10 Budget-Friendly Railing Ideas to Give Your Split Level Stairs a Modern Facelift

Split-level homes were hugely popular in the 1950s through 1970s for their space-efficient floorplans and modern style. Many featured oak railings dividing their split staircase and spaces. While practical for the time, these original railings can now feel dated and clunky. Updating the railings is one of the best ways to give a split-level home a fresh, contemporary look without breaking the bank.

With creativity and strategic changes, you can transform your split-level stair railings from tired relics into stylish focal points. Read on for 10 budget-friendly railing ideas to give your split stairs a modern facelift.

Install Cable Railing for an Airy, Contemporary Look

Cable railing is an excellent choice for opening up a split-level staircase and instantly giving it a modern vibe. The thin metal or composite cables provide an airier, lighter look compared to bulky wood balusters. Cable railing allows more light through and creates better sight lines between floors. It comes in a variety of finishes like brushed nickel, chrome, and powder coated colors to match your vision and decor.

Tips for Installing Cable Railing

Proper installation is crucial for safety with cable railing. Use tensioned cables that can withstand weight and impact while still looking sleek. Securely anchor the top and bottom railing posts, as cable systems rely heavily on the posts for strength. Consider consulting a railing professional, as DIY cable railing can be tricky.

split level railing ideas

Refresh Existing Wood Stair Railings

For a budget-friendly facelift, you can refresh your existing wood railing with new stain or paint. Sand down the railing to remove any splinters or rough spots, then apply wood stain in a modern hue like ebony, gray, or charcoal. For painted railings, properly prime and use high-quality paint in a contemporary color. You can paint railings and balusters all one color or get creative with contrasting colors.

Painting Techniques and Color Inspiration

Consider using two tones for the railing and balusters or paint the balusters an unexpected accent color for a fun pop. For outdoors, use exterior paint to stand up to the elements. A semi-gloss or high-gloss sheen will make the color pop. Look for cheerful, bright colors like cobalt, seafoam, and peach to liven up your split-level stairs.

Frame Railings with Decorative Molding

Framing basic railings with decorative molding like picture frames or chair rails is an easy DIY approach to transforming them. Picture frame molding is an affordable way to add polished detail. For a bolder change, use wider chair rail molding traditionally found in dining rooms to add definition along stairs. Experiment with wainscoting or tongue and groove paneling as well. Frame existing railings or construct new ones entirely from decorative trim pieces.

Maximize Visual Interest with Creative Molding

Get creative with the layout – you can frame railing edges or outline balusters. Run trim horizontally, vertically, or even diagonally. Paint trim in a contrasting color to really make it pop. Consider nontraditional materials too like PVC or polyurethane, which won’t rot outdoors like real wood. The design options are endless with this simple framing trick.

Swap Out Sections for Unique Mixed Materials

One affordable option is to mix materials by swapping out sections of your current railing with more modern elements. Exchange a few balusters for sleek metal cables in key spots to lighten up heavy wood railings. Or replace a wood railing section with steel cable railing atop a stair landing for a contemporary statement.

Creative Ways to Mix Up Materials

Get creative mixing metals, woods, rope, and glass. Accent wood posts with metal handrails or swap in a few decorative wrought iron balusters. Ensure any new elements meet safety codes. Sections of cable railing can visually open up railings, but avoid large uninterrupted spans. Mixing materials adds modern flair while retaining some of the original railing’s character.

Incorporate Lighting for Form and Function

Thoughtfully placed lighting enhances any railing design, for aesthetics and safety. Ambient stair and railing lighting improves visibility for navigating steps in the evening. For a striking look, install sconces or mini pendant lights flanking stair sides. Or recessed lighting in the stairs themselves can illuminate treads safely.

Creative Railing Lighting Ideas

For fun accents, attach rope lights along railing tops or edges. Individual post lights can help highlight unique balusters. Hang Edison bulbs or modern pendants from railing posts at varying heights for an eclectic flair. Remember lighting placement should not create fall hazards or glare.

Use Simple Affordable Decor Touches

A few simple decor additions can elevate plain railings affordably. For natural texture, adorn railings with faux greenery and florals, like garlands draped along tops or potted plants on landings. Let ivy wind naturally around posts and frames. Removable wallpaper or decals lining stair risers also draw the eye. Try an accent wall in a bold print or fun geometric pattern as a backdrop.

Easy Green and Floral Decor Ideas

Play with different heights and arrangements for greenery and blooms. Try framing railing sections with flowering vines or attaching single faux stems to balusters. For non-permanent color, secure flower pots to railing posts or hang them from elaborate baluster designs. A few well-placed decor touches make a staircase pop.

Preserve and Showcase Original Historic Details

For homes with original antique railing details, consider preservation instead of replacement. Refinish and repair ornate Victorian spindles, hand-carved newel posts, or decorative metalwork to restore their beauty. Research your home’s history and consult preservation specialists to identify rare unique elements. Salvaging and repairing parts of antique railings maintains the home’s heritage.

Balancing Modernization with Preservation

Look for ways to modernize without sacrificing vintage details. Swap out only deteriorated sections beyond repair. Custom-match replacements or commission reproductions of missing parts like decorative finials. Take a blended approach mixing old with new for a refreshed look balancing modernity and preservation.

Paint a Unique Staircase Motif

Apply a fresh coat of paint to plain railings and balusters to spruce them up affordably. Paint the full railing one color or get creative with stripes, patterns, and motifs. Try two-tone horizontal stripes or diagonal crossing lines, alternating baluster colors in a zig-zag, even faux marble or woodgrain effects. Use painter’s tape to create geometric patterns like chevrons easily.

Fun Paint Techniques for Railings

Mix up colors and shapes on balusters for a playful accent. Attempt ombre blending from light to dark. Metallic paints like bronze, copper, and silver lend a modern luxe feel. Paint the wall behind a bold contrasting shade to really make railing details pop. Paint offers limitless potential to transform ordinary railings on a budget.

Frame with Ornate Architectural Details

For quick sophistication, frame existing railings with ornate architectural trim pieces. Simple picture frame molding affords thin definition, while substantial wood trim can create the railing itself for an integrated look. Bring in classical Victorian-inspired details like corbels, rosettes, and scrolls for depth. Look for chunky layered crown molding or intricately carved trim for a majestic impression.

Incorporate Character with Decorative Trim

Don’t be afraid to go big and bold. Frame railings with chunky stacked trim bordering stairs. Accent corners with large crown molding flourishes. Work in the style of other architectural details in the home, like transom windows or door casing trim. Decorative trim frames up ordinary railings with eye-catching elegance, for a custom built-in look.

Since split-levels often encompass an assortment of architectural details, don’t be afraid to blend railing styles too. You can mix traditional wood and modern metal for contrast. Or pair sleek contemporary cables with rustic reclaimed wood posts. Combining industrial piping with warm stained oak creates an inviting mixed aesthetic. Mix and match for a design that complements your home’s established character.

Updating your split-level stair railings doesn’t have to drain your bank account. With clever use of modern materials, paint, lighting, and decorative accents, you can transform your dated railing into a stunning focal point full of contemporary style. Use these budget-friendly ideas to refresh your split-level home’s look starting with its central staircase.

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