Parisian vs. Tuscan Staircase; Yay or Nay

In the 20 years I’ve been in this business as well as the more than 10 years I’ve spent blogging, I have seen a lot of staircases. In person, and in photos. Some good, many that are just plain bad.

This trip to Paris is Terreeia’s first trip (my third). This time I was struck by the style of all the Parisian balconies and noticed that many (or even most) of them are really busy. But they still look gorgeous because of the architecture and tone-on-tone colours of the buildings.

And it got me to thinking. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with a really busy wrought iron staircase? Maybe it’s everything attached to the staircase that makes it look dated and wrong.

Read on and tell me if you agree with me:

Brian Thomas Jones

One of the things that makes Paris so beautiful is the uniformity of the buildings. They are mostly all the same colour (a yellow beige, sometimes green beige) and the sweeping style and delicate filigree that characterizes Paris architecture today is largely a result of George Haussmann’s work. An architect commissioned by Napoleon III to open, unify, and embellish Paris.

On our tour of Paris,  the first day after we arrived, our guide took us to this street (above) to show us what the old Paris used to look like. The streets were dark, dismal and so narrow there was barely enough room for one cart to traverse.

Here’s another photo of an old Paris building:

It was puffer weather when we first arrived in Paris (below):

And of course here are what the buildings look like now:

And what makes Parisian staircases so pretty, is they often have black and white (or grey) tile or black checkerboard tile to repeat the wrought iron railings.

Parisian Moments

The cafes throughout Paris are so charming. Happily, everyone got the memo about installing bistro chairs and adorable round tables that often face the street so the patrons can people watch as they sip coffee and eat croissants.

Many of them have planters with boxwood or beautiful, coordinated, plant material like this (below):

Photo by Maria Killam

In the little town where we live back home, we have a little bakery/cafe where the owner hired a designer for the interior and he did a great job.

But then, the following summer, he decided to add an outdoor patio (and obviously thought he could do it without his designer). So he built a huge, out of scale pergola, and then picked up a bunch of bad residential patio furniture with multi-coloured umbrellas from the nearest big-box store.

I was so underwhelmed, I have not been back since.

It’s the details that often make or break any design project. One decision on something seemingly small and inconsequential can ruin a staircase, kitchen or bathroom, (the list goes on and on) that otherwise could have been perfect.

Ask Maria: My Husband Got One Choice and It’s Wrong, HELP! 

The view of the rooftops outside our hotel room in Paris (above)

Here the railings get more simple at the very top (above)

Chateau de Bouceel

In the middle of our trip to Paris, we drove out to Normandy and stayed in this Chateau, built in 1763.  The floor tiles are black and orange beige. The steps are concrete.

Notice the curvy style of the wrought iron railings (below):

And how it relates to this railing (below).

I took this photo in a new build I was visiting over 10 years ago. The designer who worked on this project confided that the original design (by the client) was MUCH busier than it is, even now, before she intervened.

I posted it here because it was so similar to the staircase above.

Well, what do you think? Which one is better? Why?

Here’s another staircase from a Chateau in France. Notice the same black tile repeated in the entry flooring.

Architectural Digest

Classic and timeless.

So timeless, that it has been the same in the Chateau we stayed in, for over 250 years.

Here’s the 24″ x 24″ parquet flooring everywhere else:

And the bathroom attached to our room? Plain white tile that would not need replacing anytime soon.

At breakfast, when I asked the owner how many bedrooms were in the chateau, he replied that he didn’t know. But he did know that it had 99 windows and he had replaced 45 of them, haha.

The mirror reflects the windows and beautiful grounds behind the Chateau

Here’s a typical Tuscan inspired staircase. The black wrought iron gets lost among the wood stained bannisters, cherry flooring and pedestrian pink beige carpeting.

Suddenly it looks trendy instead of timeless.


And we start looking around for white paint and a simple design to update when we can (below).


Over to you my lovelies! What do you think? Do we need to break open some white paint cans and install some black and white checkerboard flooring or what?

Parisian or Tuscan? I vote Parisian.

If you would like your new build to fill you with happiness when you walk in the door, check out our new build eDesign package here.

Related posts:

Is Your Bath Perfect or Perfectly Nice?

How to De-Tuscanize Your Home; Before & After

How to Update Your House from the Tuscan Brown Trend



leave aREPLY

  1. parisian! however, I love staircases and banisters no matter how they are. I take them as a fixed design element and make them work, especially if they are wrought iron.
    never liked American Tuscan design, too much brown, (and brownish yellow) my least favorite color. Heavy and dark.
    much prefer clean, light and airy.

  2. Parisian all the way! Love Paris and all the design and architecture that “makes” it! (Of course, there is the history as well I suppose!) Love your photos of the staircases and cafes.

  3. I just noticed that the “Tuscan” American style has the wrought iron balusters combined with wooden hand railings and wooden newel posts, while all the Parisian staircases were completely wrought iron. Maybe that’s one reason why the “Tuscan” looks so bad, more of the “too much going on” that you pointed out Maria? I think both bad staircases would be somewhat improved if they were all wrought iron. Still not up to Parisian standards, but better. Thanks for continuing to help me train my eye Maria!

  4. Both are beautiful but a really ornate staircase will never have the same effect to me unless the home is actually in Paris or Tuscany, or if your property is located in a historical centre such as Old Montreal, for example, where you are surrounded by numerous similar stone buildings steeped in history. The characteristic grand European stone stairs, off-white aged plaster or stone walls, Parisian mansard roofs, the time worn patina and the focused attention to detail and craftsmanship cannot be recreated and tends to look less impressive when translated into a North American suburban house built with drywall and 2 x 4/6s. All of the senses come to life in these old European buildings. They even tend to have a certain smell (slightly musty but not offensive) that you just can’t recreate (or maybe don’t want to) with new construction. Definitely, a nod to these styles can look amazing and classy (simpler wrought iron designs, boxwood topiaries, black planter boxes) , but when you get really ornate with the details in a new home, it can look overdone fast without the rest of the history to back it up. I do think it can work for commercial projects where you have a Parisian or Tuscan theme in mind. BTW Maria, if you have ever been to Coombs near Parksville, they have done a pretty tasteful job of recreating a bit of that European feel without going overboard. They used a plaster look on the exterior of the buildings, but my husband tells me it’s not a good match for our climate here:( Too bad as it’s quite beautiful.

  5. OK now I’ve GOT to go to Paris, how gorgeous!
    It’s so interesting that it’s the wood railing that ruins most Staircase designs.

    Scrolling through the beautiful photos, it seems the iron/steel hand railings, just blend in beautifully with the vertical balusters and newel posts, no matter how busy they are. But the wood always seems to look like it’s just ‘plonked’ on top!
    Same material for both, just works beautifully!
    Brilliant post as always! Enjoy! xo
    PS I found myself saying “Hm,, nope that one doesn’t pass code, that one does… ” lol

  6. Someone may have already said it, but here in Canada we have to abide by building code and staircases cannot have an opening larger than a ball sized to represent a child’s head. I can’t remember the exact dimensions, but it’s to ensure that a child cannot slip through and hang by its head (its largest dimension). When I learned that, I look with alarm at staircases (no matter how beautiful) that could be a death trap.

  7. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I would vote for both Tuscan and Parisian in the typical cultural/historical environment, but I wouldn’t bring it into my home on any grand scale.

    My eyes and senses are calmed by clean, light and sparse surroundings with warm light sources. Curved metal, curved concrete give a feminine look to hard materials, so Paris to me feels like a beautiful, complex woman with light and dark contrasts of shadow and mystery. But yet Paris can often be all about flat surfaces, hard corners and edges, straight lines and minimal clutter, which give way to an often masculine esthetic. So I think Paris is a really interesting place, where it celebrates both the masculine and feminine side of design. I’m not one to surround myself with so much ornate style as Paris or Tuscan, however, I do enjoy visiting playful and artistic spaces that celebrate style in unique ways. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I find those playful, detailed, bold, patterned, flowery, shiny and textured spaces like a party that I’m very excited to attend, take in all the delights, smile a lot, and then go home to my very simple space with lots of windows to watch the birds.

    That’s why I follow Maria’s blog, she knows how to balance all the playfulness of design without getting tacky about it. I’ve learned a lot and have become a bit bolder in bringing unique design and color elements that match my ‘nature’ esthetic without having to give up my need for a light, airy and outdoorsy look.

  8. Well, you’re comparing authentic so-lovely-it-survived-hundreds-of-years-without-being-ripped-out Parisian style with 1980s “Tuscan-inspired”. I imagine there are lovely 200 year old authentic staircases in Tuscany too. And bad “Parisian-inspired” looks. It’s not the wrought iron railing that’s the problem, it’s the jumbled mish-mash around it, and the fact that it’s out of place in a modern suburban house.

    • I agree with what you’re saying and honestly, I don’t know enough about Tuscan design to be able to spot an authentic staircase even though I tried to find one online. Every time I saw one that I liked, it simply looked Parisian to me, haha. Thanks for your comment! Maria

    • You have described my exact thoughts perfectly! Perhaps true Tuscan is very closely related to true Parisian style, explaining how similar they looked as Maria researched. Context is so very important!

  9. Such an interesting (and timely) post. Just today, I read an article written by a realtor. The article was giving advice to homeowners about looks to avoid if you EVER wanted to sell your house, LOL! One thing that caught my attention was the assertion that black and white permanent features (like flooring) should be avoided because it’s too bold for most. I LOVE black and white marble flooring….it’s still on my bucket list as a “must own”. I think it is so beautiful and a true neutral classic, complimenting traditional and modern decor schemes equally. What are your thoughts?

    • Yes I mentioned that in this post, it’s classic and timeless and works with everything. Likely the realtor has seen it done badly (which is certainly possible) and that’s why he wrote that it was ‘too bold for most’. Thanks for your comment! Maria

  10. I believe that good design also respects the geography and climate. Colors and materials that are suitable in one location may not work in another with different light and temperatures.

  11. Once again, you nailed it!!! Paris all the way!! I would take a can of black paint to the brown wood railings.

  12. Absolutely Black-and-white or really beige and dark charcoal checkerboard flooring in its many variations is a timeless classic and has been my preference for an entrance forever please make it more widely known and chosen black-and-white or really beige and dark charcoal checkerboard flooring and it’s many variations is a timeless classic and has been my preference for an entrance forever please make it more widely known and choosen – also the Parque wood flooring why isn’t this more widely available to install tile like I have seen it in a laminate but laminate can’t get wet I don’t like

  13. Hi Maria,
    For me, the less wrought iron the better. I don’t care for all the ornateness of it all. If it was a very simple, bare design I could appreciate it.

  14. I love the Parisian staircases because they look romantic and more feminine. The Tuscan style to me is more of a masculine feel. There is so much beauty in each country but I definitely prefer the beauty of France. Love all of the pictures of your trip. So much fun following you!

  15. Parisian is my jam when it comes to the staircase and iron work! Thanks for sharing the beautiful artwork?

  16. I think Haussmann was drawing inspiration from the Baroque era. That one photo you have is from Versailles, built in the 1680’s (Baroque Era). Haussmann started rebuilding Paris in the 1850’s (“Victorian Era”). Marble flooring is great if you can afford it :). I’m still looking for authentic examples of Tuscan staircases!

  17. Thanks for explaining that going to Paris made you like the look of busy, ornate iron railings. My husband and I want to have an elegant railing added to our custom home. Your article made me excited to look at our iron railing options.

  18. Paris created the”memo” about the sidewalk cafe and AND the style- it’s everyone else who received the memo.