Today we continue with the second part of our examination of the evolution (and occasional devolution) of the noble newel post! The newel post fades in and out of popularity during these years as housing forms and styles change. It’s no secret that American architecture became less thoughtful after WWII. Less thoughtful, more repetitious, and frankly, a bit boring. Not all of it, of course, but much of it leaves something to be desired. Along with the simplified forms and details came a simplifying of of staircases. Though newel posts are today making a comeback, for a period of time they appeared to teeter on the edge of extiction.
Photographic images below have been harvested from either the absolutely fascinating (and habit-forming) Old House Dreams (which culls through real estate offerings on Zillow and similar sites for the most interesting old houses on the market) or zillow.com itself. Unfortunately, few realtors seem to know how to photograph a staircase and inevitably their listing photos show staircases starting half-way up the flight (or, perhaps even more teasingly, show only the tops of newel posts as if the rest of it were somehow irreleveant). It seems counter-intuitive, but many real estate listings for two-story homes don’t even bother to show the staircase at all! This has made finding good images somewhat challenging.
As with most things in life, the following are generalities and not absolutes; there are almost always exceptions to any rule. But the newel posts below will illustrate what was often common for styled houses in many parts of the United States for their respective time slots. Some of these examples will be from homes of the wealthy and are not always representative of what was typical for more modest, vernacular, interpretations of the styles represented. And specific styles, of course, don’t stop and start at precise dates; they were often popular both before and after the time frames shown below. For the sake of brevity, more obscure styles have been omitted. This conclusion of our look at newel posts begins in 1940 and works toward the present… one decade at a time!
1940’s Popular architectural styles in the 1940’s included Colonial Revival, Neoclassical Revival and Minimal Traditional.
1940 Colonial Revival, Augusta, Georgia. Multiple newels support a circuitous handrail; all the bells and whistles but with a more compact scale.
Circa 1940 Neoclassical Revival, Littleton, North Carolina. A dignified turned newel starts full-scale grandeur with an elegant twist.
1940 Minimal Traditional, Topeka, Kansas. This simple newel post anchors a short balustrade at the top of a flight of steps which is enclosed behind a door; there is no starting newel post at the foot of the steps. Photo source: zillow.com
1950’s Popular architectural styles in the 1950’s included Colonial Revival, Ranch, Split Level and Contemporary.
1950 Colonial Revival, McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania. Newel posts remain surprisingly consistent for many Colonial Revivals throughout the decades.
1958 Ranch House, Omaha, Nebraska. This ranch house has a walk-out basement which was finished when the house was new. Here a simple but stylish iron balustrade is capped with a wood handrail; the newel is a minimalist and made of iron. Photo source: zillow.com
1957 Split Level, Prairie Village, Kansas. A simple handrail attached to the wall with metal brackets requires no newel post on this short flight of steps to the bedroom level. Photo source: zillow.com
1958 Contemporary, Oakland, California. This sleek exterior stair is framed by simple handrails supported by square steel tubing. Photo source: zillow.com
1960’s Popular architectural styles in the 1960’s included Ranch, Raised Ranch, Split Level and Contemporary.
1966 Ranch, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Square steel tubing provides newels for this open stairwell leading to a walk-out basement.
1964 Raised Ranch, Des Moines, Iowa. A half-wall with attached handrail takes the place of a conventional balustrade in this Raised Ranch (also known as Split Entry). An iron balustrade encloses the stairwell at the living room level. Photo source: zillow.com
1966 Split Level, Florissant, Missouri. Decorative iron railings with minimalist newels define the stairs of this typical suburban house. The railing was likely black originally. Photo source: zillow.com
1965 Contemporary, Boulder, Colorado. An iron railing frames an open stairwell; the iron handrail is wall-mounted. Photo source: zillow.com
1970’s Popular architectural styles in the 1970’s included Raised Ranch, Split Level, Shed and Neoeclectic.
1977 Raised Ranch, Boise, Idaho. An iron railing with a vestigial newel frames the stairwell, a simple wood handrail attached to a low wall requires no newel post. Photo source: zillow.com
1977 Split Level, Boise, Idaho. A capless low wall separates the two half-flights of stairs; each side is fitted with an iron handrail. Photo source: zillow.com
1975 Shed, Bridgton, Maine. The newel post re-emerges in a modest fashion in the trendy Shed style. Photo source: zillow.com
1974 Neoeclectic, Lockport, New York. A somewhat awkward curved stairwell sports a decorative iron railing with minimal newel post, capped by a brass urn-shaped finial. Photo source: zillow.com
1980’s Popular architectural styles in the 1980’s included Raised Ranch, Split Level, Shed, Neoeclectic, Postmodern and McMansion.
1980 Raised Ranch, Grand Forks, North Dakota. Traditional newels and balusters are becoming more popular. Photo source: zillow.com
1984 Spllit Level, Bel Air, Maryland. A simple but traditional wood newel post and balustrade. Photo source: zillow.com
1981 Shed, Salina, Kansas. A low wall capped with wood takes the place of a conventional balustrade and newel post. Photo source: zillow.com
1988 Neoeclectic, Indianapolis, IN. The concept of a newel post and traditional balustrade makes a strong comeback! Photo source: zillow.com
1986 Postmodern, Dallas, Texas. This open stairwell has no starting newel and makes use of simple wall-mounted handrails in conjunction with a horizontally-oriented balustrade. Photo source: zillow.com
1986 McMansion, Plano, Texas. Multiple newel posts of Colonial inspiration emulate tradition in a flashy, theatrical, manner. Photo source: zillow.com
1990’s Popular architectural styles in the 1990’s included Raised Ranch, Split Level, Neoeclectic, Postmodern and McMansion.
1992 Raised Ranch, Manhattan, Kansas. A low wall capped with wood and wall-mounted handrails take the place of a traditional balustrade with newels posts. Photo source: zillow.com
1992 Split Level, Bremerton, Washington. A traditional wood balustrade and newels define living areas. Photo source: zillow.com
1993 Neoeclectic, Tulsa, Oklahoma. The first three steps are an especially awkward interpretation of a traditional Colonial stair; the rounded treads abruptly end against an arbitrary stepped thing instead of returning to the stair wall, resulting in a useless void. The delicate turned starting newel is paired with less delicate secondary newels. Photo source: zillow.com
1990 Postmodern, Miami Lakes, Florida. No newels are found on this open staircase which uses panel sections made of tubular steel in lieu of a conventional balustrade.
1990 McMansion, Saddle River, New Jersey. Refinement is imitated in this symmetrical composition featuring an iron balustrade with integral newels.
2000’s Popular architectural styles in the 2000’s included Ranch, Neoeclectic and McMansion.
2006 open concept Ranch, Norwalk, Iowa. Here simple square newels frame a basement stairwell with square iron balusters and wood handrail.
2008 Neoeclectic, Lees Summit, Missouri. Somewhat resembling traditional millwork, these newel posts awkwardly attempt to recall Colonial Revival box newels.
2008 McMansion, Burr Ridge, Illinois. This winding stair starts with dual turned newel posts anchoring decorative iron balustrades with wood handrails.
2010’s Popular architectural styles in the 2010’s include Ranch, Neoeclectic and Modern.
2012 Ranch, Iowa City, Iowa. A vaguely Craftsman-inspired box newel begins and ends this basement stairwell.
2018 Neoeclectic, Brick, New Jersey. Turned newel posts with Colonial volutes are paired with decorative iron balusters.
2016 Modern, Houston, Texas. A square tube steel frame needs no newel post; here glass panels take the place of balusters.