A clever solution to the problem of the ugly hand rail: Design so you don't need one.
Building codes are a real pain sometimes, particularly when it comes to designing stairs. There are few parts of a home that are more tightly regulated, with the need for handrails, guards (the part below the handrail that keeps kids from falling through). Where I live, the guard has to be either solid or made with vertical pickets so that kids can't climb up on them. The rise and the run have to be this or that; they have changed it now, but it actually used to say that "the product of the dimensions of the rise and the run must be between seventy and seventy five." Forget math, stairs are hard.
But even where I live, if the distance between levels is less than two feet, you don't need a rail or anything. I suppose it is because you can't fall far enough to seriously hurt yourself. In the Netherlands, the maximum distance 75 CM, or about 2'-6". Architect Haiko Meijer of Onix used this to his advantage in the Stair House.
Each floor level differs a mere 75 cm from the previous one, giving the building an atmosphere of continuous space. In addition, as these differences in height are quite minor, the use of balustrades for safety could luckily be avoided. For now the house incorporates 10 floor levels, allowing the possibility to build even higher in the future though.
The house is all wood, inside and out. "The interior is actually furnished in one piece: a continuous and complex totality of connected stairs, floors, walls, ceilings and wardrobes."
Planning departments are also a pain, but the architect writes that it is built outside a small town, "designwise unbothered by any municipal inspectorate interference". I didn't know such a place existed.