What is a Balustrade?

Sheri Cyprus

A balustrade is a series of architectural posts called balusters that are held up with top and bottom railings. A baluster is typically fairly small in size and most are formed in a sort of teardrop or vase shape that varies in width. Some balusters are more elongated while others are thicker and more rounded. A balustrade is most often found on stairways, porches or balconies. Although balustrades are usually decorative, their main purpose is to keep people from falling off of interior or exterior building structures.

Man with a drill
Man with a drill

The word, balustrade, is a French word that is derived from the Italian balaustrata. Balaustro is the Italian word for baluster, while balaustrata refers to the balustrade system. Balustrade systems include the top and bottom railings and the newel posts as well as the balusters. Newel posts are the structural columns that support the balustrade. Newel posts are featured at the entrance, or foot, of a staircase and at the corners of a balcony as well as at even intervals along the balustrade.

Although the main purpose of newel posts is to physically support balustrade structures, they are often decorative and give a staircase or porch railing much style. They may be round or square and may be simple or elaborate in design. A newel cap fits on the top of the newel post and it may also be round, square, simple or elaborate, depending on the style of the newel post. During renovations, newel caps may be changed to give balconies and staircases a new look.

A baluster has a small cylindrical piece in the center of each end. These round pegs are designed to fit into holes drilled on the top and bottom railings of a balustrade. Strong adhesive is used to secure the balusters. Balustrades may be made of stone, wood, glass or metal, and they may be straight or curved in shape.

Stone balusters are often called cast stone columns. Stone balustrades usually have stone railings, but metal balustrades may feature wood railings. For example, some elaborately scrolled black wrought iron balustrades have polished wood top railings. Many modern shopping malls and office buildings feature glass balustrades. The glass may be plain or textured, but it's always tempered safety glass because it resists breaking and shattering.

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