For a few years while working as a contractor and a landscaper, my bread-and-butter projects were raised patios, usually built with stone pavers and raised with retaining wall blocks. While I often didn’t have to put railings on these, when there was a big height difference between the patio and the ground it was definitely important to do so.
Working frequently in the wet climate of the Pacific Northwest, I focused on finding and installing railings for raised patios that could stand up to the crazy weather, were pleasing to the eye, and had the ability to look good with a variety of materials, like stone, concrete, wood, composite, and metals. Over the years I’ve tried many materials, and I’ve found that galvanized steel or aluminum paired with a tough coating (preferably more than one coating) is the most capable of delivering my list of aesthetic and functional demands.
The Ideal Aesthetics of a Patio Railing
Not all raised patios are going to need a railing. Much of the time, they are fairly low to the ground and look better without any railing. They are spaces where people and sightlines are meant to flow freely, and they often possess one or two rows of steps that gently connect them to a lower patio or a garden path. When I do put railings in, it’s either instigated by safety considerations or it’s because in that particular case, the spatial definition that a railing provides brings some beauty to the yard and patio.
In general, there are a few aesthetic elements that I look for in a raised patio railing.
- Simple Lines: Overall, I look for a railing with fairly simple lines–clean enough for a modernist aesthetic, but able to accent other design schemes, like a busier Victorian aesthetic or a neoclassical scheme. Clean lines are the most versatile, and if a homeowner decides to change up the outside look of the home or the style of furniture on the patio, railings with simple lines have a chameleon-like ability to fit in with any style. Both aluminum and galvanized steel deliver this kind of versatility, and can be customized as well.
- Customizability: When the space calls for a little more ornamentation, a railing system that is easy to customize, either at the factory or on-site, can be exceedingly helpful. Sometimes all that is required to turn a space from good to great are some railing knuckles and custom pickets. In addition, deck railing lights using LEDs, whether on the post caps or attached to the rails, can be the perfect addition to a raised patio. When looking for a system that makes adding lighting easy, I’ve found it’s best to choose a manufacturer who makes lighting meant to be integrated with the railing system.
- Interesting Finish: With things like railings or fences with larger surface areas, I like to have a finish that isn’t completely flat, that possesses a bit of texture. I find that this is more interesting for the hand, and visually gives the railing a subtly earthy, aged classic feel. Other types of finishes can certainly pair well with a patio and work effectively, and there are certainly near infinite ways to make a space look beautiful. I simply find a slightly textured metal to be an ideal pairing with stone, brick, or concrete.
- Looks Great with Stone: On that note, because most patios are constructed with stone, having a material that works beautifully with stone is a fairly important quality. Metal, especially metal with a black finish, typically complements stone very well, as does wood, and glass in the right setting. For outdoor railings with stone steps, I generally pick either a metal railing or a railing with wooden rails and metal pickets. Both of those options have a kind of “elemental” nature that both echoes and uplifts the earthy heaviness of stone.
My Choice for Railings for Raised Patios
When it comes down to it, my personal favorite railing for a raised patio is a high-quality galvanized steel railing. A good steel railing system has all the qualities I mentioned above, and also tends to be heavier and sturdier than aluminum. Since rust is undesirable and is common with steel that isn’t properly protected, I pick railings with the best possible protection. These days, that translates into railings that are coated with a layer of extra zinc protection (galvanized steel is already coated in zinc), and an e-coat (more often used on car undercarriages than railings) along with a premium powder coating. This combination translates into a railing that will last for a very long time in many climate types and make a great match for a brick or stone raised patio.
Finding this sort of railing can sometimes be a challenge, though there are certainly a number of premium railings available on the market. One of the places where I start in the design process is Fortress Railing. Their railings are some of the few out there with the right combination of premium coatings, strength, and beauty. Beyond great railings, they also have a solid catalog of other project materials that are definitely worth looking at, like decking, fencing, and ornamental hardware. So anything your raised patio needs–a pergola or arbor maybe–you can build with help from beautiful, long-lasting Fortress products.