Baluster, balustrade, handrail, guardrail – the terminology surrounding handrails can be a bit confusing, especially if you’re new to residential or commercial space design. Rest assured, each of these things serves a unique purpose. But it’s easy to confuse the terms – for example, “balustrade” and “handrail” might be easy interchanged. However, there is a distinct difference between the two. Read on if you’ve ever asked yourself: “What is a balustrade, and what is a handrail?”
What Is a Balustrade, and What Is a Handrail?
What Is a Handrail?
First things first: What is a handrail? If you’re browsing our website, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with handrails. The term refers to the bar, or support, that you hold while walking down a staircase, ramp, or walkway. The term “handrail” does not encompass the handrail supports or balusters, which we’ll address next.
What Is a Balustrade?
You can probably picture a handrail, but can you picture a balustrade? To understand a balustrade, you first have to understand a baluster. Balusters are the vertical posts or legs on railings. Balusters can be made of wood, iron, aluminum, or other materials. While the word “baluster” refers to a single post, the term “balustrade” refers to all of those posts joined together as a unit – essentially, the final product that offers security and support on a balcony or terrace. It can be indoors or outdoors.
Unlike a handrail, balustrades do not usually stretch across a flight of stairs. Instead, they serve to safeguard landings and other areas located far off of the ground. Think of it this way: In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Juliet probably used a handrail to climb to the balcony – but the balustrade probably kept her from falling off of that balcony. Both are equally important.
History of Balustrades
Let’s dive further into the differences between balustrades and handrails.
Architecture buffs might be interested in the history of balustrades, which involves several rich architectural traditions. According to Architectural Digest, the earliest examples of balustrades come from ancient bas-reliefs (think of them as sculptural murals) dating as far back as the 7th century B.C. And while they apparently don’t appear in the Greek and Roman eras (at least, not according to architectural ruins), they were used in a variety of Italian palaces in the late fifteenth century.
Given their rich history, it’s no surprise that home and business owners utilize balustrades to this day. Balustrades can also come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, often tailored to the style of the home or business.
So, what is the difference between a balustrade and a handrail? Let’s revisit that Romeo and Juliet analogy. While Juliet likely used a handrail to climb to the balcony, a balustrade kept her from falling off of the balcony.
As you can see, both balustrades and handrails serve unique but important functions. To protect visitors to your home or business, talk to a handrail professional about installing a balustrade or handrail that safeguards your patio, landing, or other raised area.
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