Friday, February 15, 2013

Give Your Hallways The Attention They Deserve

Hallway with a Focal Point
Most of us take pains to create an attractive entryway for our house, but the hallways usually receive much less attention. However, when you consider the importance of hallways in terms of function, as a design element, and especially when you consider how much time we spend going back and forth, they present an opportunity that shouldn't be overlooked. 

Not only does a hallway take us from one space to another, it also can serve as a thread to tie differing elements of the overall design together, while adding personality of its own. One example is a house where every room is a different color. If the hallway is painted in a color that works with all the other colors, it creates a rest for the eye, making it possible to move seamlessly from color to color, creating a coordinated whole, rather than a group of unrelated, or clashing, rooms. 

How to Add Pizzazz to Hallways

Although hallways often lack windows and many aren't wide enough for much, if any, furniture, it's still possible to add considerable pizzazz using paint color, lighting, trim and accessories, all without being a design genius or breaking the budget. 

Study Your Hallway

Begin by studying what you have to work with. 

  • What are the dimensions of the space? How long is the hallway, how high is the ceiling? 
  • What kind of flooring do you have? Can you add area rugs for color and to break up the perceived length?
  • How many openings are there, and where do they lead? 
  • Does the hallway have attractive, generously proportioned crown molding and baseboards?
  • How many openings are on each side? Is the number fairly even, or are the openings concentrated on one side?
  • Is there room for furniture?
  • Are there walls with gallery potential on both sides? Find a balanced way to drawn the eye down the full length of the hallway and avoid a lopsided design.
  • When you're planning what will go on the side walls, remember that people will seldom stop to appreciate these details, so they should look attractive in passing. 
Plan to treat the wall at one end as the focal point, and make it worthy of the attention. Don't create a focal point at both ends because the result will feel claustrophobic, like being in a box. 

Ways to Add Style Without Bulk:

  • Use an accent color on the wall at the end. Not only will the color add spark and interest, a darker color will visually shorten a long hallway and make a narrow hallway seem wider. Repeating a color used elsewhere in the house will help unify your design.
  • Study the doors. If there are many doors that open on the hallway, be selective about which ones you treat as trim, particularly when there is significant contrast between the wall and trim colors. I usually recommend accenting only those doors that lead to a space for people, rather than closet doors or furnace doors. 
    Wainscoting Transforms a Hallway
  • If you want a subtle look, consider painting all the doors in the same color as the walls, but in a satin or semi-gloss enamel, creating texture rather than contrast. This is a good solution for narrow hallways, or hallways where most of the doors are on one side, or for doors of standard or poor quality, so that you don't call attention to them.
  • Use a special color on the ceiling.
  • Add a medallion to ceiling light fixtures.
  • Install trim in the form of crown molding, baseboards, chair rail, wainscoting, etc.
  • If the existing trim is skimpy, use tape to extend the size and make it look more generous, or paint it in the wall color to avoid calling attention to it, and to visually heighten the ceiling.
  • Use masking tape to add a band in an accent color to the ceiling where it meets the crown molding, or use a stencil. You'll be seeing it from a distance, so don't make it too narrow. Try a few designs on paper and tape them to the ceiling to see how they look before you commit.
    Borrowed Light
  • Instead of relying solely on ceiling fixtures for light, use wall sconces too. And speaking of light fixtures, flush mounted ones can look institutional, so I often suggest a fixture with a small drop, or a small chandelier or pendant. 
  • Install wallpaper, but make sure it's durable, especially if the wall gets a lot of traffic. As an option, paper only the focal wall, or frame wallpaper samples for an inexpensive display. 
  • Create art with painted designs on the wall. Draw freehand or create a design with tape. 
  • Display art or collections, but avoid two common mistakes: hanging things too high and choosing accessories in the wrong scale, usually too small for the space.
  • Use carefully placed mirrors (or mirror decals) to borrow light from adjoining rooms and bring life and sparkle to dark hallways.
  • Don't ignore the floor. Add area rugs to break up the runway or bowling alley look and add color and warmth. Be sure they're not going be tripping hazards. 
Display Shelves Are Versatile
  • Install narrow display shelves and change the contents with the season, or as inspiration strikes.
  • Hang empty frames as another display opportunity. Use removable hangers like Command strips for the display items so there are no holes in the wall and the frames are attractive, even when empty.
  • Place a table or narrow bookcase at the end of the hallway and change the display periodically. 
  • If you have enough space at the end of the hallway, create a small reading area with a table, lamp and chair.

For more inspiration, visit the hallway section on 

There's a great deal of untapped design potential in most hallways. Analyze the ones in your house and see what you can come up to make them more attractive. The solutions don't have to be expensive.

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