In Depth Extra: Deck railings & accessories
As outdoor living booms, deck railings and other accessories are getting their due.
Ask any design expert, review nearly any trend study, tour any show house, or walk through nearly any builder model, and there’s no denying it: Outdoor living is on trend, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down.
Homeowners are increasingly seeking to maximize their outdoor space; for move-up homes, custom homes, and a significant portion of remodeling projects, buyers are looking to create spaces that emulate the luxuries of indoors: multiplelevel decks with functional “rooms,” decked-out alfresco kitchens, seamless connections, and even sound systems and technology.
“The days of the little 10×12 deck on the back [are ending],” says Rick Kapres, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Versatex, which hosts an educational road show with decking veteran Bobby Parks. “You still see that with track builders, but we see people moving into the backyard, and when they do it almost becomes like the kitchen or the bath with the effort that they put in. They’re choosing products that look beautiful and are going to last.”
That same trend means they’re paying closer attention to—and are more willing to shell out for—accessories that go beyond the basic. Railings and even pergolas, lighting, and trim, are becoming a key part of the design and product selection process as much as the deck boards themselves.
“Recent studies have shown that people are opting for bigger, better yards over bigger homes,” says Shellie Sellards, Vice President of Marketing for Fiberon. “And just as homeowners are designing custom decks with dedicated spaces for cooking, dining, and entertaining, they also want to create a custom look with the materials themselves. Railing is ideal for that.”
“Railings can almost be an afterthought. That’s unfortunate because rails are one of the most visible parts of the project,” says Kevin Harris, Director of Sales & Marketing for AGS Stainless. “It’s an opportunity to do something very special. It’s like jewelry almost on the house.”
“Railing adds curb appeal and can signal the quality of a deck or porch from a distance,” adds Jenna Herron, Railing Product Manager for AZEK Building Products. “Whether it’s the crowning feature of the deck or a subtle, minimalist design to frame a beautiful view, people want a design to complement or reflect personal style.”
Customizing railings plays directly into recent trends in which homebuyers are not afraid to make something their own—not because they want to keep up with the neighbors, but because they want their spaces to speak to and cater to their family’s unique lifestyle.
“People are taking a lot of the architecture and details you normally see in their home out to the decks and patios. Especially things in eye view,” says Lou Maglio, President of Walpole Outdoors. “They want to personalize that railing if they can.”
The trend is so popular that manufacturers are selling beyond the traditional single-family suburban home. Walpole, for example, is selling pergolas for rooftop decks. Assisted living facilities also are ripe for outdoor treatments, Maglio says, as they look to create amenities that feel like residents’ former homes.
No matter the location, just like much of the exterior, maintenance is a sticking point. “They’re looking for all the accessories like pergolas and railings to be low- to no-maintenance,” Maglio says. “But they still want the options and designs that they’re getting in the regular-maintenance products.”
“The trend toward low-maintenance materials is growing quickly in all segments in outdoor living categories, which extends to railing,” says Herron. “Railing also has a safety element. People recognize that they want their railing to look as good as their deck from year to year and they want materials that will hold up to the elements and remain safe for friends and family.”
When it comes to style, the biggest trend in deck railings right now, beyond just their popularity in general, is cable. It’s seemingly everywhere, and being offered by nearly everyone.
“Contractors and their clients are realizing how much design flexibility railings give you,” confirms Chris Camfferman, Category Marketing Director for Deckorators.
One reason for the appeal is simply the aesthetics—it has an industrial or contemporary vibe appealing to design tastes that are increasingly shifting toward cleaner, sleeker looks.
“The combination of people looking more favorably at modern design and people trying to minimize obstructions to their view is what’s really driving the growth of cable,” says Harris.
Indeed, cable rails enhance sightlines, offering less-obstructed views of water, woods, or simply the kids playing in the yard.
“More than anything, it gives you that modern feel. It’s clean, it’s sleek,” says Adam Zambanini, Vice President of Marketing for Trex. Even Trex, a leader in composite products, has seen and responded to the trend. The company now offers “Signature Rod Rail,” an aluminum system with horizontal rods that mimic the look of cable but with faster assembly, Zambanini says.