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The fascinating history of the balustrade

Posted by Amber Burkhart at

Whether on a staircase or flanking a balcony, a balustrade is a common architectural detail. And while we may have grown used to these lovely accessories both on the inside and outside of a home, it turns out that they actually have a fascinating history. 

Today, the popular home decor website Houzz.com featured a piece telling the history of the balustrade. According to its author, Gabrielle Di Stefano, the balustrade - defined as a waist-high barrier - was first used to keep pedestrians from falling out of the Assyrian palace windows in 850 B.C. 

During the 15th century, Venice and Verona, Italy were both popular sites for the balustrade. In this incarnation, sets of small, thin columns were used to support galleries. This might have also been the time that the word originated, since the term is based on the Italian word balaustro, which means pomegranate flower. It is said that the design resembles the swelling form of an opening flower.

Wrought iron balustrades came out of the 16th century, where they were used decoratively on churches in France and Spain. The trend was transferred to the United States at this time as well, since ironwork became a popular industry soon after, and wrought iron gates spread around the world easily. 

The concept became very popular again during the Georgian period, where the detail was often employed on half-moon balconies.

These days, a balustrade can be made out of almost anything. Whether made of iron or wood and whether it's included in the design of a house or used in combination with staircase newels and handrails to protect a flight of steps, this detail is now an accepted part of architecture.  


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