The Orange Elephant in the Room

November 3, 2014

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Now that the entry is taking shape, there are a few elements that are sticking out in a not-so-good way. We haven’t touched the stairwell. The light, walls, stairs themselves and the railings are all just as they were when we moved in. You can’t tell in pictures, but the paint job is done in two different sheens. Or maybe just patched in places with semi-gloss paint. We’ve decided the staircase, including ripping up the carpet, painting the walls, and hanging lots of family photos would be a great project for this winter, but the railings–that’s something we’d love to do asap.


Replacing the banister and spindles would be a dream down the road, but for the most part they are not offensive, and the spindles are a lot less curvy than our last ones, so painting them would be a cost-effective update we can do easily now. Last week, I had my sister help me photoshop the two classic options Chris and I have been thinking about so we could make a more educated, visual decision, and wouldn’t you know it–we’re still stuck!

Option A. All black. I love how this feels classic but a little more edgy–I worry it may look too heavy.


Option B. Black handrail and newels with white spindles. This is super classic and traditional–I worry it may look too fancy for our casual taste.


We have gone back and forth between the two over and over. One day it’s for sure black and white, and the next we’re settled on all black. We both think both options could work, but would love to hear from you! You can vote in the widget below and/or leave a comment, too. Weigh in, would ya?

[polldaddy poll=8419101]

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What do you think?

  1. Mark says:

    I can totally see why this is a difficult decision to make. I like the all black, looks, sleeker, more modern. however i can see how great a glass staircase would match the style of your place.

  2. colleen says:

    Im with the person who suggested NAVY blue. A deep, almost midnight blue. With white spindles.

  3. Jessica says:

    Have you thought about all white? That’s pretty classic and timeless and then you can decorate to your heart’s content without worrying about complementing the staircase. I also like Monica’s idea of staining it a darker wood – maybe something that looks good with your floors?

  4. Monica says:

    My thought would be to stain it all darker- to match the floors and the shelves in your green room. If you don’t like it you can always paint later.

  5. Krystal says:

    I personally think everything should be white except for the hand rail….so spindles/balaster white….handrail black. That way it does not look to fancy or formal for you but adds that definition needed in that space. The all black I think will date too quickly. That’s just my two cents!

  6. Tara says:

    Although the white and black is great, it may just be a little too “matchy-matchy” and heavy as you said. I think it would be amazing stained in a color similar to the legs on the bench. I also think they would look great if you just cut off the round circular things on the top. Horrible way to describe them, I know, but the proper name for them isn’t coming to mind. Haha, either way I’m sure you’ll make a it look amazing!

  7. Looking at it with a picture of your new gold mirror and hooks pulled up, I think all black is more complementary. That entry wall gives off a very warm tone, but the white spindles seem to read a little colder. Perhaps cream colored spindles might work if you do decide to go two-toned.

  8. Erin says:

    I’m thinking white spindles and posts, stained rails and different, stained newel caps.

  9. Gillian says:

    Black and white…except black railings only and white posts. Loved the comments about adding a new cap. I have those same round ones and I want to go change them immediately!!

  10. Mel says:

    Black spindles with white handrail and newels? Just to do something a little different than the expected. Or you could strip the wood, take off those wood finials, and use a pickling stain or wood bleach to get a kind of greyish driftwood color, maybe with new finials in glass? Kind of like these…

    Or would that be too beachy for your style?

  11. Holly says:

    I voted b&w but also wonder what it would look like to have the base plate thingy that the spindles rest on to be black as well?

  12. Anonymous says:

    Black! I just did my interior doors black and everyone who used words like “harsh” or “severe” is a convert! Even if you go black and white, that would be better than the colored options people are suggesting. Any blues, browns or grays will look dated in a few years. A new light and art on the walls will temper the heaviness you may feel in its current state Go for it!

    Also, off topic, your blog has become one of my top reads since YHL closed shop. I appreciate your individuality. I feel like the new design trend of mid century modern flair is such a fad for so many bloggers who claim to be sick of “trends.” I appreciate the risks you take without buying into the new normal.

  13. Melinda says:

    I love the idea of a dark wood tone as well, but stripping and staining would be a pain I’m sure. So then my next thought is maybe a glossy NAVY or deep BLUE to pick up on the bench (and the rug in the living room!). I know that you may not have the bench forever, but then if you replace the banisters all together someday, then why not go for something unusual? Plus, you could always go to black if the blue doesn’t work.

  14. Anonymous says:

    All black or black railings only and everything else white!

  15. I would go black and white but keep the posts white.

    Like this:
    And this:

    Because I think your posts are too traditional for the look but if they are white they won’t be the focus, the railing would be.

  16. andrea says:

    Charcoal Grey handrail and posts w/ white spindles!

  17. Jackie says:

    Out of the two options, I definitely prefer the black, but it does feel a little heavy. What about a dark grey? Will still leave an impact but will be less heavy than black.

  18. Emily says:

    Have you thought about just replacing the spindles with some wrought iron ones? Nothing too fancy or scroll-y. We are replacing our stair railing right now and we’re finding that the most expensive parts are the newell posts and the handrail, so if you could keep those, you might be able to transform your staircase for a lot less money. We’re doing a stained handrail to compliment our new wood floors with the iron balusters. Kelly at View Along the Way has a good tutorial on how to make this a DIY job. You can pretty much decide how much detail to include and it really changes the look and feel of the entire staircase. Good luck deciding!

  19. Dwight says:

    Charcoal grey.

  20. Lucas says:

    I think the whole look would be transformed if you removed the ball/finials on the newel posts. Most likely they they screw on. If not an oscillating saw will make short work of it. I think that a combination of the two black/white is the way to go.

  21. Charell says:

    I don’t mind the all black look, but I think I would prefer a dark gray. That way you have uniformity, but with a little less edge than the all black, but it would still work with you decor without fighting with it. Even an off-black could make the difference.

  22. Marianne J says:

    I don’t have any recommendations, I come to you for inspirations! I love how creative and how much personality you can put into spaces. I love it!

    The black rails change the space so much! Have you seen Once Upon a Time? Your entry is starting to give me a Regina’s office vibe a little.

  23. catalina says:

    I like both, however the black and white blends perfectly as the black only stands out too much taking away from the beautiful accent wall. Good luck deciding!

  24. Jess says:

    How funny that you guys are so torn between the two… and so are the voters! Both options look very nice and whichever you do will be a big improvement! I never would have noticed that it looked orange… but now that you said it, I can’t see it any other way! Can’t wait to see how it turns out!

    • Julia says:

      Isn’t that funny! Chris and I are having a good laugh about it. I think it means that we’re gonna have to go with our gut–which half of you won’t like. Lol.

  25. Callie says:

    My ‘other’ vote is dark wood stain and remove the finials or change them to square posts!

    I think that would have more depth…it would go so well with the styling of your landing, and your recent sliding barn-style door addition! The B&W combination has always been a weird trend to me, like it’s a trendy style but trying to look traditional. We had a stairway painted white and it got really dirty very easily, so my second choice would be black.

    It’s definitely a hard decision and I’ll be interested to see what you go with and how it works! :)

  26. Theresa says:

    I love the all black. I think it compliments the wallpaper and light walls.

  27. Liz says:

    Have you considered a deep navy blue? Kind of like the kitchen cabinets at your old house… I’m not in love with the black and white option and the black is nice unless you incorporate other black accents, in which case it could get a little heavy… Just a thought. You are the ones who have to love it every single day! :) Good luck!

  28. Harper says:

    I haven’t had a chance to read through all of the comments so forgive me if I’m duplicating an idea. I would do the black and white. It gives you the option to love it or if it still doesn’t click, you could paint the spindles black. Much easier this way than regretting the all black and having to paint over that. Just my two cents.

  29. I think both options would look great, but could you box around the newel posts with wood to stain? We’re very strongly considering doing this to our similar railings. Then I’d stain the posts and hand rail dark and paint the verticals white. Just my two cents. If not stained, I’d I with black and white.

  30. Alison says:

    Stained to match the floors and the finials removed. Also wallpaper the small wall adjacent to the wallpapered one.

  31. laura says:

    Both black & b&w looks super formal and slightly goth-y. As you pointed out, you’re going for something more casual. Your style is more streamlined, neutral and structured… so neither of the options you showed are going to fit that.

    How about matching the floor tile? Then the banister design (which is a little curvy & dated) doesn’t stand out so boldly. Instead, it lets the rest of the room shine.

    An optional suggestion: chop off those balltops on the newell posts. They’re just goofy looking.

    Here’s a super quick photoshop example of what I envision.

  32. qs777 says:

    I voted for black and white, but now I think the black is too severe. Maybe a really dark charcoal?

    I also think that the light fixture is messing me up. Maybe change that first. I also vote for changing out the round tops, but of course it is easy to say since I’m not doing the work. ;)

  33. LOVE the black! It’s so timeless. I don’t think it’ll seem too dark at all. It looks like there’s plenty of light in the room, which helps a ton.

  34. Julianne says:

    My vote would be for the black & white, but doing the piece on the floor in black instead of white so that it creates that little bit more contrast and the white on the floor doesn’t get as dirty.
    Then the black frames for gallery wall and door knobs that match the chandelier to pull it all together.

  35. Carrie says:

    I like the idea of black and white, but maybe doing only black for the handrail and top of the posts while leaving everything from that point down white. It would have that contrast but still flow. I can’t wait to see what you guys decide! Your house is looking so great!

  36. Jordan says:

    My personal opinion is that B comes across as more traditional. I voted A! But I also agree with others– maybe look for different finial tops or remove those round ones altogether. They really lend to the traditional-ness, in my opinion. But I love BOTH better than 90’s orange!

  37. Britney S says:

    Have you thought about wallpapering the rails? Jk.

  38. Ginny says:

    I would agree with you the black and white feels a bit too traditional. So I would say go with all black or an espresso stain. Young, House, Love used a product in their stairway remodel that was pretty easy (no stripping and sanding).
    You could lighten up the walls with a mix of frames…West Elm has some interesting ones in Antique Silver with linen matting. Mix that with some white ones and touch of black frames here or there. I would change the Chandelier to a lighter tone as well. Aged brass (to relate with your cool hooks), silver or something else.
    One last thought. My husband and I had a similar dilemma with an orange staircase railing with a funky finial. We sawed off the finial and put a square cap on top. Slapped a coat of paint on the whole thing and it has made it much easier to live with until we get around to actually replacing it!

  39. Jill says:

    stained a brown

  40. Colbey Decker says:

    What about doing an ombre paint treatment on the spindles?! You could start white at the top of the spindles and slowly grade down to black at the bottom. It would anchor the floor while keeping it light and fresh. Best of luck.

  41. Heather says:

    The black in both options seems a bit heavy, and like you mentioned, possibly too formal to fit your style. What about a medium to darker gray for the whole thing, or else gray for the railing and white for the posts?

  42. Amber says:

    I like all black best between your two options, but I’m wondering how a dark charcoal grey would look. Or something that resembles that greyish-brown stain that Ikea uses?

  43. Steph Nelson says:

    If I had to choose between the two, I would go black and white and no balls!! Hee hee.
    Also, like a few others have mentioned, I think the wallpaper needs to be wrapped around to that small door wall next to the stairs.

  44. Jen Renda says:

    How about a color similar to the floors? Or a Dark Grey Color?

  45. Kateri says:

    I think all white would be best. It would help the stairs blend in with all the other decor instead of compete with so much pattern in wallpaper and soon to be frame gallery. I think is also look too matchy/matchy with all the black and white already.

  46. Beth says:

    My vote is for all white. We painted ours all white and love it. It gives you a lot of freedom and looks classy. I initially got the idea from House of Earnest (she has a photo of her stairs on Houzz). Good luck!

  47. Katie N. says:

    I’d go with a dark stain – its a happy medium.

  48. I get why this is a tough decision. I think it depends a bit on what you do in the stairwell. If it’s light, black might work, but if there are a lot of dark elements, it could feel too heavy. I was thinking it would be easier to cover white with black than the other way around, so maybe start with black and white, then once you’re further along with the stairwell, you can change it to all black if you aren’t feeling it?

  49. Jenny B says:

    I think both options sort of draw too much attention to themselves. Is it possible to take the round knobs off and then just paint it all white? I think that might modern it up and make it fade a little more into the background.

  50. Theresa says:

    I love the black but I think it’s a little too much with the wallpaper, so I think the black & white option is a little softer but still has that edge and isn’t too formal with the wallpaper and other decor you have in the space. Can’t wait to see it all come together.

  51. Christina says:

    Both are lovely, but the black white combo is very formal looking. I love the black and I think it would look less heavy and more modern if you cut off the finials.

  52. LAUREN says:

    Definitely a stained railing and newel posts and white spindles. I think it would add more warmth to the space and tie in with the legs on your entry bench as well as the floor since the majority of it is covered by the rug (which is a good thing because then it won’t be wood overload).

  53. Steph says:

    I love the black and white combo, but feel like the black is still a bit overpowering. Did you think about just having the handrail be black with all the newels and spindles being white? If you plan on having other black accents (like frames, rug, etc.), I think just the black rail the perfect complement without feeling like it’s too much.

    Good luck with your decision!

  54. Amanda B. says:

    I am thinking along the same lines as the B&W option, but what about navy instead of black? Isn’t the new bench navy? Might be less stark than black but still bold. I think when you update the light fixture there the whole look will be less gothic, even if the banisters go dramatic. :)

  55. Teresa says:

    I like the all black version the most, but it may be a little too severe. How about a dark charcoal-type color? Something not quite black. It might soften it a little but still get you the look you want…?

  56. Leena says:

    How about painting just the handrail black and everything below it white? I saw this in a photo recently and really liked it.

  57. Suzanne says:

    I am biased because I painted my staircase railings black/white. In the end it does not look too fancy – that is not my style, either. I really love it over a year later! (Also – it’s much, much easier than staining, IMHO) You can check it out if you’d like:

    Good luck!!

  58. Linette says:

    I voted for option B because it felt airier. I imagined coming in the front door and looking up and it feeling more open than a lot of black. I felt the same going back and forth between your photos – I like all black, but it seemed to create more of a visual barrier. I just voted on your site and at the moment people are pretty 50/50 on which to choose. So much for helping with your decision! :-)

  59. Jamie says:

    I think the black and white or all black are a little to ‘matchy’ with the wallpaper. I’d go for a dark wood stain to pull from the floor. If you are certain you want to paint, I agree with the all white option to tie in with your trim work.

  60. Andrea says:

    Agreeing with the other commenters that a dark wood stain (General Finishes Java) would be less harsh, and less trendy, than b/w or all black. Can we see a Photoshop of that option? Or have you totally eliminated that?

  61. Katie says:

    I think all white would be a good option. I think it would tie in best with your trim work, and keep things light and modern. Are you open to sharing a photoshoped version of all white?

  62. Jessica says:

    I don’t like either. The black looks like the Haunted Mansion, whereas the black and white is too matchy with the rest of the space. It almost looks cartoony. I’d focus on ridding it of the orange tones. Something is the same color family of your floor, but a little darker. Stain it!

  63. Kelly says:

    I think the best rail color will become VERY clear as soon as you decide on a light fixture. :)

  64. Meagan Briggs says:

    I’m not sure about either. The all-black does seem really heavy. And the white and black seems to fancy. Have you looked at all white, or a stain? Big decisions!! Whatever you choose, it will be better than what it is right now.

  65. kristi says:

    The orange has got to go. I actually like both versions for different reasons. I love the all back for a more sleek modern and glamorous look. The black and white is equally good but for more of a traditional look. So my advice is to think about what style you envision this space and essentially your whole house. Good luck!

  66. Chandan says:

    If you’re still going back and forth – paint it black and white for now because you can easily paint over the white if you change your mind. Also, the all black makes it stand out and the black and white makes it less of a focal point? Love what you’re doing!

  67. Erin Beck says:

    Super tough one. I think it really depends on what you do with the rest of the stairwell. I love both, black is really heavy though. And my mommy brain has an issue with the white being where the kids will touch. I lean towards the white though especially if you put color on the stairwell walls.

  68. Ana says:

    I love the all black option, not a fan of the b&w. You already have so many light surfaces that I think the contrast of the all black is really pretty and ties in well with the wallpaper and bench, besides I do think in that space it looks much more modern than the b&w. And it doesn’t look heavy to me, even if you add frames the “heaviness” will depend on the style, color and size of the frames, I do not think the b&w will make it look lighter because the two tones will attract attention to the rail instead of the frame wall.

    My 2 cents, can’t wait to see the finished result! ;)

  69. Jeanna says:

    Well, while the all black is dramatic, it is kind of harsh. The black and white is better…………. This doesn’t look country to me. Have you thought of doing a really cool runner on the stairs to bring in the black?

  70. Lydia says:

    I agree with some others about staining the wood a dark brown! The black feels too stark of a contrast.

  71. Christie says:

    If I had to choose between the two options I would say the black and white. But for some reason, I see something totally different. I’m not sure how much this option would cost, but I could totally see a glass stairwell going with your aesthetic.

  72. Chelsie says:

    I really like the black and white, but the black looks great too. One question about the wallpapering – have you considered wallpapering the small sliver of wall with the doorway, right next to the stairs?

    • Julia says:

      There have been a few other inquiries about that, so you are not alone! We’re waiting to see on that. There’s the wall the double master doors are on that would also need to be wallpapered, imo, if we did that one. We have some extra, but maybe not that much.

  73. Kelsey says:

    I’m with others in that I think the black is too stark and visually brings attention to the stairs. I like the black and white option best of the two but I wonder what painting the newel posts white and just the railing a darker color would look like? Another plus of the white next to the floor is it ties the railing into the color of the baseboard and makes it look more cohesive. I also like the idea of having the darker color be a stain instead, I think that would tie into other tones in the entryway (you could even go as far as using the color of the shelves in the front room). I know younghouselove made over their stair railing from orange-y toned wood with similar lines as yours, it might be worth it to check out what they did. All I know is that I am sure whatever you guys do it will be amazing! :) (10 points for longest comment ever!?)

  74. anne says:

    I like weathered iron ;) like lauren liesse’s. but that’s probably pretty pricey. if you have to work with what you’ve got, i’d take the ball top things (technical term) off and do the black and white. if you have a little leeway i’d work some more natural wood tones in. maybe stain or weather some wood that has more of a straight line and build a new one. good luck.

  75. Meagan S says:

    Go with Black & White – my mom has that in her house and it looks fantastic. And her house is in no way formal. The all black looks super heavy to me.

  76. nancy50 says:

    If you are planning on painting the walls a darker color I would go with the black/white combo – if you are planning on painting the walls white I’d go with all black.

  77. Lori Moore says:

    Actually…What if you just lost the finials altogether? My mental picture, with those sleeker squared-off corners, is yummy. Then the black with the white spindles, or even a very dark stain with white spindles (especially if you won’t eventually gain some wood tones on the stair treads.).

  78. Kelly says:

    How about just restaining the railing a darker wood color that matches the legs on the new entryway bench, and painting the spindles white? I think the legs on the bench look warm without looking too orange or red and already coordinate with the room.

    I personally think the black and white and all black are too stark. It doesn’t look terrible, but something’s off. The all black version also highlights the curves of the spindles, which I don’t think you want.

    I think a wood-tone (dark, like walnut or possibly jacobean) would warm up the space, but still be “cool” enough to blend in the blues and greys. As long as it’s in the same color family as the floor, and isn’t red or orangy, then it won’t compete with the wood tiles.

  79. Lisa says:

    I think the whole thing white or maybe a darker stained wood? I agree with your dilemas on both the black and b/w look.

  80. Claire says:

    Part of what makes the railing look so traditional is the round newel caps – have you thought about switching them out for a more contemporary cap?
    I also think your chandelier doesn’t quite work with a black railing. I’d ask your sister to photoshop in a different fixture, maybe a large, neutral drum shade.

  81. Alise says:

    I would love to see it a bit softer… a dark grey (almost black) rail and light grey (almost white) on the spindles. Good luck choosing!

  82. Emma says:

    Why not do the whole thing white? It would look more casual than option b but lighter (obviously) than option a

    • Julia says:

      To be honest, I searched and searched and looked at a hundred examples and I didn’t see one with our style of newels and spindles that had the look we were going for in all white. It kind of looked country to me still. There were lots of great all-white examples with boxier newels and straighter spindles though. Maybe when/if we replace them down the line.

  83. gwen says:

    i voted b&w, but i think both look really good. (and much improved!!)

  84. Rachel says:

    Either way it will be perfect!

  85. Christina says:

    You could paint the handrail black (or espresso to tie in with the bench legs) and leave all else white. I agree with the others that it may look too heavy in all black once you add the picture frames for your gallery wall. Now, I’m not sure what is hiding under the carpet but something like this seems more casual –

    You could even pop your existing round finials off and replace with some that are more square if you think that will help it come together.

    • Cait says:

      I’m pretty sure I voted black&white, but I was thinking that it might be possible to wrap/square off the newel posts and replace the round finials with something more square, while leaving the spindles as-is. I think the tapered spindles kind of coordinate with the tapered legs of the bench, but maybe you could replace them down the line with something more modern/casual.

      I like the pin linked in Christina’s comment, but I would probably either stain the newel posts a medium to dark color.

  86. Kari says:

    A really rich and dark wood might also look as nice as the black but not as severe? something like this but maybe even a bit darker?

  87. Carol says:

    I’m really into the raw wood look, but I know not everyone is. Otherwise, I would go all black. It reminds me of Dana’s decision on her deck railing and how black lets you focus at the view beyond where white makes you focus on the spindles (

    • Julia says:

      I love wood tones, too! I am not sure our newel posts’ current shape is modern enough for it–but I won’t throw the idea out completely!

  88. Krysta says:

    I love the all black. But I think that chandelier needs to be a different color (maybe gold).

  89. Laura B. says:

    I love the classic b&w look, but! as a mom, I’d probably do black. My daughter loves touching the banister, and all black will cover up grimy fingerprints more.

  90. Cami says:

    Have you thought about white spindles and staining the railing and newel posts?

    • LIndsey F says:

      Cami- I totally agree with you. Although I love the edgy black, it looks heavy.
      Staining the railing and newel posts to match either the flooring or legs on the new bench would be beautiful!

    • Julia says:

      I have! I’m not gonna throw that idea out completely, but I am not sure our newel posts are modern enough to handle a wood tone. You know?

    • Amber says:

      Dark dark stain on the posts, white spindles. And hack off those round finials!!

      • Anonymous says:

        Totally agree with this comment. I think you need to find a way to relate the railing to the rest of the home (mainly your floors).

      • Anonymous says:

        I agree- I like the all black but it looks a bit heavy. I thought the white and black was too traditional for your house, but I think it is those round finials! If you didn’t have those, the white and black would be great!

  91. Lyndsey says:

    My gut feeling at seeing the two options was all black. But then, i thought- if you do a picture frame wall on the stairwell and have lots of black frames, it might look way too heavy. So my question is, what is your plan for the stairwell? Lots of black frames in a gallery wall? If so, then I’d go with white or whatever color you’re painting the walls so that it blends in and doesn’t clash with the photo frames.

    Just my two cents, but i know whatever you do will look great!

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Welcome to our online community where we've posted home, DIY, style, renovations, and family since '09. Renovating our #cljmoderncottage in Idaho and headed for new adventures in Raleigh, NC. #cljfam #cljtransformations