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Guide: 5 Keys to Unlock Craftsman Design for your Stairs

Experiencing a strong resurgence since the first Craftsman homes were built in the early 1900s, this style remains a fundamental movement in North American design. Embodying clean lines that showcase expert craftsmanship, Craftsman style draws much of its inspiration from the out-of-doors. As master stair builders, it’s our pleasure to show you how you can use Craftsman’s various elements or ‘ingredients’ to define your home’s style and have your home showcase your personal taste.


A New Look at Newel Posts


As the principal feature of your Craftsman railing package, the newel post’s character is an important ingredient in defining your unique style. With a variety of shapes and woods to choose from, the newel post is a great way to welcome visitors into your home.


Make it your own: 


For a traditional Craftsman look: A simple yet elegant Mission style newel post is a classic fixture in the traditional Craftsman railing package. While every newel post has a cap, try adding a boot to the base of the newel post to add a slightly more substantial profile, while keeping within the angular Craftsman style.

For a modern Craftsman feel: One of the appeals of the Craftsman style is that the streamlined look matches the tastes of many homeowners. For a contemporary look, consider paring down the newel post’s profile by avoiding the boot feature. The absence of a boot from your newel post results in a slimmer profile, and plays on the clean, angular lines of the style. A mission-style cap is a subtle yet important enhancement that will mesh pleasingly with other features throughout your home.


Craftsman style Mission stair post

 This Craftsman-inspired staircase mixes traditional workmanship with a touch of fresh modernity. The newel post's clean lines and mission style cap, coupled with pewter balusters give the railing package a unique look. 


<< Explore our Design Focused Craftsman Newel Posts Here >> 


The Character of Wood


One of the key design principles of Craftsman style is the use of natural materials to enhance the feeling that your home belongs to the earth. Talking with a master craftsman is important and will give you important insight - for example, while your stairs themselves are a feat of structural engineering that require compressed vertical support and stability - you can follow your taste and intuition with your stair railing package - that is, your balusters, railing, and newel post.

Picture of craftsman stair railing with pewter stair spindles / balusters

Rich wood textures and amazing grain patterns come to life on this walnut hardwood stair and railing. Even the newel posts' grain pattern has been masterfully matched to flow with the rest of the wood.


Wood is often chosen for the beauty of its natural tone and grain and thus is clear coated or oil rubbed, however a growing segment of homeowners prefer to stain their wood in order to achieve their own unique colour choice. Note that a master woodworker builds stair parts so that the wood grain is minimally interrupted and flows evenly and naturally. If stain is your choice to match the rest of your woodwork, you can be confident that master quality stair parts will take stain evenly for a beautifully balanced finish.


Make it your own:


For a traditional Craftsman look: Allow the flowing grain character of hardwoods such as oak to shine through a clear coat for enduring beauty.

For a modern Craftsman feel: Subtle graining like that of maple wood has a subdued, minimalist appeal that works well with the clean lines of the contemporary Mission style.


The Right Railing Profile

One of hallmarks of the Craftsman railing is its appealingly solid shape and size. The railing profile on your Craftsman style stairs will have a pleasant feel under the hand that conveys both grace and strength and feels expertly hewn.


Image of mission style newel post that highlights the craftsman style

This craftsman style newel post anchors the hand railing system over three floors. Railings have been expertly matched to highlight the house's woodwork as art.


Make it your own:

For a traditional Craftsman look: In turn-of-the-century Craftsman construction, hand rails were usually hewn, planed and joined on site, relying on meticulous workmanship. The classic detail of our Hampton handrail echoes this timeless Craftsman approach to quality.

For a modern Craftsman feel: Try the Gibson handrail to reinforce classic Craftsman proportions while adding a refreshingly updated feel to the Craftsman lines.


The Beauty of Balusters

Choosing balusters (or spindles) to suit your style is a fun way to enhance the overall feel of your railing package! While wood is considered the more traditional accent and softens the aesthetic while strengthening the staircase visually, metal balusters of dark iron or oil-rubbed bronze reinforce the Craftsman’s connections with the earth.

Make it your own:

For a traditional Craftsman look: Use classic wood balusters to echo how the style was originally developed. Since that time, metal spindles in a blank-blank-flag pattern (A-A-B pattern) has gained acceptance as another interpretation of the traditional look.


Craftsman style stair railing with a unique baluster pattern

This stair railing system uses metal flag and blank balusters using a blank-blank-blank-flag (A-A-A-B) pattern, highlighting the traditional metal craftsman look and echoing the classic wood stove in the background.


For a modern Craftsman feel: Use metal flag-baluster patterns such as A-B-A, A-A, and A-A-A groupings to show a more modern twist on classic Craftsman style. For a different modern feel, circular stainless steel spindles bring a unique contemporary note to warm-toned mixed woods.


Beautiful craftsman style stair railing and baluster pattern

This craftsman stair railing uses blank-flag-blank (A-B-A) patterning for its iron-look balusters which creates a repeating motif and lending a feeling of movement to the stair package.


Craftsman newel stair post with modern baluster pattern

Square pewter balusters are grouped in trios to bring a touch of fresh modernity and openness to the traditional feel of the stair railing.


<< Explore our Beautiful Craftsman Balusters Here >> 


The Importance of Wood Finishes


Choosing the finish of your staircase is a decision that many contemplate seriously. There are two schools of thought as to how to treat your wood in the Craftsman style: to stain or leave wood clear coated. Depending on your preference and other style choices in your home, you may choose to have natural wood tones speak prominently through clear coating or temper your stair railing colour to match your home’s tone through staining of your hardwoods.


Contemporary modern craftsman newel post

The dark stain on the modern newel post adds a high-contrast of-the-moment feel to this classic Craftsman look.


Make it your own:

For a traditional Craftsman look: Wood that has been oil-rubbed or clear-coated, allowing the natural color and grain to shine through is the standard, elegant Craftsman style.

For a modern Craftsman feel: Stained wood makes a style statement or matches existing woodwork in the home; a modern newel post and fixtures will showcase a unique and modern look.


Craftsman style homes are beautiful in their refined simplicity, clean lines and emphasis on natural beauty. We hope that this design style primer has helped you better understand the direction you’ll take your stair railing design plans and capture your taste for the traditional or modern.

Other articles:

Guide: 4 Ingredients to Define Your Personal Stair Railing Style

Developing a strong sense of style for your home is equal parts art and science, and your stair railing is no exception. As master stair builders, we’ve guided hundreds of homeowners and designers, clarifying the design ingredients that inspire them. 

In this primer, we’ll cover some basic ingredients that define stair railings, then look at three (of many) design styles.  Finally, we’ll walk through images together, using the key terms to point out elements in each style to help you become comfortable with the look and language of each.  We guarantee you’ll end our primer eager to discuss your own tastes and preferences with family, friends and designers.


Basic Railing Ingredients


Here are the four basic ingredients you should consider when designing your stair railing:

  • Proportion: Combinations of basic shapes influence the overall look and feel of your stair railing and impact everything from the newel post size to balusters used.
  • Continuity:  Repeating elements add visual interest and complexity to the overall design; repetition can make a strong or subtle statement.
  • Patterning: Balusters are an ideal way to introduce patterns for visual impact and flow.
  • Texture: Some design styles play on the contrast between wood, metals and stone, whereas others styles make use of wood textures.



Craftsman Stair Style


A reflection of American design ideals, the Craftsman style favors a mix of coordinating woods and metals that are chosen to emphasize simplicity, expert workmanship, and the home’s harmony with nature.

Craftsman Newel Posts - With cleanly rectangular proportions, the classic mission-style newel post reinforces simplicity through recessed panels and simple, clean lines. This results in an understated yet refined newel post profile that anchors the stair railing.


Craftsman style Mission stair post

Warm rich natural colors showcase the beauty of wood grain patterns.  Much care is taken by expert craftsmen to match the grains and tones for a beautiful finished product. Oil-rubbed metal balusters complement the wood grain for an overall feel of warmth and connection to nature.


Craftsman Balusters - With clean lines and the pleasing contrast of wood and warm iron metals, the Craftsman style is reinforced by patterning the order of the balusters. A popular pattern is that of flags and blanks, which uses the elegant rectangular proportions found in Craftsman homes and fixtures to echo clean, elegant lines. More complex patterning styles allow the eye to rest on the panel as a whole, whereas shorter patterns convey a ‘repeating motif’ feeling to the railing.


Craftsman’s use of iron-look metals for balusters is ideal to showcase the style’s emphasis on meticulous joinery. Note the absence of ornamentation in each element and masterful square mortise technique which demonstrates beautiful and precise workmanship.


Craftsman Railing - While different railing profiles can change the overall look of your railing, many people enjoy the engaging feel of our classically styled Hampton stair railing. For a more modern feel, our Gibson stair rail offers a sleeker and more unique profile, with proportions that echo the overall Mission feel of the Craftsman style.


When viewing the ‘big picture’ it’s easy to see the quintessential Craftsman style, which highlights the natural wood grain and subtly emphasizes the geometry of the flag and blank spindles.  This beautiful railing package continues the harmony of the wood and metal in window and door (background) and exposed beams. Wood tones and graining are carefully matched to enhance the overall look.


<< Explore our Craftsman style newel posts >>


Modern Stair Style


Modern design focuses on bright spaciousness with ample windows, open floor plans and polished metal materials.  Core principles of the style include:

  • use of simple asymmetrical geometry,
  • lots of natural light
  • emphasis on low profile fixtures and fasteners.

Living spaces remain visually unencumbered by dividing walls.

Modern Newel Posts - With minimalist newel posts shapes or mitred rail returns that continue directly into the floor, materials are a key component in the finished railing package.  Material combinations in modern style are often high-contrast or low-contrast neutrals and are frequently accented by light metals like stainless steel and brushed nickel.


Modern stair railing example

Simple handrail profiles are used here to run continuously from handrail to floor, suggesting a newel post with its continuous, clean lines. Note the use of horizontal metal balusters that add a unique pattern and continuity to the staircase. Light wood contributes to the feeling of spaciousness.


<< Explore our Contemporary Stair Newel Posts >>


Modern Balusters - A feeling of airy refinement contributes to the open tone. Often, vertical or horizontal cable balusters are a popular choice in place of traditional wood or ornate metals; contrasting colors and textured metals are often seen and the overall geometry of the railing package aims to create  a strong visual impact. A recent trend is to use straight or curved glass panels with  stainless steel connectors to increase openness and infuse an industrial flavour to the stair railing.


contemporary stair railing with vertical railing system

Visually breathtaking, the white oak cantilever stair has a minimalist overall profile.  The use of light colored stainless steel rod-balusters contribute to the feeling of space and draw the eye both upward and to the stacked stone feature wall that provides visual punch to the stair.

Modern Railing
- Although simplistic in profile, handrails are features of great interest in the modern style and their stark elegance captures visitor attention. The angular railing is the quintessential element for many modern staircases. Pushing the boundaries between baluster and railing, asymmetrical shapes of metal, glass or wood can play with our sense of proportion and feelings of spaciousness.


contemporary stair railing design

Stainless steel posts are used vertically to provide a unifying element between floors.  In the background, light neutrals dominate the palette while the main floor provides an overall feeling of spaciousness. Note the mitered post return for a minimalistic look, coupled with glass and our Gibson rail.


Traditional Stair Style


With classic symmetrical proportions and warm wood and metals, the ornate detail of the traditional style evokes feelings of class and time honoured style throughout the space.  The home’s welcoming feel emerges through the use of balanced proportions, subtle continuity and refined play of textures between metal and wood.


Traditional Newel Posts - Elegantly carved and richly stained, the traditional newel post evokes a welcoming feel to all who enter the home.  With an ornate but sturdy profile that makes use of elaborate profiles, trim, and carved work,  integration of Victorian ornamentation creates a tone of elegance and warmth.  


Example of traditional staircase and railing

A two-story double curve made from jatoba is shown here with a traditional rich-toned railing blended with classic iron and wood spindles. In the forefront, a beautiful newel post with ornamentation gives a stately profile. The knuckled balusters in an elegant pattern contribute to a flowing panel effect.  Finally, the railing’s soaring double curve evokes feelings of balance and harmony that are hallmarks of the traditional style.


 << Explore our traditional newel posts >>


Traditional Balusters - Traditional style is known for its semi-ornate metal balusters, traditional wooden spindles - or both - juxtaposed in a balanced pattern.


Traditional baluster / spindle example

Iron knuckles on dark metal balusters in a single/double pattern are interspersed with matching wood spindles. Note in the background, neutral textiles complement the mid-tones in wall color, also hallmarks of the traditional style.


Traditional Railing - Traditional railings use elegantly sculpted wood rich in tone to convey the style.  Sometimes ornately designed, the railing works in harmony with the balusters and newel post to convey a complete and elegant look.


Traditional Curved Staircase

Space constraints change the profile of the stairs between floors, but even so, this railing package shows how the traditional style evokes feelings of balance and order.  Elements such as the newel, the balusters and the wood tone and texture remain continuous throughout.


Creating the staircase of your dreams is much easier when you can identify and define your style preferences. By following these design principles, you have the opportunity to shape your stair railing design to suit your specific tastes.