Deck railings are an important part of the design of any deck – along with being a vital safety feature for raised surfaces and stairs.
And whether you’re thinking about replacing railings that let an existing deck down because they’re not in great condition, or look old-fashioned, or you’re planning the railings for a brand new deck design, there are plenty of stylish options to choose from. Either way, when you are looking for deck ideas, this is an element that needs to be on your list.
‘Deck railings need rails, posts and an infill which could be either balusters (wood or metal) or panels (wood or glass),’ says Zoe Goff, decking expert at Richard Burbidge. ‘Timber creates a rustic look that is perfect for a traditional country house. Alternatively, glass is a great option for more contemporary properties. By reflecting light, glass paneling creates the illusion of space and enhances the view of the garden.’
We’ve put together the best deck railing ideas to inspire you to make yours stylish.
1. Keep it natural
Create a relaxed setting with deck railings in a light wood finish to match the timber deck surface. They can be consistent with the hue of furniture – like this outdoor bar – as well, and even that of planters.
Textural contrast is key when working in a monotone palette and here ridged deck boards contrast with smooth railings while woven furniture and a palm-style roof complete the picture.
2. Match deck railing to architecture
Consider the architectural features of your home when weighing up deck railing ideas to ensure the addition is sympathetic. An imposing pillar is best teamed with substantial deck posts, balusters and handrails to keep the elements of the design in proportion. Color matching will also help make the effect harmonious.
3. Combine materials
A glass deck baluster opens the outdoor space up to the garden and views beyond, but it needn’t be the only material used for the railing. For a more substantial design a low wall can form the base of the railing with clear glass above. The outlook will remain unimpeded from a seated as well as standing position and with full-length windows behind the deck it will be just as good from the interior as the outside.
4. Pick dual-purpose deck railings
Consider going for deck railings that double as seats to make the most of the space and entertain more people in comfort at once. Using decking rather than more traditional railings can open up the view beyond the garden and help the deck blend into the surroundings.
‘Gone are the days of simple squared-off decks,’ says Leslie Adkins, Vice President of Marketing at Trex. ‘Remodelers and landscapers report increased interest from customers in decks with multiple levels, curves, railings, seating options built into the design, and even walls to create three-dimensional interest and define different functional areas.’
See: Deck color ideas – how to choose the color to paint your deck
5. Zone the garden
Deck railings could be desirable for style and to zone the garden even when the deck’s low height doesn’t demand them for safety. ‘I would base the selection of the deck railing on the style and concept of the garden,’ says award-winning garden designer Jack Dunckley. ‘You really want these to complement the look you are trying to achieve, not fight against it.’
‘You might also want to take into consideration any themes in the local area/of the property that you could tie into the garden,’ he adds.
6. See clearly with glazed deck railings
Full height glass railings are a good option for a low level deck – or for small garden decking ideas where you want to enhance space, not divide it. They can provide shelter from the wind for a dining or seating area but leave the view completely open. They’re tempered for safety.
Bear in mind that glass is likely to need more frequent cleaning than other deck railing materials, so be prepared to keep it sparkling. Glass panels can also make the deck hotter, so glass balusters might be a better choice for those who live in hotter climates allowing a welcome breeze through.
See: Deck railing ideas - materials and styles for every garden
7. Let in light
A porch deck or one with a roof enjoys less daylight than a deck that’s open to the sky, so using glass as part of the railings can be a boon here. But where the contemporary style of a full glass panel on its own would fail to complement a home’s architecture, frame it with similar materials to that of the house.
The effect will also be less vertiginous than glass alone for a deck at any height above ground.
8. Go horizontal
Deck railings don’t have to be vertical, and horizontal railings have modern style. Light falling through close horizontal slats can bring a pleasing pattern to the deck’s surface, too.
While this deck railing is made from wood that blends with its riverside surrounds, cable railings are an alternative horizontal design. Bear in mind that they may not meet code, depending on your location, though.
See: Deck planting ideas – using beds, planters and living walls
9. Embrace traditional style
White picket fence-style railings look attractive and can make a deck more of a feature by adding height without blocking the views from and towards it. They can also link home and garden by repeating an exterior window trim shade.
A matching pergola with a climber trained around it makes for a pretty entrance to a garden deck and one with scented blooms makes stepping through it even more of a sensory experience.
10. Try geometric pattern
Let a design like this traditional crosshatch panel from Richard Burbidge create a focal point of deck railings. Its lines distinguish it from the horizontals of the deck itself and the verticals of the posts.
Wood railings have the advantage that they can be stained or painted to match the deck. They do need regular maintenance, though, to keep them in great shape.
- See: How much does a deck cost? Find out in our essential guide
11. Select a contemporary design
This California home is clean and contemporary in style and the elevated ipe deck by Gary Marsh Design had to honor the home. ‘I elected to design a custom powder coated steel railing to address three components,’ explains Gary Marsh. ‘First to ensure minimal obstruction to the sweeping view, second to blend the color into the surrounding trees, and finally to provide a sense of strength and security due to the deck’s elevation.’
12. Choose cocktail railings
A wide flat hand rail can be combined with the pickets or balusters preferred for deck railings, and it’s a functional feature, allowing drinks or even small plates to be set down on it.
The cocktail rail is ideal for a deck that’s an entertaining space, and can be particularly useful on a small deck when extra furniture for the same purpose would leave it overcrowded.
13. Use curves
Deck railings don’t have to be straight and curved versions along with a curved deck can be used at large scale for an impression of grandeur, or to soften the lines of a smaller design.
These Trex Transcend railings are composite like the deck itself and have the advantage of needing very little maintenance; the material isn’t subject to rot or warping and will retain its color with no painting or staining ever needed.
What is the cheapest deck railing?
The cheapest deck railing is generally made from wood, although prices will vary depending on the type of wood selected. Stainless steel, aluminum, composite and cable railings are often mid-priced options while glass balusters are generally the most expensive choice.
Be mindful that if you do opt for wood you will need to do much more maintenance than with other materials, so although it’s cheaper to buy in the first place it will involve higher costs over the years.
What is the best railing for a deck?
The best railing for a deck depends on its situation, the time available for upkeep, and budget. ‘As with any design, form follows function, and you must first establish what the railings need to achieve,’ says Richard McLane, Design Director at Bisca. ‘Is it a visual definition of the space or guarding a change in level? If protecting a change of level, you need to consider the strength of the railings and spacing between them.
‘You should also consider the amount of maintenance; timber handrails such as teak will naturally age well, whereas stained timber finishes will need more TLC. Metal handrails can provide a more sculptural and open design to the railings, with options for finish depending on the desired look.
‘Options for the in fill below the handrail are vast, and budget may influence decisions. Rope works well to visually divide the space but does not provide the structural guarding of timber or metal railings.
‘For minimal visual impact but maximum guarding and protection from the wind glass can also be a great option to finish your decking and can be finished with or without a handrail.’
How far apart should deck railing posts be?
Deck railing posts (aka pickets or balusters) should not allow a 4 inch sphere to pass through (US), or a 100mm sphere (UK), but always double check specifics where you live.
- See: Front porch ideas – clever ways to create a strong first impression
Can I use 2x4 for deck railing?
You can use 2x4 for the upper and lower rails if you want to construct your own deck railings in wood. Remember that you should always check the local building code or building regulations before you design and build your own deck railings to ensure that they will be compliant.
Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor writing for websites, national newspapers, and magazines. She’s spent most of her journalistic career specialising in homes – long enough to see fridges become smart,
decorating fashions embrace both minimalism and maximalism, and interiors that blur the indoor/outdoor link become a must-have. She loves testing the latest home appliances, revealing the trends in
furnishings and fittings for every room, and investigating the benefits, costs and practicalities of home improvement. It's no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house revamper. For Realhomes.com, Sarah reviews coffee machines and vacuum cleaners, taking them through their paces at home to give us an honest, real life review and comparison of every model.
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