Obviously halls and stairs exist to get us from one room to another, but they can often be a neglected waste of space. First impressions are very important, be it of people or places, and it’s your front hall that gives visitors a first glance at the way you live. So it should be friendly and positive and, since you won’t spend too much time there, it can probably afford to be more unusual than other areas.
Often the hall is one of the best places to show off a large collection of things hanging on the wall, or for a really large painting that won’t fit anywhere else, or for bookshelves. Of course you shouldn’t have anything that gets in the way; you don’t want to have to edge past bulky items: after all, your hall and stairs must be safe thoroughfares.
Most halls will need a fairly tough and washable wall surface. Though you could opt for a more dramatic colour scheme than you could live with elsewhere, your hall should blend well decoratively with all the rooms leading off it, or it will jar with the others when you leave doors open. A strong focal point at the end of a long hall will appear to shorten it. A wallpaper with a light background and a very widely spaced pattern will add spaciousness.
You will need something hard-wearing and easy to clean on the floor; even in the quietest household in town, it will get relatively dirty. You may also feel you need good sound insulation against the thunder of feet. One type of good economic carpet is a synthetic needleloom, one that is non-woven and has quality hair cords. If you are carpeting stairs, avoid vegetable fibres as they are rather slippery, and make sure that whatever you use is very well tacked down. Also avoid slippery rugs on polished floors.
Light, too, is important for safety’s sake as well as for appearance. Consider putting in a glass panel in your door, or a new glass door, although, before you do, consider whether it’s going to spoil the appearance or character of your house from the outside. You must certainly guard against dark corners. Putting in spotlights can be a good safety device, as well as adding interest, but make sure no-one will be dazzled coming downstairs.
Heating your hall efficiently — it’s an airlock anyway: it will help to keep the rooms comfortable and provide a warm greeting. Make sure your front and back doors are as draught-free as possible. A heavy curtain on the type of rod that lifts as you open the door will give an added feeling of comfort and extra sound insulation and will keep out the cold.
Many halls in Britain are long, narrow and rather dark. Often they have to cope with bikes, prams, coats and telephones. If yours is one of these, you will have to plan extra carefully. There’s no avoiding these things, but you can try to arrange that most of them can be folded away or hung on a wall: a wall-mounted telephone, a lattice board for letters rather than a shelf, even a seat that folds down if you want to sit for telephone calls (though with rising prices, perhaps that’s not something to be encouraged these days).
If you have any sort of recess at all, that’s obviously the place to store things. You may be lucky enough to have a space under the stairs where you can put the push chair, or coats and wellies (perhaps with a small hand-basin and long mirror), or even the telephone with a small table and chair for doing the bills. Maybe the recess is big enough to install a downstairs lavatory.
In a narrow hall you will probably need a very unified, simple and fairly light-coloured scheme (if it is too light it will suffer quickly from the dirt brought in through the front door). You will also need a particularly tough wall surface, for it will inevitably get bumped a great deal. If there are lots of doors, you can keep a feeling of continuity by painting them a similar colour to the walls so it doesn’t look so broken up. Mirrors will also add a sense of space.
SPACIOUS AND SQUARE HALLS
If you have anything other than a corridor you can more easily consider the possibility of using your hall in some extra capacity. Keep this activity as far away as possible from the bottom of any stairs. You might be able to incorporate a neat dining area, making sure that chairs will push away under the table, or fold up if you’re at all tight for space; a round table will be less likely to bruise you if you’re edging past. Remember that you will need quite a bit of storage if you’re not to be driven mad carrying things in and out, perhaps incorporating it in a cupboard that is there for the inevitable cleaning necessities.
Another possibility for the hall is a study area, though you will need it to be out of the main flow of traffic. Alternatively, if you give a lot of parties, often have visitors or have a large family, it is worth considering using the hall as an addition to the main reception area, particularly in conjunction with the lounge and/or dining room, To achieve this, view the house as a series of modules, then work out how you can connect them up with the hall. For instance, if you have a lounge on one side of the house, next to the hall and dining room, between each room you could have double glass doors that could be opened progressively to create a larger gathering area. If you decide to do this, make sure that the décor is consistent in all the rooms and the floor coverings similar so that there are no visual barriers to people circulating.
Other creative ideas
depend on the position of the outside walls, ventilation and plumbing. You may be able to put your washing machine, laundry area or even the kitchen in the hall. If you’re worried about cupboard doors not having enough space to open, try the type that concertina out — they’ll take up half the room.
You may be able to improve your hall by moving a doorway, or perhaps blocking one up and using the alcove that is left for storage. In a ‘front to back’ corridor you might shorten your hall and use the extra space for widening some of the rooms on either side — but you must consult a builder before you take down any walls. If you partially remove a wall, a low divider will still separate the areas but give added light and a feeling of spaciousness. It won’t stop the draughts so effectively, so think hard first. Perhaps you would also benefit from building an entrance lobby.
You may be tempted to take out a staircase that uses a lot of space. This is certainly worth considering, although it can be very expensive. Also there are very many rules and regulations when replacing stairs and you may in any case be removing something rather fine that is a major feature in your house. For example, a spiral staircase may seem like a good space-saver, but you’ll still need quite a large square area.