Staircase design for a 1970s split level house

split-level-ranch-railingTaking the steps to restore her 1968 split level ranch to its former glory, reader Kathleen’s dilemma is: What kind of railings are appropriate for the era of her house? Her current railings seem a bit too colonial for the mid century mod look that she is trying to pull off — now she needs our help to suggest an alternative. Fortunately, we’ve written about this once before, and reader Joel even supplied a sketch with what we think is a terrific potential solution.

split-level-railingsKathleen writes:

Hi Pam and Kate,

I have a 1968 split level that I have been slowly redecorating in period style.  The stairway railings are the next project to tackle. The white, painted, Victorian style spindles are not working in the space anymore (not that I think they probably ever did), especially next to my CADO wall unit. However, I don’t know what to replace it with (which is why the project has waited this long).  I am hoping your readers will set me on the right path and am open to any suggestions with regard to style and materials.

Thanks a bunch,


1970s style staircase

Reader Joel created this design for another reader. Yes: Perfect 1970s design style.

When Pam and I were discussing Kathleen’s dilemma, Pam immediately thought about her post Easy DIY stair rails for a mid century basement remodel — where she suggested a simple and period appropriate stair design for reader Heather’s basement stairs — and then, reader Joel quickly whipped up a sketch.  This type of stair railings would be easy to install (consult with a properly licensed professional) and very cost effective, Kathleen might even want to stain it to coordinate with her fabulous Cado wall unit.

Another option — if there is more room in the budget — might be a decorative metal railing like this oval design from Morgik Metal Designs. The oval pattern has a nice mod geometric look — which might coordinate well with Kathleen’s mid century furnishings and overall style. The railing could be kept bare metal or even painted for a jazzier look.

Readers — what style of railing would you use (or do you have) in your late 1960s or 1970s split level house?

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  1. Jeanne says

    I’m thinking wrought iron, too. That time period brings back memories of Mediterranean. You don’t have to go overboard on it, but a touch here and there – or use with olive greens and orange.

    Those examples Chase posted are nice! Modern wrought iron would work, too. Either way, I vote wrought iron.

  2. lisa says

    I found this image that has possibilities as an inspiration:—The-Center-for-Architecture–Sustainability—Art. I think Joel’s sketch of the wooden staircase is too heavy for what I can see of the rest of the decor. Thin spindles are the key, even if you choose a heavier rail a la The Brady Bunch house. I found my image searching images of “nautical staircase.”

    I don’t know how much money the OP wants to spend — I think the ideal solution would be to have a metal artist create a custom railing. But I doubt I could afford that solution!

  3. Rick S says

    I have searched 1970’s stairs and found a site that “updates” stairs and their befores would be better than their afters for you.

    They look like iron and wood, but should be black iron and stained to match your home. The ones pictured look like they were all painted white before replacing them. Maybe it is to lessen their appeal to make replacement seem the best option—– not.


  4. Christa says

    When I look at your photos, I imagine seeing vertical wood baluster 2x2s that run all the way up floor to ceiling, with the handrails affixed to them and sort of floating. It would create a bit of a screen, add a sculptural element, and it would highlight the vertical space of your house.

  5. tammyCA says

    the other day I was just noticing the iron fence balconies on old apartment buildings around my area…they are really cool and it is too bad that the apts are decrepit (wish I knew what everything looked like here back in the ’50s-’60s).
    I wonder if you can get ideas by looking at apartment buildings with the black iron balconies. I’ve been lamenting the deterioration of the city I live in and not long ago decided to change my view and look at the vintage beauty still hiding here and there…and, take photos before those eventually disappear. I want to capture some even if they are decrepit…there’s Googie style (which originated out here, I think) and space-y stuff from the space industry…I’m on a mission!

  6. says

    This railing is in a home of similar vintage. The openness allows you to see into your living space and the darkwood gives it an earthy vibe. Scaled down, and with some clear panels for safety, perhaps this could work.

  7. Kathleen says

    Wow…thanks for the feedback. I will study each and/or research every suggestion and hopefully have an “after” shot in the not too-distant future.

    • Kathleen says

      Um…and where I have I been that I didn’t know about Definitely finding ideas there that I can use. Thanks to everyone.

  8. Beth says

    I love my curved wrought iron railing in our 1970 split level! It fits the era and we get so many compliments on it.

    We are happy to see that the split levels and mid century homes are making a big come back. We love the large rooms and how the family can escape to different areas, yet still be close by.

    I notice that kids who grew up in a home like these, have a sense of individuality, where kids who grow up in completely “open” homes take on the characteristics of their parents. (sometimes good but sometimes very bad)

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