I have a friend who is an investment banker but defines herself as a musician first. Not surprisingly, her home expresses her weekend-only ripped jeans sensibilities. The house is an old-fashioned brick townhome, but by adding the industrial aesthetics of punk rock clubs, she has made it her own with exposed masonry walls, clearly visible ducts, and metal fixtures. This includes perforated metal railings indoors and out.
The problem with these railings is that while they do provide privacy, they also block lines of sight which can, in some cases, be necessary. Her home is downtown, and one Sunday morning she went out onto her deck to surprise, and be surprised by, a young man sleeping off Saturday night in her backyard. This was something she could have seen before walking through her back door if her railings had allowed more visibility. It shook her, even though the man meant no harm, and she started to think that seeing out into the backyard was just as important as keeping people from seeing onto the deck. This started her hunting for a contemporary deck railing that offered an industrial aesthetic while providing an unobstructed view, one that would let her call the police to roust drunks instead of doing it herself.
What Is Contemporary Style?
The term contemporary can be misleading. Often, people take it to mean modern and think of minimalist homes that were in vogue early in the twentieth century through the 60s. To be fair, this is what contemporary meant when the baby boomers were coming of age, and contemporary styles do embrace some of the features of these homes, namely the opening up of internal spaces and the opening of these internal spaces to the outdoors. Other than the rejection of formal divides, though, contemporary has a broad definition and can refer to a range of styles.
In my friend’s case, it meant embracing an open floor plan. Everything else was meant to evoke a hole-in-the-wall rock club from the 1980s or 90s. The brick of the walls is exposed, the floors are sealed concrete, and the track lighting is prevalent and finished in flat black to better mimic stage lighting. The furniture is distressed, and the dining room table boasts graffiti and signatures drawn by friends. To choose a new railing system, she looked at all of her options for contemporary-style railing.
Deck Railings for Every Flavor of Contemporary
Since contemporary style can refer to so many seemingly different types of decor, as my friend learned, it’s best to think about what type of ‘contemporary’ you’re after before you choose a railing type.
- Rustic contemporary places a heavy emphasis on natural and found materials, wood grains, and textures. In decorating, this usually means exposed beams, reclaimed wood, wrought iron accents, and the ubiquitous shiplap. In railing, this can mean wooden railings, or it can mean black wrought iron-look railing panels or balusters capped off by a wooden handrail.
- Minimalist contemporary focuses on reducing forms to the absolute minimum needed to perform a function. In architecture, this leads to clean, white, ultra-modern boxes. The most minimalist balcony railings are glass, with cable railing coming in a close second.
- Industrial contemporary, as a decor style, has some characteristics in common with rustic style. If it has a defining trait, it would be the emphasis of harder materials like metal and concrete over wood and fabrics. Simple steel railings make good railings for an industrial-style space, as do perforated metal railings. For those, like my friend, who are looking for an uninterrupted view through their railings, cable, welded wire, or even repurposed chain link suit the style and allow for the most visibility while still accomplishing their purpose.
There are a plethora of railing options for my friend to choose from that will increase visibility. This issue is finding one that meshes with her ideas of what her home should be. Preferably ones that wouldn’t require a lot of maintenance.
Choosing a Contemporary Deck Railing for Your Needs
While all these railing options are doable, as my friend soon learned, some are more doable than others. My friend’s Homeowners’ Association gave the no-go to her proposed reclaimed chain link railing before I could find out whether local city codes allowed it. Of the HOA-approved alternatives, she discounted metal railings for being too common and glass railings because they made her think of the Apple store.
This left cable railings, and these had a contrast between the frame and the stainless steel cables that my friend really liked. Cable strung between steel top and bottom rails appealed to her most, but these railings were a little more polished and professional than she liked, so she added an unfinished wood cap over the steel top rail to give it a rough-edged feel. Shortly after the new railings were installed, she had a party where guests were encouraged to sign their names and write their best lines on the railing. It has a ways to go before it matches her table, though.
Since contemporary styles vary and the term is open to interpretation, personalization and customization are important in a contemporary railing. It’s important to think about what interpretation of contemporary style fits you best and choose a system that can be tailored to suit your home and style. Fortress Railing offers several high-quality, easy-to-install systems that suit the contemporary home such as steel railings that can be customized with knuckles or cable railing panels that can be used with wood top rails or posts. Their lines of glass and aluminum railing will suit ultra-modern contemporary homes, or add a contemporary flourish to more traditional homes. To find out more, contact Fortress to find a dealer or installer. And if you’re working on other projects around your contemporary-style home, look into all of Fortress’ product lines, including their composite decking and fencing.