Having nearly fallen from a loft due to a poorly designed wooden railing, I know firsthand the importance of sturdy railings for a loft! The issue of what railings to use in a loft is becoming more and more relevant as loft remodels and installations of new loft spaces, especially in remodeled warehouses, become more popular.
Whether it’s a new space made to look old, or an old space getting an update, if you have a loft you’re going to need a reliable railing to keep it safe. And installing a railing that has some style and suits the buildout is essential. As with most things design and construction related, there are lots of ways of doing this. In this post, I’m going to attempt to break down a few of the important considerations that inform a good railing choice.
Your First Choice: Solid Demi-Wall or Railing
If you’ve been through a few lofts, you’ve probably noticed that they tend to have either a solid half wall or an open railing. The choice between these two comes down to a couple very basic preferences. If more privacy is desired, then the best choice is clear a solid, studded wall, just like any other wall in your home, just shorter. One may not want or need a railing in the first place, but if light, openness, and visibility are important, then a railing is often just the thing. The other consideration is maintaining the loft ‘look.’ That openness that a railing provides to a loft is part of the uniqueness and, for many people, part of the attraction of the loft style.
What to Look for in Railings for a Loft
When a railing is what makes the most sense for the space, there are a few main qualities you’ll want to look for. The quality that really underlies all of the others is strength, as a strong railing is not only good for safety, but allows for other aesthetic benefits, like narrower balusters.
- Fewer posts: I certainly have nothing against posts, but the benefit of having fewer of them is that installation is quicker and you get slightly more light streaming through without obstructions. A wooden railing will typically require more post-to-beam connections than a steel railing, while wooden posts will also have to be thicker than the steel–this is all due to the relative strength of the two materials.
- Narrower pickets: The same principle applies to how narrow the vertical pickets need to be to deliver adequate structural support. Stronger materials drive down the minimum width, which increases the sense of space and light. This is probably the most important benefit derived from a strong material like steel. Of course, there are railing codes that govern spacing, and the space between balusters needs to be small enough to keep animals and children from falling through, but a metal railing will let you create that spacing while keeping the balusters skinny enough to feel unintrusive.
- Long railing panels: Longer pre-assembled railing sections are mainly a virtue due to their ease of installation, and the time saving that creates.
- Fascia mounts: Whenever possible, fascia mounting your railings is a good idea as it allows more square footage to be used as viable living space. In small spaces (as lofts often are), every inch counts.
- Low color fading: Many lofts I’ve worked on have intense sun exposure, which has really gone to work on the wooden railings I’ve installed. If you’d rather not deal with that kind of fading, you’ll either have to take care to protect the wood or use a railing material that’s UV resistant, such as powder coated steel.
What Styles Look Good in a Loft?
Obviously the ultimate choice of a railing depends on the context of the loft. A Wyoming log cabin loft might call for a different material than a renovated Manhattan warehouse loft. Sometimes the uber-industrial look of piping turned into railings works best and other times a cedar or knotted pine railing is the perfect fit for a more rustic, woodsy loft. The variety is endless. In general, simple materials like wood and steel, wrought in a simple fashion, are able to work well in most aesthetic contexts.
Since lofts are so often based around an industrial, minimalist look, I often find myself choosing steel railings or even stainless steel cable railing systems for the lofts I work on. However, there are certainly situations where the texture and look of wood are the most appropriate for the space. For instance, I recently used cedar posts and rails with simple, easy-to-install iron balusters to soften a predominantly concrete space that needed all the softening it could get but also needed a railing that could bring together the industrial and the natural. Some manufacturers are making cable railing kits that work with wood posts, which is another great choice for a loft area. When that isn’t the case, such as when there are wood floors or some other softening element, steel usually fits a loft perfectly, harkening back to the industrial revolution and adding a metallic “pop” to the room.
When I do recommend steel railings or individual balusters to my clients, one of the first companies I recommend is Fortress Railing. Their steel railings and balusters provide exceptional strength and are protected from the sun by special UV inhibitors in their tough powder coating. They are easy to install, and can be fascia mounted to take full advantage of your loft’s floor space. Fortress also sells high-quality, marine-grade stainless steel cable railings in easy-to-install panels. In addition to their railing products, I always direct my building-enthusiast clients to look at Fortress’ full range of products, like decking and fencing.