If you’ve ever noticed a single upside-down baluster on a staircase that doesn’t match the rest, you may think it was placed like that accidentally.
While it certainly could’ve been a mistake that led to the baluster, there’s a good chance it was placed differently on purpose.
There are a few different reasons why a baluster may have been placed upside-down, especially in older houses.
In some cases, it could make more sense for the design of the staircase, while other reasons are a bit more superstitious.
In a 2020 post on a forum for landlords, one user asked about the incidence of installing a single baluster upside down. He wanted to know if there was a reason for it, and many people chimed in with their opinions.
One commenter, a landlord from northwestern England, wrote that they had heard about a superstition from an old carpenter in the U.K. They said: “He [the carpenter] says that it’s an old Scottish and borders ‘secret’ sign showing support for Bonnie Prince Charlie. The [carpenter’s] tale is that there was indeed a superstition about an upturned bottom spindle stopping the devil from climbing a staircase to claim occupants on their deathbed.”
Another commenter said an upside-down baluster could be used as a sign of support from Scottish builders who were in favor of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s (failed) claim to the English throne in the 18th century.
There are a few other theories or reasons as well, as explained in the book, “Staircases: History, Repair and Conservation.”
In the book, the author states that in the early 17th-century, stairs with nailed balusters were easy to remove and it was fairly common to find them upside down. The book claims the upside down balusters were a charm for good luck, but they could also serve a dual purpose as an apotropaic mark (also known as a witch mark to keep evil spirits away).
Another theory came up when HGTV and DIY Network host Scott McGillivray shared a photo on Facebook of a staircase with a single upside-down baluster.
“One of these things is not like the other,” he wrote in the post.
Hundreds of people commented on the post, with a few people offering different reasons for the phenomenon.
Douglas Harpur commented, “It is common in old houses. The carpenter recognized that only God was perfect, so he put one spindle in upside down to make his work imperfect.”
According to the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation, the state’s capitol building even contains a baluster or spindle that’s upside down. The baluster can be found in the grand stairway that leads from the second floor to the third floor.
The historical society explained, “During the time that this building was constructed, artisans commonly inverted a single baluster on a stairway in impressive buildings to symbolize the belief that only God can attain perfection. It is no coincidence that the inverted baluster is the third one down on the right, symbolizing the Holy Trinity.”
The more you know!