, looks too busy with the beautiful wainscot visible through it. Good luck!

  72. A little wrap around wall, the height of rail, but with the wainscoting repeated on it all around?

  73. Love the transom. I think it’s the wainscotting in conjunction with the railing- iing. Perhaps fewer “boxes”? Or just chair rail there?

  74. What about doing a solid low wall at railing height instead of a railing? You could do shelving or shallow cabinets on the side facing the living room.

  75. Your original transom idea is lovely! And seems to flow so well with the other ideas you’ve shared.

    There are already similar rectangles, rotated 90’, with the wainscot trim on the wall.
    Consider mirroring the trim spacing/ pattern in the stair railing?

  76. Keep the Georgian transom that you love. Next, decide which is more important to you: wainscotting or iron railing as right now they compete and make your eyes wiggle waggle–not the way you want to approach the stairs! I think others have offered some good alternatives, depending on what your heart and eyes respond to best.

  77. I know you mentioned not wanting a solid “wall” for the new stair design. Two thoughts: a half-wall with a built-in book shelf and possibly shallow cabinets combo designed in a pleasingly symmetrical way would look natural, intentional, almost furniture-like; and thinking about potential grand babies *someday* perhaps, a half-wall/bookcase/cabinetry design would be safer than a climbable open rail. It would feel cozier too I think, be functional with storage, and books/decorative “styling” always look attractive!

  78. I can’t believe I’m thinking this, but I agree with several people that the iron is too distracting. I LOVE iron railings, and am considering using one myself, but the wainscoting is so, so busy visually. I’m wondering if SIMPLE wood spindles painted white, would sort of disappear and not compete with the wainscoting. I think your eye would go to the artwork and lighting, as it should. Use the iron downstairs?
    Love watching your progress. Your taste and knowledge of art history is inspiring.
    Can’t wait to see the results!

  79. Squares and rectangles! Harmonious! Beautiful! I love it!

    (Question: If you used one of the other combinations of door and railing design, could you use a white (painted) railing? Just brainstorming…)

  80. Laurel, I wish that you had shown a mock-up of the railing of the design that you think might be too much. Somehow, it may present a more harmonious marriage with the lovely transoms than all the more linear proposals. Plus, I would think that it ought to pass code.

  81. I agree – love, love the transom design and think it should somehow blend design wise with the staircase railing

  82. It’s the trim work on the wall behind the staircase. Somehow you need to find a design that works with narrow vertical rectangular. What about a larger version of this but not so narrow, so it encompasses the the trim work behind it, kinda like picture framing. Or painting it white so the design blends better. I think the transoms also have to have a four corner design too.

  83. Keep the Georgian transom and use its design as the inspiration for the stair railing. I’m sure you can adapt the transom design to form the basis for the railing, but not merely an enlargement of the transom…

  84. Brainstorming: have you considered using…part of…or the complete…transom design in the iron railings? Beautiful and elegant home.

  85. I think you have a hard decision to make here: what are the features you most desire and want to dominate? I agree that the transom is necessary given the height of the opening and the need to reduce the height of the double doors, and not only for the aesthetics — I too suspect warping might be a problem. You also want to keep the original wainscot panels. If you keep both of these, with your first design of the transom, then the stair railings have to be kept as unobtrusive as possible, or there’s just a confusion of features. The upper wall design with the big panel painting and the sconces is perfect.
    So reluctantly I would suggest ditching the iron railings idea, and putting in closely spaced plain round spindles painted white, on top of a board tinted to match the floor, with an upper rail that could be either black or the colour of the floor. I’ve seen a photo of a Georgian staircase with wainscoting done this way, and it looks harmonious and appropriate.
    If, on the other hand, you want the iron railings to dominate, then you’ll have to go for the plain transom, and probably use a large painting of a landscape with similar iron railings in the foreground so that there’s an element of repetition.
    But I’d go for the first option.

  86. Hi Laurel

    Staircases! Nightmare! I like what you’ve come up with (it feels very calm now), but I had the same automatic reaction as Mark about echoing the panelling shape to allow the original transom to sing.

    I’ll send you a pic of ours. It’s not your design era, but the sort of shape that might work.

    We wanted to match the balcony railings we designed and my ‘isband’ (lol) made in iron. But when you slant the design to fit a staircase the gaps top and bottom are bigger than the 10cm the U.K. authorities consider big enough to trap a baby’s head. So we had to adapt the design to code. Hugely frustrating and head scratching at the time, but now we’re four fifths through the project we wish we’d come up with this for the balconies too.

    And I have a question. Maybe you might answer in your next staircase post… if you decide the paint your balustrades black, where does the black stop and the white trim start? It’s not always as obvious as one might think. Or I just don’t know the rule.

    Happy Wednesday all.

  87. Laurel,
    I love the classic mouldings in your home. As much as I love the railing designs, I feel that they do not complement the mouldings. Take a look at the view rail systems. I know that they are a more contemporary look, but I think it could be just what you need in that small space.
    Good luck with your project. It is always more challenging to do your own home, than designing a client’s property.

  88. Laurel, the wall with the Georgian transoms and the wainscoting with the sconces/art is beautiful. While I love the black iron railings, in this situation, I would find an option that makes the railing disappear so that you just focus on that full wall (e.g. white, simple so that you look straight past it). I think this would also make the room feel bigger. I can’t wait to see what you do.

  89. My thoughts – I love your Georgian transoms, keep those. They’re fabulous and will be lovely in the room. Especially since you want to put them downstairs. Love the Huntington sconce, it’s one of my favorites. So happy to see that ugly track lighting off the wall – hated it so hard I think it wrecked everything. The railings, I love the first one, like the second one. Really dislike the straight rails with the little twisty thing in the middle. I do agree that the straight looks better with your wall but how about a compromise? I’d keep looking for something with with some movement that mirrors the Georgian transom design but that is visually light weight and let it not perfectly match the wall. If it were me personally I’d go with the first railing and not give a care to whether it was code or not but that’s just me. I’m known to do things outside of permits if I feel strongly about it. As for a staircase and “aging in place”, my grandpa and my grandma are both mid-nineties and live in a two story house. My grandma bought a two story house when she was 82 years old and her agent thought she was nuts. Anyway, they’ve no problem with stairs and I don’t see how you will be any different. I wouldn’t think twice about it.

  90. Hi Laurel! I know you will make it work where you can keep the Georgian transoms. Your eye is genius!

    I love iron railings of all sorts. Maybe try a slightly different design for one with some curviness that echoes the curvature of the transom design? It doesn’t have to exactly copy it, of course. All the straight lines and 90 degree angles of the wainscoting and the spindles and the grid of the door panes and even the linear energy of the floorboards overpower the very pretty and elegant transom curves that are the only curves in sight. I wish I could come up with a design proposal off the top of my head but this is a project! It almost makes me want to get back to my drawing board days of yore as a footwear designer before retirement laziness set in.

  91. Good advice from my contractor was, “Your eye will adjust to make corrections.” Or, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
    And, an element that you LOVE will always make you happy in that room, like your curvy transoms will. I agree with Mark H, keep the wainscoting (historical and loved by you), try out another spacing in the iron ornamental bars, but I do like the black iron color matching the (fabulous) lampshades. And In 3D reality it will all sing in joy and harmony as you ascend and descend those well earned stairs! Thanks for the peek into your design brain:-)

  92. I think the problem is the wainscoting which makes the wall too busy once the railing is superimposed on the wall.Without the wainscoting you could use the squared and crossed railing and repeat the pattern in the transoms. And without the wainscoting I would hang a painting/hanging that is long enough to hit the top line of the previous wainscoting. Just my ten cents worth😉

  93. Dear Laurel, I’m wondering if instead of installing a black iron guard surrounding the opening at all, it would be possible to simply create a new wall, extending from the floor of your lower level to the ceiling of your upper level? A hand rail would be attached to this wall for safety while descending the steps to the lower level. The new wall on the upper level could also function as a built-in cabinet of sorts, with shelves or even doors which could conceal a place for additional storage. I don’t know if by jutting out a wide space to create this “built-in” would disrupt the flow of the rest of the room of your upper level, or if, indeed such a structure would diminish the amount of light reaching down to your lower level. Or even if it would pass code. I was thinking about this idea because there is something awkward looking about the black staircase safety encasement in front of the wainscoted wall. Encasing the stairs behind a wall would eliminate that encasement. This new wall would have to extend perpendicularly to the right side French door, but not to the French door on the left side, which would need to be open for access to your lower level. I really like your final design for the French doors, by the way. Just some thoughts, Laurel.

  94. My favorite is the Georgian transoms with the straight spindles. I agree with others that the transoms are gorgeous! If you are keeping the wainscoting, the square options look too busy to my eye. I love all the other changes you are making! Thanks for sharing this experience with us and asking for our opinions :]

  95. Loving the design. Please keep the Georgian transoms. They are gorgeous! What if the railing were made to blend with the wainscoting and painted white? Because the stairwell is in an odd spot it feels like the more it disappears the better. The black iron makes it another focal point and steals the French doors’ thunder.

  96. The staircase railing is fighting the wainscoting. No matter what design you go with that’s gonna happen. I would look at doing a white railing with maybe tiny gold leaf hightlight in the centers of the railing, something delicate. Leave the gorgeous transoms.

  97. Laurel, If you don’t go with the transoms that you fell in love with, you will feel disappointed every time you must look at them. Next, I am so glad to see the above Responce’s agreeing with my immediate Responce, the lines of the wainscoting (which I love) is competing with the railing visually. My eyes have no idea where to rest and I’m visually used up so that I will never look up to see the beautiful transoms! You must visually simplify the visual line competition between the railing and the wainscoting first.

  98. While I do like the final square transoms, the Georgian style are especially pretty. It might be too much, but any chance you could use the Georgian transom style turned vertically for the stair railings? Maybe make it a skinnier version to match the size of the wainscoting opposite the stair railing ? Just a thought.

  99. Oh, my! What a wonderful dilemma to have! I’d keep the Georgian transoms. The doors are stunning and the transoms are perfect. Doesn’t it seem like quite a sacrifice to give them up for a stair railing that is less important and probably won’t be perfect? Why not an iron railing with a simple arch or circle design instead of squares?

  100. This is a dilemma. I don’t like the wainscoting at all. The transoms should stay. Here’s where it gets crazy. Put in a glass elevator. I know!! Crazy expensive but if you want to age in place and solve the weird staircase issue…it might work. I think I hear guffaws!

    1. haha!

      I forgot to mention as I have in the past that the subject of “elevator” is closed. Dozens of readers are into aging in place. That’s not for me. I’ll just drop dead one day, but probably will do so much sooner if I don’t use the stairs as often as possible.

      It’s not possible to drop an elevator into a brownstone, just like that.

      I LOVE having a staircase. I mean, I LOVE it!!!

      The wainscoting is part of the quirk and it’s original to the building. Therefore, I would like it to stay.

      Of course, this room was never meant to have a staircase, but alas, there has to be one. It’s never going to be perfect, but the idea is to make it a lot better than it currently is.

  101. I think the transom is what makes your room! A simple wrought iron on the stairs is the secondary design element unlike the transoms that just make the place so gorgeous! Love hanging your small screen with the light above. I think this place is going to be your best design project ever! It speaks to the fact that you need to live in a space for a while before designing the changes.

  102. The transoms should be the first one or a simple rectangle of glass, definitely not an extension of small squares.

    I agree that the all of the railings presented conflict with the wainscoting. Would you consider a lovely railing with glass panels?
    It would disappear and the room would feel larger and flow better. I just don’t think you want the oddly positioned staircase to be a “feature” of the room no how attractive the enclosure design is. In this case, less would be more.

  103. Oh, Laurel, it’s going to look so beautiful! How fun to have so many ideas!

    Alas, I was overwhelmed with so many lines…made think of a music score! And I love the circle, and the square spiderweb ( not sure the technical name), and the thin black railings, but can I say that I like the railings better without wainscoting? ( I know, I know, I’ve committed a gros faux pas, n’est-ce pas??!!)

    I always like one curved element, so I’d keep the lovely transoms. And I think I’d do what one reader suggested…lighten the railings with white or gold, to rest the eyes. The other lines visible in the picture are in the wood floor, but your furniture would likely soften those lines.

    But I think whatever you pick will be yummy! And the sconces are just delightful! Can’t wait to see the finale!

  104. I vote for Georgian transoms. Will they open? And a plain railing, partially because of the rectangular wainscoting. Just remember, you will have furniture, pictures and other things in that beautiful room.

  105. It is comforting to know that professionals struggle like this, too. It helps me avoid getting discouraged when I encounter similar design struggles, and keep working on ideas and solutions until I find the option that is just right!

  106. One more thought… Keep the Georgian transoms because those doors become stunning features.
    The wainscoting is part of the history of the place and part of why you fell in love with it. I know you love the idea of metal, but why not have a solid wall of wainscoting on this part of the stairs and use the metal downstairs. That would give you another wall you could put a console against or something else beautiful.
    Then nothing distracts from those doors and transoms.

  107. Hey there! I’m so glad this is coming together Laurel! Your buyer agent weighing in here- since I can envision the space having been in it so much I think I want to echo what Mark above posted with the visual “busy-ness” of the wainscoting and the rail design….why don’t you keep your awesome transoms and railings and remove the wainscoting – it’s competing..just on that side of the room- not on the other side.

  108. hmm….a lot to think about. My first impulsive impression is that your favorite Georgian transom is preferable. Your last idea with the square transom seems too heavy – the frame is too wide. Have you considered an overdoor instead of a transom — like the Parisian one in your transom post? Another consideration — again in the transom post, see the picture of “Sarah D on Flickr transom window over iron door, Charleston, SC” where the transom is all curvy and the side rails on the stoop are plain and vertical, but the top rail is all curvy. So might there some way you could use your Georgian transom and the vertical iron railing, but add a curve to the top rail?? Finally, another thought is to use the Georgian transom with vertical iron rails, but each rail would have a spiral decoration — alternating one spiral next to a rail with two spirals so it would be a bit more decorative but not over the top and not at all jail like. Home Depot calls this a single basket metal baluster and the other a double basket metal baluster. You have so many good ideas! I am very certain that you will decide on something very very nice!

  109. The Georgian transom is what makes the room special. Please find a way to keep them. It makes the staircase railing less important because they succeed at drawing the eye…
    Just my opinion.

  110. You have phenomenal taste. I like the Georgian transom windows…and the prison bars. In all of your inspiration photos there were no other architectural details competing with the railings. They ARE the architectural detail. IMO you have two competing details…the transoms AND the wainscoting. The simpler the better… kind of. What if the prison rails had two of the little center design details spaced apart. A simpler railing will give the eye the ability to rest as well as not compete with the wainscoting and transoms. Regardless… you’ll get there…you always do, and it’s always beautiful! Can’t wait to see your final decision!

  111. I sure do love the Georgian transom. What about laying a circle on top of the x-design railing? Would that tie the transom in better and satisfy code requirements?

  112. I actually prefer your first transom design. To me, it’s elegant and perfect. So graceful!

    I appreciate your desire to have a metal railing. But there is so much pattern already on the walls the no matter what design you use my eye goes to the conflicting panelling on the wall behind the rail. It all looks very busy.

    I would concentrate more on that wall than on the doors. It may be that black railings simply accentuate the disparate design elements. What if the metal color matched the mouldings and was allowed to blend without drawing attention to it? Perhaps with a touch of gold.

    Or, maybe metal rails are little darlings that might need to go by the wayside. There are beautiful period balusters that could work seamlessly as well.

  113. Love where you are going with these designs. So very glad you are getting rid of the track lighting and those sconces make my heart skip a beat. I love, love, love transoms and I agree the original design for your transoms is a bit too much for the eye when used with the final staircase railing design, which is very lovely. Is there any way you could mimic the design and feeling of the railing in the design of the transom that you would also enjoy – so more square than circular? Love your blog… you seem to be the only designer online teaching and talking about classic and traditional design and I very much appreciate your stories, pictures, and sense of humor. Thank you for sharing this journey with us. ❤️

  114. Laurel, beautiful ideas. I can’t wait to see the finished space. Please keep the Georgian transoms! So much character. Would it be too much if the railings matched the transoms? Circle in the center of the x?

  115. Laurel,

    Congratulations on continued progress. While doing my own home renovations it makes me happy to get something done and have (yet another) thing to work on.

    On your railing design, the one comment I have is that the diagonal pieces combined with squares seems visually very busy when contrasted with the wainscoting on the wall behind. Perhaps something that is visually similar to the wainscoting (tall rectangles of similar dimensions) would simply “carry forward” the wall detail to the railing. Just a thought. Good luck!


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