Town-House Halls, Part 1

A beautiful home deserves a grand entrance that lives up to the promise inside. The refinement of the town-house style provides just such an elegant introduction to gracious living.

First impressions count. However small, the area immediately inside the front door is more than merely a place to hurry through on your way in or out; it sets the tone for what follows in the rest of the house. The classic elements of the town-house look add character and distinction to any hallway.

The essence of the style is tradition and formality. Characteristic features include timeless elements such as black and white tiled floors, fine architectural and decorative detail, and a symmetry of arrangement. It is a sophisticated look, but need not be expensive to recreate. While the effect is elegant, practical requirements are well served.

Halls are connecting spaces, which means that decorative choices must be made very carefully to avoid abrupt clashes of color, pattern, and style in the transition to other rooms. This does not mean that bold and striking effects must be ruled out, but it is best to plan the look of the hall in the context of your overall decorating scheme.

Every hall takes a certain amount of battering from the daily comings and goings of household members, so surfaces must be able to withstand a fair degree of wear and tear. Town-house style has the practicalities covered. The look incorporates many time-honored elements, such as floor tiling and paneled wainscoting areas, which provide tough and easily maintained surfaces. Other nods towards practicality involve equipping the hall with a mirror, a small table for leaving keys, messages, and mail, and maybe a clock.

Above all, as the initial encounter with your home, halls must be welcoming to visitors. Stylish finishing touches, in the form of fresh flowers and decorative objects set the right mood.

Creating the Look Walls: Neutral tones may be a safe bet in the hall, but the overall effect tends to be a little bland. A positive color gives an immediate lift that clearly spells out a welcoming message. Try yellow for a bright, warm feel, particularly in a hall that receives direct sunlight. Warmer tones, such as cerise, are also effective if the hall is dark, while soft greens are soothing.

Wainscoting is a traditional feature that earns its keep in the hall. The convention is to cover the lower third of the wall space with a hardy surface, such as a textured paper, that can withstand greater abuse than the rest of the wall treatment. You can achieve a similar effect using a coordinating border in place of the wainscoting rail. The visual distinction between the upper and lower portions of the wall effectively lowers a high ceiling. For a classic town-house effect, set off the walls with crisp white woodwork and moldings. Eggshell or satin finishes are more elegant than high gloss ones.

Many hallways in period houses have architectural flourishes in the form of brackets, cornicing, and corbels. In a featureless modern hall, apply strips of curved coving to the junction between walls and ceiling to lend a note of distinction.

Floors: The classic town-house solution is some form of graphic black and white tiling – in marble slabs, ceramic tiling, or linoleum – that looks crisp in entrances.

Alternatively, carpet the hallway, provided you supply some additional protection for the areas of heaviest traffic. Natural fiber flooring in sisal or sea grass is a good, traditional option for an understated look.

A buffer zone by the front door, where shoes can be wiped clean, helps to keep the rest of the floor in good condition. The neatest solution is to stop the main covering about a yard (meter) short of the front door and cover the remainder in coir matting, sunk to the same level and running across the full width of the hall.

Lighting: Halls should be well lit, for safety and security. The main hall light can be an eye-catching feature in its own right. In many hallways, such fixtures are viewed from above as you descend the stairs, so pendant lights and lanterns that enclose the bulb are more attractive than those which leave it exposed. Regency-style coach lanterns or a chandelier are in keeping with the look. If you wish, you can install wall sconces or table lamps, but these should not be the sole sources of light.

The front door: To make the hallway seem more spacious, it is a good idea to paint the inside of the front door the same color as the interior woodwork, leaving darker, glossier shades for the exterior of the door only. Glazing in or around the door increases the sense of openness, provided security is not jeopardized. If your existing front door lacks character, replace it with a period-style paneled door, with or without glazing, to add an element of architectural distinction.

Copyright 2009 Rhonda Morin, May not be reprinted.

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