The Staircase Railing Installation Failure. Another Renovation Setback!

Hi Everyone,

I know, I know, I know! And, many of you had a premonition. Well, you were right, and you are free to say “I told you so.”


Here’s how it unfolded.


Yesterday, in the early afternoon, I called Jerry, “the steel guy,” to confirm the staircase railing installation for today.

“Yes, Laurel, we’re all set. We have some things to do in the morning but we should be there in the early afternoon.”

I replied: “Oh, that’s fine; I guess it’ll take you a couple of days then.”

Jerry said, “No, the entire installation should only take two or three hours at the most. The guardrail will only take about 20 minutes. It just gets popped on. “


Oh, wow! That’s terrific, Jerry. Well, I can’t wait to see it. I’m sure I wasted more of his time with chitchat and then we said goodbye.


After the intense day on Tuesday, I had to take a short nap, so I did and then went to play Mahjong at my friend Cheryl’s lovely home on Marlborough Street. Yes, I play Mahjong about 2 or 3 times a month. And yes, this is Cheryl of the “You MUST borrow my car or else.” She’s a doll. After our set of four games, I left, and since it was another super gorgeous day and Marlborough Street was beckoning me, I decided to go for a walk.

I don’t know about you, but my best thinking occurs either in the shower or while walking. I’m sure a neuropsychologist could explain why that is. However, yesterday, as I was walking along, I couldn’t tell you what I was thinking about. Mostly, I was just enjoying the gorgeous houses and gardens when a clap of brain thunder came out of nowhere.


“It just gets popped on. “


The human brain is a fascinating thing, isn’t it?

All this time, it had held onto those five words to deal with after my nap and Mahjong game. But, now that my mind was ready to deal with it, it came on with a vengeance. And also a sense of foreboding I so badly wanted to go away. Alas, it refused.


What the hell did he mean by “It just gets popped on?” How is that possible?


And in only 20 minutes?  What the hay? Now I was full throttle into anxiety, I recalled that awful X-rail sample from last January.

railing sample failure

ugly thing to hold glass

Oh, I couldn’t stand that thing and realized after a few days that there was no way I could do the X design.

So, it was back to the drawing board for a code compliant, chic railing, but before I did, I told Jerry as tactfully as I could that the metal plate at the bottom was hideous.


Dear God, please tell me he’s not just popping it on because all he has to do is screw in an L-shaped 3′ x 9′ metal plate on TOP of my lovely hardwood floor.


The idea was so repulsive that I went back to my state of denial, had a bite to eat, and busied myself with other things, like mindlessly scrolling through Instagram.

However, I could only push the dread away for so long.

I looked at the clock; it was 7:30-ish, so I thought it would be better to put my mind at ease and text Jerry. Maybe he’ll respond.

Jerry texts

Jerry texts staircase railing installation gone bust


Well, I wasn’t laughing.


Laurel, what was the holdup with the staircase railing installation in the first place?


Well, it wasn’t the railing itself. That was ready by the end of April. However, Jerry gets all his railings painted with epoxy and can’t do that in-house. Normally, the paint company turns it around in a week or two at the very most. This time, after five weeks and me pestering Jerry every few days, he went over to pick it up– still unpainted. I told him that regular paint was fine. It rarely rains inside my apartment. ;]

Then, part of our chitchat that I forgot about until now is that the paint people left my $10,000 custom rail outside, and the entire thing was covered with rust. What kind of lunacy is that? He said it took hours to get all the rust off, and then they sprayed it with Rustoleum.

Poor Jerry. He really is the nicest guy.


However, at least I was prepared for this one, giving me a golden opportunity to ruminate about the entry jib doors. haha


Thank you to many of you who tried to help and send suggestions.

However, almost all of you sent the (relatively) easy jib doors that either open in or don’t have moulding covering the hinge end or both.


Undercover Architecture - jib door open - hidden doorway
Undercover Architecture – jib door open – hidden doorway


Opening a jib door is (relatively) EASY. Above, they used concealed hinges similar to what we used for the under-stairs doors and the little bathroom hidden doors.

However, we are not going to visit the jib doors just yet.


Oh, Laurel, you can’t leave us hanging. Please just tell us if they were able to install them or not.


I’m sorry, but I couldn’t fall asleep until 5:00 AM. I have to go eat a crust of bread and clean my oven.


Sunday morning.



Well, what about the railing?


Oh, thanks for asking. It’s stunning.

Sweet Dreams. Good night.

Okay, yes, it’s stunning, except for these awful plates on the steps, which make my gorgeous railing look like crowd control stanchions at Madison Square Garden.


The guardrail is equally stunning. However, it looks like it’s on skis. lol


Okay, here are all of the guys moving all the crap out of the way to do the(non) staircase railing installation. I am quite sure there have never been this many at one time before in my living room. Okay, once before, when the mantel was dragged in.

That’s Brendan and Jerry (in yellow) in the back.  In the middle and right are two young lads helping Jerry. And on the left is pensive Eugene, the guy who nearly lost his thumb, taking down the killer spiral staircase.


The death of the 45-year-old-spiral-snake
From last October, only days before the killer spiral met his maker.


staircase railing installation with ugly plates
Okay, here’s a small section of the staircase railing installation (that didn’t actually happen). See what I mean? But before you tell me, “Oh, Laurel, that’s not so bad.” One, it is that bad, and two, I’m okay with the plates as long as they are recessed and can’t be seen. However, they’re above the floor, and as I said, it cheapens this expensive custom railing. The handrail is not on, but I saw it, and it, too, is beautiful.

Brendan and Eugene can route out an area for the plate to sit in so it’s flush with the floor. There are eleven plates, but they will cut them down, so there will be much less routing.  Alas, the sawdust is here to stay for a little while longer.

Guardrail going back for adjustments

But then there’s this plate, which is 3′ x 9′. That’s a lot of routing. So, they will turn this into small plates, one for each post. Then those small plates will get embedded into the floor. That will be fine, and I can even paint them to blend in if necessary.

I do have another image on Instagram of the staircase railing. Please check it out here and follow me, if you aren’t already!

Jerry said the staircase railing installation should happen in about two weeks.


Oh! After Jerry and crew left, I had to throw some garbage out, and as I was walking past the open gate to my garden, I saw this shockingly wonderful sight.


Finally the compressor is in the right place!.

Omg!!! A miracle has happened!

Okay, I’m signing off for real, but there’s much more to share. I forgot in addition to these five guys, there were two painters downstairs.



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26 Responses

  1. Laurel, I hope you got a hefty discount because the railing was damaged, rusted, and painted with a lesser finish! As a designer, you would never make a client accept a substandard piece of upholstery or window treatment, so you should not be made to accept that ironwork. Seriously.

  2. Your railing is stunning! I love your posts and am learning so much from them. Looking forward to seeing more of your amazing work and gaining new insights!

  3. Laurel, I hope the change of the railing doesn’t affect any codes governing the height of the railing. Just thinking…

    1. Hi Deb,

      It’s a good thought. However, the railing is 36-3/8″h, so losing 1/4″ will not be an issue. In any case, even if it was 35-3/4″, it would also be okay. They don’t bring a tape measure, I’ve been told. They do, however, bring a 4″ and a 6″ ball to make sure that the gaps are not larger than what is allowed.

  4. My goodness. I feel as though you have encountered a billion challenges in the last several (ugh) months. One day (and I hope for your sake, soon) all will be done and you will nap peacefully in your gorgeous space knowing you did it the RIGHT way, not the easiest way, or the cheapest way. Future you will be glad you battled on all the details. As always, thanks for sharing your journey.

  5. Hello Laurel, My husband had two ideas to install the railings without recessing the plates. One option: after removing the plates, carefully mark where the spindles land, then screw to the floor or stair tread a nylon or wood bushing or pin (round or square, round is easier) that fits snugly inside each spindle. The bushing needs to be only 1/2 inch tall, but could be taller. Then slip the spindles over these pins, assuming the ends of the railings are secured. Maybe this is where you would need a small recessed plate, or tabs (see next option). Option two: remove the plates except leave a small tab where you could insert a small finish screw, or weld a tab on. You could have the tab on whichever side of the spindle looks the best. If securing the ends with tabs, you would need four tabs for stability.

    Both of these methods would be easier than recessing the plates. The railings are stunning!

  6. Agree that those stair-step foot pads lend a slight “wicket” look. I’ll be most interested to see what the final solution is and how it works. (and “pop on” was, indeed quite the hint of not-quite what hoped for).

    I admire your refusal to take anything less than simply beautiful and pleasing. It’s so very easy to just “oh well, I can live with that, and that, and those, and, and, and…” Thank you for sharing what a thorough and detailed renovation should be.

  7. Soooo, I’m not sure if I’m inspired by all of these mishaps because you are a professional and if they can happen to you, I should take heart that we mere mortals should not be frustrated by them. Or, if I should go the other route, of “Children, don’t try this at home.”! In any case, hopefully, by the time all is in your rear view mirror, the pain of the reno will fade and you will only be left with many years of enjoyment.

  8. You were so right to be concerned about the “above floor” plates. It changes the whole look but I believe your solution will make it disappear. Good on you for sticking to your vision. Sometimes the people doing the work don’t have a “designer’s eye” and it’s those small details that turn something nice into something spectacular.

  9. Laurel, I think Bill might mean that on the guardrail, instead of making an individual plate for each post, grouping them in the same way as the stair railing ( the stair railing groups them in a section of three). Unless the stairs railing posts are also going to have 3 individual plates, and all 3 are being rostered out?

    I have been skeptical of the design, but seeing it, even through plastic, made me fall in love with the Greek key at the top. It looks perfect!

    Can’t wait for the actual in place photos, sans plastic wrap! 🥳🥳🥳

    And the Instagram post with the gorgeous railing, held by the burly contractors, was hilarious! Beauty and the Beasts ( in the best sense!)

  10. My blood pressure spiked when I read about the railing being left out in the rain! You just can’t make up the craziness in this world. Hang in there, you’ve done well (survived!) this far.

  11. Happy to hear you are playing Mahjong. Great way to reduce stress and have fun with friends! 🀄️

  12. I would have made them redo it. I would not want those planks routed into my floor and painted. I agree that it will not be noticable, but it will still be wrong and not the thing you wanted with the posts mounting directly into the floor. My question is could this have been produced without the skis and if they can cut the skis, why can’t they also just cut them completely off so the posts mount the way you originally wanted them to mount? Seems like routing and painting and etc for every single piece would be more work than just figuring out how to get the skis off the posts.

  13. Can’t wait to see the finished install because it is going to be outstanding. Obviously code dictates the height but do you need to be concerned about that if you have it routed into the floor?
    And I’m surprised that with all this custom work and expense that Jerry didn’t send you any photos as he crafted the railing.

  14. Laurel, it is Beautiful! Just Beautiful! Love it. It along with your gorgeous marble fireplace mantle will make you feel you are back in a time of elegant living. Fingers crossed for the final installation.

  15. Yowza! That railing is so beautiful! I love the medallions and the Greek key detail at the top. It must be so frustrating to deal with all these setbacks, but you are handling it with your usual grace coupled with persistence. Can’t wait to see the railing installed!

  16. Railing is beautiful. Enjoy your posts and learning so much. I have a concern.
    We recently had a vintage outdoor wrought iron patio set stripped, undercoated and painted .
    Rust spots and decades of paint were removed and set protected for years to come.( we used American Dry Stripping in Milford, Ct) You wrote that your new railing had been left outside and rusted at the iron painters and that your own contractor sanded it and painted it himself . Maybe a reader with experience can advise if you need to watch for future rust in areas that may not have been completely sanded to raw metal particularly the joints.

  17. It’s going to be beautiful. You are so good to stand your ground. I know sometimes I’ve been in that same situation. I just let them put it in because I want it done.then, I’m mad at myself!

    Can hardly wait to see the end result!

  18. You’re much more cool-headed than me because I would have had a heart attack. It’s not even MY staircase and I’m having heart palpitations. Good grief, what were they thinking!!???

  19. Oh my goodness. That railing (even through the plastic wrap) is beyond gorgeous!
    And the a/c! Exactly where it belongs!
    I’m so happy to see both of these miracles today. Everything will work out. ✨️

  20. Hi Laurel,

    Just a quick thought before it is too late: You mentioned above about turning the long 3″ x 9′ plate into a small plate for each post. What if they only cut the plate between the sections with the medallions? That way it would match the rectangular sections w/medallions on the steps. Maybe if painted out – it won’t matter… Also curious about how the plates will be attached to the routed out floor?

    Be well, – B.

  21. I don’t know how you haven’t totally lost your freakin’ mind! You’ve had so many errors to deal with. Did you sign contracts with these people clearly defining what you wanted? Or did your GC? I keep wondering how much more this is costing you for each delay and mistake.

    I know your home will be stunning. It’s a shame to have to live with an imperfect fix but hopefully the railing will be everything you wanted. Whoops, just had a thought, will the new railing height meet the bylaw? If not…well you don’t need my advice.

    As an aside I wonder if all the dust you’re living with caused your eye infection.

    1. Hi Heather,

      Oh, I lost my mind decades ago. When they fix the bottom, the railing will be perfect. It never occurred to me to ask how it was going to be secured to the floor. My mistake. Once the floor is stained, it will barely be noticeable. The rest is so pretty.

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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