“L’esprit de l’escalier” is the French phrase for when you think of a good comeback just a little too late to actually use it. It literally translates to “the spirit of the stairs,” and Philosopher Denis Diderot came up with it after he was roasted so brutally at a party that he couldn’t even think of a response until he was on the stairs out.
Alas, I can’t offer a cure for l’esprit de l’escalier, but I can offer you some beautiful staircases to have it on.
These 24 staircases stun with their beautiful, creative, and functional designs, and looking at them may ease the sting of realizing the perfect comeback to your obnoxious cousin’s veiled insults seconds after you leave the family reunion.
1. Back Support: According to designer Andrew McConnell, this staircase is meant to mimic a whale’s spine. McConnell says that most of the work went into “refining the single [vertebrae],” and its linkable structure allows homeowners to make different sizes of stairs, from a blue-whale-sized tower to a tiny staircase more fit for a dwarf sperm whale.
2. It’s Hip To Be Square: The design here is more practical than many on the list; it’s designed to fit into one square meter of floor space, making it easy to drop in an attic staircase. Everything about this piece is designed for functionality, from the thin safety railing up the center to the gripping treads on the edge of each stair – except for the color, which is just sheer beauty for the purpose of beauty.
3. Cultural Mosaic: Sometimes, the simplest designs are the most beautiful. The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps in San Francisco are the brainchild of ceramist Aileen Barr and mosaic artist Colette Crutcher, and 300 community volunteers helped make their vision happen. Nowadays, the steps draw tourists and locals who need a little pick-me-up.
4. Somewhere Over The Rainbow: This staircase, featured in London’s appropriately-named Rainbow House, turns a white room into a riot of color with the application of carefully-selected paint. The house, which you can rent for a cool £15,000 a month, also features a slide down into the living room.
5. Say What?: According to parent company Atmos Design, these stairs are “a continuation and intensification of the simple graphics skirting board lines that trace their way through the house” that “expand like a genie released from a lamp, curling and separating and bifurcating from the wall to form the delicate edge of the stair treads.” I mean, I don’t understand a word of that, but they sure are pretty!
6. Man’s Best Friend: This double staircase (designer sadly unlocatable) allows you to take the stairs with your furry companion without straining them. I think this is objectively a good feature for a set of stairs. My opinion has nothing to do with how my very tiny, very useless dog cries for me at the top of the stairs the whole time I’m walking up them.
7. Intelligent Design: This mesmerizing staircase is based on the design of DNA, the helical molecules that provide the blueprints for our bodies. The spiral staircase is just as well-designed as the little molecule; the staircase is beautiful and streamlined, and it’s also relatively safe! (EeStairs)
8. Blue Ribbon: This Prague staircase was modeled after a “delicate rippling ribbon,” and is made of “10mm thick sheet metal,” neither of those phrases which inspire a great amount of confidence in its ability to bear weight. Just looking at this image, I’m already overcome by the feeling that I should be suing someone for damages.
9. Birdcage Stairs: For something that looks so ephemeral, these stairs (designed by Atelier Archiplein for a house in Rochebaudin, France) are surprisingly sturdy. They look like a safe place for kids to pretend that they’re trapped in jail and bang on the bars loudly demanding freedom. Ah, the joys of childhood play.
10. Whatever Floats Your Boat (Or Not): I’m a simple woman with simple beliefs: lemonade should always be more tart than sweet, cookies should be soft rather than crisp, peanut butter sandwiches should be served on untoasted bread, and floating stairs shouldn’t exist. These stairs were designed by Seoul design house Moon Hoon and, even though they go against my spiritual and architectural beliefs, I’m impressed by their minimalism.
11. No, Thank You: The ORIGAMI staircase, designed by Maretti Living stairs, is a set of floating stairs that proudly advertises the fact that its steps are just 8 millimeters thick. You know Led Zepplin’s widely-beloved 1971 classic hit “Stairway to Heaven?” Well, this is its little-known counterpart, the stairway to hell.
12. Making Waves: Arquitectura en Movimento Workshop designed this gorgeous set of stairs for the SDM apartment, a two-story house in Mumbai. The gentle, sloping panels from the top set of the stairs to the bottom ones form a perfect back support for reading, which brings me back to fond childhood memories of being an underfoot nuisance while reading on the stairs.
13. Jenga!: TAF is a Stockholm design firm founded in 2002. Their projects have gone on to find worldwide acclaim and gallery space in museums like the MOMA and the Danish Design Museum. They earned their reputation through projects like this one — a stunning, original death trap for children and careless drunks.
14. Jenga II: This Time With Safety Precautions: You’ve heard of multipurpose stairs before, but these are probably the only stairs in the world to house an entire office! Studio Farris Architects built this set of stairs, which houses a meeting space, bookshelves, storage, and a mezzanine office. It’s strangely practical for a staircase that looks like it’s been made from children’s toys.
15. Let It Slide: This staircase isn’t just child-safe, it’s child-friendly. The stairs were designed by Moon Hoon for a South Korean house where the bottom floor is dedicated to allowing space for the children to play. But according to the company, it’s not just the family’s children who use the staircase; the adults love it just as much, if not more!
16. Downward Spiral: Is this floating staircase (developed by Webb Yates Engineers and The Stonemasonry Company) beautiful and unique? Yes. Is its award-winning design, where each step is a single block of stone held together by two 12.9-millimeter steel cables, safe to stand on? Also yes. Could you get me to put a single toe on one of these stairs? Nope!
17. De-light-ful: You may have put together a 2,000-piece puzzle before, but you probably haven’t made anything like this plywood puzzle staircase, made by London studio Tsuruta Architects. To help light filter down through the four-story staircase, the architects printed a staircase they could put together like a puzzle, with gaps in the material to let light through.
18. Apples and Oranges: This candy-colored staircase, found in Martín Dulanto’s Peruvian project Casa Blanca, mimics a children’s slide. It’s got the enclosed sides, the sweeping, smooth lines, and even a kid-appropriate florescent shade. The only thing that’s missing, much to my disappointment, is the actual slide.
19. Stairs: The Final Frontier: This cupboard under the stairs is more Star Trek than Harry Potter. Designed by CplusC Architecture, the “western red cedar lined nook” embedded in the stairs is meant to be used by both the family’s children and adults. Very useful if you want to relax and read a good book, or if your children want to pretend they’re in Space Jail for a few hours.
20. Objet élevé: File this one under “cute but stressful.” Designer Studio Mieke Meijer describes the staircase as “an installation in three parts [the upper part of the stairs, the lower part of the stairs, and the desk] that functions as a connection between two floors while also offering space to work, collect and store.”
21. Rock Steady: Designer Roberto Semprini created the piece for a Milan exhibition meant to show how everyday objects can be considered art. The stairs are made of polished concrete, and they’re meant to look like smooth river stones worn away by erosion. The piece probably functions better as an art piece than an actual staircase; the gently rounded edges of the steps could make for a not-so-gentle descent if you slipped down them.
22. Leaf Me Alone: Sometimes, all you want to do is climb a tree and hide from the world. And CanopyStair, a staircase that you can attach to any tree without the need for nails or screws, makes that desire accessible to people who want to do that without getting splinters in their hands or sap under their nails. Now, all you need is the treehouse at the top!
23. Hide and Seek: The stairs aren’t the main attraction here, but they play a valiant supporting role in this space-saving room, functioning as both pretty storage and a way up to the hidden bed. If you knocked on the walls in search of secret rooms when you were younger or tried to fashion yourself a makeshift fort in your closet, this is the room for you.
24. Lightning In A Bottle: These zig-zagging stairs, designed by NC2 Architecture, are meant to be “a perfect union of functionality, structure and form” that is “comfortable, safe to climb, and spatially efficient.” They’re “samba stairs,” an architectural name for stairs that use an alternating tread pattern to make up for their steepness.