As the weather warms up, more and more Canadians blur the lines between their indoor and outdoor living spaces.

As that happens, interior design trends impact our exteriors. That’s certainly the case when it comes to railings.

Inside, traditional wood railings remain a staple, but a growing number of homeowners are seizing the opportunity to really impact the look and feel of a room with a railing that’s anything but ordinary. Glass panels, wrought iron and unexpected combinations of materials—they’re all part of the mix when it comes to railing options that make a statement.

Outdoors, the same is true. Trends for outdoor railings are in line with what’s happening in interior design, and they also reflect Canadian’s desire to spend as much time as possible outside—from the first minute the weather allows.

Less is More

When it comes to backyard decks, homeowners are thinking more and more about the beauty of their view and how a well-designed railing can help enhance it. With that in mind, glass is naturally a popular choice. It’s an ideal option for homeowners wanting to erase the visual lines between a deck and a yard. Andrew Pantelides, Marketing and Business Development Director with Regal Ideas says it was a search for the ultimate unobstructed view that inspired his company’s frameless glass railing system (that are also post-and rail-free).

For those who’d prefer not to clean glass, or who want more of a breeze than solid panels can offer, there are other nearly invisible options. Vertical cable rail has been catching on, of late. Much like glass, it doesn’t get in the way of backyard scenery and—unlike horizontal cable rail—it does meet building codes. “Our vertical cable rail system allows for the strongest and thinnest pickets available, so it doesn’t block your view,” says Colin Urquhart, Product Manager, Decking and Railing at Owl Distribution.

For those homeowners who opt for more traditional aluminum or wood products, choosing black can help make the railings visually disappear. In particular, says Urquhart, textured matte black is a finish of choice for many custom builders and renovators.

No matter what material they’re using, there’s a trend toward keeping things more refined. “People want greater visibility through their railing systems,” says Mike Onderko, Director of Product Marketing at Trex Company. “It used to be, back in the early part of the 2000s, people wanted those big, chunky bread loaf-style rails that felt a bit confining.” He adds, “Now we’re seeing infills that are more diminutive, so people are able to make their decks feel more open.”

Photo courtesy of CanDek Railings Ltd.

Sometimes, Big and Bold is Best

There’s an exception to every rule, of course. That barely there feel of back deck railings doesn’t always apply to front-porch railings, says Ken Scott, National Sales Manager for CenDek Railings Ltd., in Vancouver. When it comes to the street-facing part of their properties, homeowners are increasingly choosing a few bigger-profile elements, for the sake of curb appeal. Scott says his company has started to produce 4-inch maxum posts for front-of-home railing designs, to meet customer demand. “We’re finding that U.S. mentality of wanting everything to be big and bold is starting to make its way up across the border.”

Customers, though, only want a hint of bold. “Most of the time, they would still use our smaller railing, but they’ll add a bigger post at the bottom of the stairs just to give a bigger impact.”

Make it Personal

Fewer homeowners are satisfied with cookie-cutter decks and railings. “Ten or 15 years ago, if people wanted a deck, they went to a lumber yard and they had two choices of colours in wood planks and maybe one option for the railing,” says Onderko. Now, he notes, they’re demanding options.

“They’re inspired by deck shows like Decked Out and Custom Built,” says Pantelides. “Homeowners and contractors are pushing the envelope when it comes to outdoor designs.”

Sites like Houzz and Pinterest, too, mean homeowners are well informed about their options and less willing to settle for run-of-the-mill decking or railings.

“If they want something beyond a simple black rail, we can do something like a composite post, or a cocktail rail.” says Onderko. Customers are mixing materials for a unique look, too, choosing composite rail systems with aluminum balusters, for example, and mixing those with wood or metal or glass.

Lighting is another popular custom touch. “LED lighting—and lighting in general—continues to be a big trend in all outdoor projects,” says Pantelides. “Homeowners are using lighting to create an ambiance so they can enjoy their outdoors at night.” Signature accessories like decorative post caps and pickets add personality to railings projects, as well. “Those accessories allow homeowners to add that personal touch to their outdoor projects,” says Pantelides.

Customers are looking to railing and decking manufacturers who build choices and flexibility into their designs. “Being able to have a system that is DIY-friendly and customizable is a win-win,” says Pantelides.

Trex, for example, has taken a cue from home design sites and reinvented their web presence to help customers—accustomed to seeing complete, polished and staged designs—easily understand what their deck and railing combinations could look like. “If you choose a particular decking in a particular colour,” explains Onderko, “the site will recommend three curated looks of railings. You’ll also see images of the deck and railing together, complete with furniture and accessories, so you can really understand how it will all look when it’s complete.”

Photos courtesy of Regal Ideas

Railing Design Equals Opportunity

No longer an afterthought on staircase or deck projects, homeowners are realizing railings are a design element with plenty of potential impact. A glass rail along a staircase might be the finishing touch on a contemporary living room, for example, while grand wood accents can solidify the traditional feel of a wrap-around deck on a colonial home. Black aluminum railing might “disappear” on a back deck, leaving nothing but the view, and a combination of metal and glass could give a patio a sleek, modern look.

They can be a room’s defining architectural feature, or the invisible wall that brings a remarkable garden into focus. Either way, they’re a design opportunity in the making; a little creativity and the right railing can make a good design something great.

Photos courtesy of Regal Ideas