Modern Handrail Detail

March 12, 2012 — 34 Comments

Modern stair handrail details. WOW right? When it comes to modern, simple is always best even though it is sometimes particularly difficult to execute. Well, that’s not the case with these handrails … in fact, this might be the simplest one you will ever see. You’ll note that I didn’t say easiest  because I’ve seen some junk out there that I’m pretty sure took even less effort to design, build, and hang than these handrails.

modern stainless steel handrail

What you are looking at is a clear sealed white oak wood cap with a 3/8″ reglet reveal, and a 5/8″ sheet rock wall to which a stainless steel flat bar handrail is attached. What adds a little zip-a-dee-doo-dah to this very simple detail is that there aren’t any visible means of how the handrail is attached to the wall. But that’s what you would expect with a modern handrail right? Strip it down to it’s barest necessities – make it clean.


modern handrail detail drawing

I  hate to admit this but I detailed this handrail standing in the field with the contractor watching me. He said:

Contractor: “We need a handrail detail for this stair.”

Bob: ” Right … (scribble scribble scribble) … how about this?”

Contractor: “Okay.”

It was a close to a modern style conversation (short) as I am capable of having.


modern stainless steel handrail

This is the hidden part of the handrail … the non-aesthetic part that does all the real work but that nobody really wants to see. A metal plate, 4 screws, some blocking and *bamm* you’re done. (well, technically, I was done when I handed the contractor my sketch, his work was just beginning but it ended when he handed it to the metal fabricator – his work was really about to begin).


modern stainless steel handrail

modern stainless steel handrail

I don’t know if you can tell well enough from looking at this photo without me pointing it out but the gypsum board cover piece has been shaved down in total thickness so instead of it being a full 5/8″ thick, the back paper was pulled off and is now about 3/8″ thick.

modern handrail detail drawing 02

modern stainless steel handrail

modern stainless steel handrail

This is actually the stairwell from the underground garage up to the ground floor level. If you look on the right hand side below the handrail, you can see that there are 4 step lights that will be used to illuminate the stairwell. That’s something that I should talk about one day – some generic lighting rules. The main one – and the one being utilized here – is that you don’t light “walk” zones but rather you light the things around the walk zones, in this case the actual stair treads. There is no down lighting in this stairwell.


modern stainless steel handrail

This is a view looking up underneath the handrail where you can see the 3/8″ stainless steel support bar penetrating the gypsum drywall and the flat bar returning back to the wall at the top of the handrail. We return the rails so that people don’t catch their pants or strappy-type things on the end and find themselves propelled down the stairs face first.

I can imagine that some people might see this handrail and think “so what? There isn’t anything special about that handrail at .. all.”

But that’s sort of the point of why I wrote this particular post. Not everything has to be something … it’s rather nice sometimes to simply let something be only what it needs to be.




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  • Joseph Barajas

    Hi Bob, I’m an architect in San Francisco, California. This hand rail detail is beautiful. I’m curious about the thickness of the flat bar and the possible deflection. What is the spacing between the wall brackets?


    • bracket spacing was around 4′ on center

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  • Frank Chappell

    Not So Quick Question: when that rail needs to be repaired, because a grandkid dropped a banana on the stair and grampa grabbed the rail to catch his 235 lb. self, how complicated will it be to fix? Not asking for a cost estimate, but it sounds like it will be a major project to fix the thing…or am I reading too much into it?

    • the process of fixing this handrail (should it ever get ripped from the wall) would not be particularly different from any handrail that get’s ripped from the wall. In fact, it’s probably less likely to need repair from any sort of damage short of being pulled from the wall. Most side-wall mounted hand rails are attached to studs through the sheet rock whereas these are attached directly to the stud.

      • Frank Chappell

        Nice. I wish whoever mounted my handrail had put that much thought into it.

      • erica

        Where did you get the metal rail ? I would like to purchase one.

        • we didn’t “get it” … we designed and had it made.

  • Mark Mc Swain

    This is much like one of my solutions for having a wall backing (eliminating needs for bannisters, railings, extension loops, et al).

    To wit: 1-1/4″ all-thread is fastened to solid blocking and spaced to suit the railing. The wall then gets its scheduled appearance. At time of rail installation, finished metal tubing goes over the threaded studs on the wall. The diameters more one of proportion than any specific fit on the stud. The railing is blind-bored for the studs, then blind-bored from below to intersect the studs, which are through-bored to receive the fasteners from below.

    Alternately, a flat meal plate with a bottom flange can be used. The plate can be securely fastened to the threaded studs, as wood or finished metal rail can then slip over the vertical plate and be fastened from below.

    Railings are a unique thing–they need to be as firm and reliable as bedrock. Yet, they need to be removable, if only to refinish the contact surfaces. This is part of the “why” railing design is as critical as the stairway design itself–a sadly neglected part of design. Yet one frequently used by the occupants.

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  • titi

    thats super cool, who can do that for me in NYC??

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  • nice work! love the clean mount.

  • Brian Boatright

    You know you’re an architect when you do your best design standing in the field with the contractor watching…

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  • I like how you came up with the detail on the fly. Did you add the detail to the record docs?

    I’m guessing eased edges refer to them being “shaved down/rounded down” right?

    And is the handrail going to feel like brushed metal?

    Am I asking too many questions yet? 🙂

    • 1. Not the drawings themselves but the sketch was copied and entered into the project binder.2. Yes – if you look at the second sketch, you can see where I wrote down “eased edges”.
      3. I hope it feels like brushed since that is the finish. We didn’t go polished – don’t want to have to have someone constantly wiping it down to remove hand prints.
      4. No


  • I like things that appear to “float” without support like handrails and shelves. I especially like that someone thought about how to achieve that illusion.

    • despite the flip manner in which I presented the origins of this handrail, I did already know what I wanted, just hadn’t documented it to the contractor yet. I am glad that you liked it.

  • I like to see utilitarian objects get some attention. Nice work.

  • ADBurt

    Sexy retaining walls and now a sexy handrail!??!!  Oh my!  Nice to actually see any handrail- all those pretty stair pictures in the magazines seem to show no railing at all.  

    • Those pictures drive me crazy too! Those are the ones the client brings in and says “give me this” and I have to be the bad code compliant guy.

      • Mark Mc Swain

        Did an open-air, public-access “party deck” for a municipal athletic organization. TAS is (was, too) quite specific in the requirements for stairs and ramps in such situations. Yet, the client, and four different contractors came back to us on why the railings had more lumber (client requirement for wood use) than the deck itself.
        Some days, it’s as bad to be the molasses as the vinegar in treating the mules <sigh<

  • Dexter

    Nice detail.  I may or may not be stealing this at some point in the future.

    • please help yourself – but as was pointed out earlier, this is a residential handrail detail 🙂

  • Alan

    Not very aesthetic, sharp edges on each corner and non ADA or DDA compliant, I’m at a loss to understand why your contractor would just approve something of this design ?

    • Zing!

      Okay so you don’t like it – that’s okay, I do and more importantly, so does the client.

      Just so you can sleep better at night, this is a stairwell from a basement level garage in a private residence and is not subject to ADA requirements. That having been said, these handrails meet the 2006 International Residential Code (Sec. R311.5.6 Handrails) which is the jurisdictional standard to which they are measured.

      The edges of the flat bar have been eased so there isn’t any concerns about sharp edges.

      • Tyfullerton

        Bam! Love the concrete code knowledge to back it up. Looks like a good detail/handrail to me.

  • Jim McDonald

    How do you plan to finish around the support brackets?  Caulk?

    • yes – the areas around the point of penetration is very small but even at that, the drywall compound would simply break off over time with the movement one would expect to occur with the grabbing of the handrail. A small bead of caulk around the bracket will deal with that condition.

  • Very nice detail on the fly. I was going to say it didn’t meet code (in North Carolina the 2″ wide rail would fail, 1 1/2″ Max to meet the accessibility requirements) but I guess the residential code is different.

    • Thanks  – 

      Here in Dallas, we are under the 2006 International Residential Code which allows for a max width of 2″ (min of 1.25″)

      • Mark Mc Swain

        You do these things often enough, they get to be reflex. Much like my clinic work has given me a “reflex” that rails are 1-3/8′ wide and 1-3/4″ from the wall, and the ends extend 18″ and loop back to the start point at 12″ AFF. Seems “naked” without.