Design/Build: If budgets allow, consider designing and building custom newels to personalize and even modernize details in a home.
Synopsis: In the first Design/Build column about the art of residential design, contributing editor Marianne Cusato describes the basics of stair newels. She notes that historic styles dictate strict details, but in today’s homes we have a wide range of design leverage to personalize newel details. There are stock options, but designing and building custom newels can create a theme and hierarchy throughout a house. Cusato describes the differences between supporting and terminating newels as well as box and turned newels, identifies a series of newels that are a variation on a theme, and points out how to unify newel design to work as part of a single composition. The column includes detailed drawings by the author.
Stair newels are both a practical requirement to stabilize a railing as well as an opportunity to add a design element to your home. While historic styles dictate strict details, in today’s homes — even those based on traditional precedent — we have a wide range of design leverage to personalize and even modernize details like a newel post. Though stair-part manufacturers offer a range of well-designed stock newel options, consider designing and building custom newels if budgets allow. This way, you can go beyond the basics and create a theme and hierarchy with variations on the newels used throughout your house. Here are a few variables to consider when designing or selecting your stair newels.
Newel basics: supporting or terminating
A newel may support the handrail, sometimes with balusters wrapping the post (typically in a colonial or more-formal classical design). In other cases, especially on secondary stairs, the railing will terminate into a block at the top of the newel. Terminating newels are common when the railing is built from stock components. When designing or purchasing a terminating newel, it’s nice…