Wednesday, August 25, 2010

In Search of Wrought Iron

When I first saw
these wrought iron railings...

...I wanted to incorporate something similar
into my exterior renovation.   

I love the whole presentation.  The granite steps, the door and the railings.  But after researching all of the "appropriate" details of a Greek Revival house, I'm not so sure they're right for the house.  I think I can do wrought iron but these feel maybe a little too artsy, if you will, for a historic house.

So let's go look at some options.

It seems like most Greek Revivals have wooden railings that rise up to posts that sit just inside two of the  front four columns.

I think these railings feel a little clumsy and interfere with a rhythm and statement made by the four, perfectly spaced columns.

Here's another example that feels way too narrow.  It's more like a corral that herds your guests up to the front door.  These are even poorly centered between the two columns.

I had my front stairs designed to be much wider....

...with railings that rise up centered on the columns.

I'm not saying this is historically correct; in fact, I think there were probably no railings at all, I just think this looks better.

I later found something similar on a Greek Revival in Cambridge....

...on this house, and I have to say, I like it.  The wider staircase makes a much grander entrance.  I don't even mind the wooden railings.  I like that they've painted the handrail the same color as the front door.  It almost pulls you right up to the front door.

Here's the entire house.  This house has railings across the front (which is unfortunate) because the porch is much higher than mine.  Cambridge Building Code requires railings on any deck or porch higher than 30 inches off the ground.  The front fence is a very typical style; in fact, one local fence company calls this the "Cambridgeport."

My thought in choosing wrought iron is that it would disappear more than wood painted the same color as the trim and columns on the house.  I also thought with a black door and shutters on the front porch, having black iron railings would tie everything nicely together.  But there's an awful lot of really bad wrought iron so I want to proceed cautiously.

Here are a few examples of Greek Revivals with wrought iron railings....

...but I don't love the style.  The rings under the rail seem too heavy for the skinny little posts.

And look at the placement.  I guess it's centered on the door?

Here's wrought iron on one of my favorite Greek Revivals in the city...

...and another one.  

Although I don't love any of the styles of these railings, I do think they're less obtrusive that the wooden railings.  

Let's head in to Boston where almost every house has wrought iron railings for a little inspiration.

Many of the railings on the townhouses of Back Bay and the South End have these fancy wrought iron railings that go up to the double-doored front entries.

They're beautiful but I think a little too fancy for my little cottage.

I like these simpler balusters with just a few knobs in the middle but don't care for the newel on the end.  I think that center spiral is called a "basket."

I think the style of the balusters on this one feel right but I think the chunky newel post might compete with the columns too much.

So using these as a reference let's head back to Cambridge and look at a house that was recently renovated that has incorporated wrought iron.

This house was just recently restored and for the most part, they've done a fantastic job.  This is a color combo that I'm seeing a lot lately...dull yellow with kind of a tan trim.  I'm not a big fan of the yellow-tan combo but this one looks okay with the cottage red door.  Check out the major brackets that flank the front door.  They're HUGE...and gorgeous!  The simple railing leaves the focus on the details of the house but I feel it's a little bit of a cop out.  And maybe a little too light weight.  Couldn't it be a little more interesting and slightly more substantial with posts that have a few knobs like the ones we just saw in Boston?

Maybe like this?

...or this?  

It's kind of like an old hitching post but it would have a rail along the top.

I don't want to cop out so I think I'm going to have a to forge my own path (pun intended) on this one.  I risk making a mistake but I don't want to miss an opportunity to make something fantastic. 


  1. Hi Steve!
    I think the iron work,cast or wrought, will be beautiful. You have a great eye for detail, so I say forge your own path. You know what your home needs better than anyone else. So maybe it won't be 100% authentic historically, but a house as old as yours certainly evolved over the years, itmight just be that detail unique to your Greek Revival! Check this site out-they have lots of pieces to play with!

  2. King Metals is exactly where I found the two final pieces I put in the post. They seem to have a great selection!

  3. I like the greek key...but without all the stuff in between....classic without being fussy...

  4. Forge my own path! groan... You have a great sense of balance and symmetry, something I don't notice until hubby points it out to me. I can't believe the difference the wide stairs make. I'm sure you'll come up with something that you love and is appropriate.

  5. hi steve,

    we just tore off our iron railing as it looked awful with our house. we plan to replace it with a wood one but i'm liking none there. no old people can come over though.


  6. I am a wood person, but I do love the wrought iron with your house.I think it would look rich...there was a Wrought Iron Company off of Webster Ave for years..not sure it is still there, but the work they showed was beautiful..would be happy to get the address if you are interested? Ellen

  7. Is that Webster Avenue in Cambridge? I've seen a place on Prospect Street between Inman Square and Union Square. If you can find, I'd love to know. Thank you!

  8. Hi Steve,
    Here is my two cents on the balustrade. Your correct it is a balance issue. The "weight" of the wrought iron is too light unless you anchor it at the base of the stairs with a heavier newel post, just as you would with a wooden one. Personally I do like the one you are concerned is too heavy. Perhaps a less ornate version?

    You are right on about the iron balusters, they read very "airy" against all the columns and posts. Too much and its fussy too little and its a handicap rail.

    Frankly not all historical details are all that and a bag of chips either. So install what you love and want to look at every single day.

    Anyhoo, thats my input. Keep us 'posted'.

  9. The wrought iron railings are indeed very artistically done. The designs made the entirety of the house more elegant.