The Climb Of Design: A History Of Iconic Staircases

Staircases have always been an element in design with the potential to encapsulate the overall aesthetic of an interior space. Contrary to the old adage claiming the hearth to be the heart of the home, today it’s the staircase that gives a house its heartbeat, connecting us and transitioning us to each level.

Here we take a look at some of the most breathtaking and iconic staircases of all time. Most of the staircases below exhibit the Fibonacci Sequence and Phi, numbers used in mathematical equations to explain naturally-occurring spiral growth in nature. The theory of ideal spiral staircase proportions, for instance, echoes the proportions of a nautilus shell. There’s perhaps nothing more beautiful than a historical spiral staircase that showcases luxurious materials and reflects the rhythms of the natural world. The result can be a piece of art that develops and changes over time.

Hotel Tassel, Brussels
Designed by: Victor Horta, 1893

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Victor Horta was one of the earliest initiators of the Art Nouveau style. This stylistic revolution is evidenced throughout this staircase in its curvature and the way it diffuses light. The stunning contour of this staircase makes a statement by juxtaposing the cleanly structured building around it.

By mimicking the wall art and floor mosaics in the wrought iron, Horta’s design helps to guide the eye towards the next step and allows for the exploration of every inch of this piece of art.

The Vatican Staircase, France
Designed by: Giuseppe Momo, 1932

Bramante Staircase, Vatican Museum, Vatican City

If you have seen photographs of the Vatican Museums, chances are that you have seen the Bramante Staircase. The original was designed in 1512 and it still exists at the Vatican today. The staircase in its present-day itteration, like the original, is a double helix, its two staircases allowing people to ascend without meeting people descending. The ramp also gives the illusion of stairs, adding a modern element to such a Romanesque design. The railing and materials of this staircase prove to be a showstopper when traveling through the Vatican.

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The original staircase, designed by Bramante in 1505.

Stairs at Casa Batllo in Barcelona, Spain
Designer: Antoni Gaudi, 1877

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Casa Batllo, built in 1877 and re-modelled in 1904, is an incredible building designed by Antonio Gaudi. ‘Casa dels ossos’, a local nickname for the building, translates as ‘the house of bones’. Bones were the inspiration behind this unique staircase, which exhibits a beautiful Art Nouveau look. This skeletal, organic quality can also be found in the wooden hand rails and treads, which wrap up the walls and twist as though alive. The staircase is a mix of all the elements that Gaudi used throughout Casa Batllo, a building that is nothing short of remarkable

Tulip Staircase at the Queen’s House, Greenwich, England
Architect, Inigo Jones, 1635

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Known as the first Classical building in England, this elegant staircase is located in the Queen’s House in Greenwich. This is the first geometric, self-supporting spiral staircase in Britain. The incredible ‘Tulip Staircase’, as it’s known, features fleurs-de-lis flowers encased in the wrought iron staircase railing, seemingly moving upwards like new petals. This staircase has a certain simplicity which allows the iron work to shine.

The Grand Staircase in Sydney, Australia
Architect: George McRae, 1893

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“The Grand Staircase” of Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building was designed by George McRae and completed in 1898. The elaborate Romanesque architecture displayed here was specially planned for the grand building by the government so as to employ many out-of-work craftsmen, stonemasons, plasterers, and stained window artists. This staircase is an amalgamation of the unique skills of all these talented workers. The result is no typical spiral staircase; with its oblique angles and curves, the Grand Staircase keeps one wondering what is beyond every corner.

Melk Abbey Staircase in Austria
Architect: Jakob Prandtauer, 1702

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The Melk Abbey staircase is a showstopper for both its Baroque architectural elements and the incredible details expressed throughout. This spiral staircase has been viewed as a metaphor for both personal growth and historical development. It is far from linear with its unique spiral design; the carvings, inlays, colours, and applied moldings makes this piece a visual feast worth exploring. It’s not often we see this amount of detail on the underside of a staircase, but the result is maximized visual interest.

Frank Gehry’s Staircase, Toronto, Canada
Designer: Frank Gehry, 2008

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When looking back at so many stunning historical staircases, we’d be remiss to omit the Frank Gehry staircase located in the Art Gallery of Ontario. This was built and designed in 2008 in a historical Baroque style. The staircase, situated above the Walker Court in a central location, helps to tie the buildings – that is, the old and new sections of the gallery – together. The height of the walls lower as one ascends, revealing the most breathtaking views of the artwork and city beyond it. The curvilinear lines of this staircase extrude in breathtaking fashion from the wall, like a ribbon floating amidst the fine art. Gehry also described the staircase as a place where people might bump into each other – and perhaps even fall in love.