I find safety gates inexcusably ugly, so I don't use them. Just kidding: of course I use them! I curse their dreadful sight every time I pass, but I still use them.
With our older ones we had white plastic gates. These weren't just an eyesore, but were incredibly awkward to use. Now, we have wooden ones. They are much more convenient and attractive, but are hardly a compliment to interior design.
These homebrew safety gates
might be just the answer, keeping your adventurous little ones safe without compromising your style. The design isn't available, but Joel lists the materials and method in his post comments. Looking through the pictures and reading the conversation following the post is probably all you need to reproduce this innovative safety gate.
If you're using the gates to keep animals to a designated area, these safety concerns don't apply, so you can build the basic design and enjoy your stylish gates. If you're using it to keep children off the stairs, you'll find the conversation in the comments about safety and the various solutions helpful.
It's hard to believe with all the trendy tot-type merchandise out there, nobody has developed a better baby gate. It just goes to show that if you want something done right, you'll have to do it yourself!