Open main menu
An early-15th-century piano nobile at the Palazzo dei Diamanti, Ferrara. Its larger windows indicate its superior status compared to the rooms on the floor below.
At the Palazzo Barbarigo, Venice, the floor above the piano nobile is of almost equal status so is referred to as the secondo piano nobile.
Palais Gise in Munich: A rich decor of the facade underlines the meaning of the piano nobile on the 2nd floor.
At 18th-century Kedleston Hall the piano nobile is placed above a rusticated ground floor, and reached by an external staircase. The uppermost windows indicate that the upper floor is of far lower status.

The piano nobile (Italian, "noble floor" or "noble level", also sometimes referred to by the corresponding French term, bel étage) is the principal floor of a large house, usually built in one of the styles of Classical Renaissance architecture. This floor contains the principal reception and bedrooms of the house.

The piano nobile is often the first (European terminology, second floor in US terms) or sometimes the second storey, located above a ground floor (often rusticated) containing minor rooms and service rooms. The reasons for this were so the rooms would have finer views, and more practically to avoid the dampness and odours of the street level. This is especially true in Venice where the piano nobile of the many palazzi is especially obvious from the exterior by virtue of its larger windows and balconies and open loggias. Examples of this are Ca' Foscari, Ca' d'Oro, Ca' Vendramin Calergi, and Palazzo Barbarigo.

Larger windows than those on other floors are usually the most obvious feature of the piano nobile. Often in England and Italy the piano nobile is reached by an ornate outer staircase, which negated the need for the inhabitants of this floor to enter the house by the servant's floor below. Kedleston Hall is an example of this in England, as is Villa Capra in Italy.

Most houses contained a secondary floor above the piano nobile which contained more intimate withdrawing and bedrooms for private use by the family of the house when no honoured guests were present. Above this floor would often be an attic floor containing staff bedrooms.

This arrangement of floors continued throughout Europe for as long as large houses continued to be built in the classical styles. This arrangement was designed at Buckingham Palace as recently as the mid-19th century. Holkham Hall, Osterley Park and Chiswick House are among the innumerable 18th-century English houses which employed this design.

Secondo piano nobileEdit

In Italy, especially in Venetian palazzi, the floor above the piano nobile is sometimes referred to as the "secondo piano nobile" (second principal floor), especially if the loggias and balconies reflect those below on a slightly smaller scale. In these instances, occasionally in museums etc., the principal piano nobile is described as the "primo piano nobile" to differentiate it. Though often found, this usage is potentially misleading: rooms in the (primo) piano nobile are always the grandest, less so those in the secondo piano nobile (which is indeed 'secondary'). The term is not used in Britain.


The beletage of Dresden's Villa Martha, built in the 1870s.

In Germany, there is the Beletage, or "beautiful story," which fulfilled the same function as the piano nobile. Both date to the 17th century.


  • Chiarini, Marco (2001). Pitti Palace. Livorno: Sillabe s.r.l. ISBN 88-8347-047-8.
  • Chierici, Gino (1964). Il Palazzo Italiano. Milan.
  • Copplestone, Trewin (1963). World Architecture. Hamlyn.
  • Dynes, Wayne (1968). Palaces of Europe. London: Hamlyn.
  • Dal Lago, Adalbert (1966). Ville Antiche. Milan: Fratelli Fabbri.
  • Girouard, Mark (1978). Life in the English Country House. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-02273-5.
  • Halliday, E. E. (1967). Cultural History of England. London: Thames and Hudson.
  • Harris, John; de Bellaigue, Geoffrey; & Miller, Oliver (1968). Buckingham Palace.
  • Hussey, Christopher (1955). English Country Houses: Early Georgian 1715–1760 London, Country Life.
  • Jackson-Stops, Gervase (1990). The Country House in Perspective. Pavilion Books Ltd.
  • Kaminski Marion, Art and Architecture of Venice, 1999, Könemann, ISBN 3-8290-2657-9
  • Masson, Georgina (1959). Italian Villas and Palaces. London: Harry N. Abrams ltd.London:Nelson. ISBN 0-17-141011-4