Five Design Specs to Accentuate the Foyer

The foyer is one of the hardest working areas in the home. Part hurried weigh station, part catchall zone, the foyer is also where we greet our guests, making it ground zero for first impressions. It provides the first view of the home and thus by extension, the homeowner’s style. It’s also the last thing people see upon leaving (aka, lasting impression). That’s a lot of responsibility. Yet, when was the last time you gave the foyer, front hall or entryway a second thought? The holidays and open house season are fast approaching, making this an ideal time to act on some bright ideas for enhancing the main entry and give the foyer its due whether it’s grand and gracious or barely there.

Get started by viewing the entryway through the eyes of a first-time visitor. “It’s easy to become blind to your own foyer or entry since you’re almost always just passing through,” said designer Keith Baltimore, owner of Baltimore Design Group in Port Washington. Then think about what you’d like it to convey. “The foyer has so much potential and so few rules. It can be an amuse-bouche—a little taste of what’s to come. Or it can be an ‘oxygen moment’ so dramatic, you need air!”

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Assess current foyer furnishings. Replace them if they can’t contain the in-and-out clutter of daily life. “Today we need pieces that do double-duty,” said Debra Gildersleeve, owner and designer at Renee’s in Mattituck. “Everything should be as eye-catching as it is functional.” Look beyond the usual hallway pieces. Think: narrow dresser with skinny drawers, a shapely vanity, a bookcase lined with matching baskets or decorative containers. Even a kitchen banquette with hidden storage can do the trick. If the space is absent a coat closet, Gildersleeve recommended finding a striking hall tree. “There are so many interesting styles to choose from.” If the entry is tiny or oddly shaped, consider custom built-ins. For catching keys, mail, loose change and other ephemera, look for small trays or chic containers that are easily accessible. The same goes for the mudroom, said Baltimore. “Just because it’s used more by the family than guests, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be inviting and clutter-controlled.”

Lighting, both the fixtures and the intensity, can be the single biggest contributor to ambiance. Baltimore recommended hiring an electrician to help rework a room. “Add dimmers, change out the overheads, add some uplighting or a single spot to highlight a piece of art. It’s like a nip and tuck instead of a full facelift—with the same kind of wow factor,” he said. An electrician also can help determine the best bulbs: warm versus cool light, LEDs versus incandescent, even the appropriate wattage.

In a high-ceilinged space and open-concept plan, a hanging chandelier or pair of pendants adds drama. Avoid hanging fixtures too high or the impact will be lost; the rule of thumb is 6 feet 8 inches off the floor (any lower and it could present a hazard for tall family members and guests). In foyers of standard-issue ceiling height, a stunning flush-mount fixture will make a statement. Lighting from different heights and varying sources adds further dimension. A table lamp or matching pair is one of the easiest upgrades. To keep the lamp from overwhelming the space, Baltimore advised a candlestick style or slim base with a cone-shape shade.

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In addition to its optical power, a mirror brings an artistic touch to an entrance way.

A mirror in the entryway serves well as one last check point before dashing out the door. But a well-positioned mirror possesses optical powers, particularly beneficial for a windowless foyer. By catching the light, a mirror visually expands the space and reflects a patch of abstract style from the opposite wall or, in an open plan, the next room.

Create a vignette by hanging a tall, well-proportioned mirror over the foyer table that is low enough to reflect the collection of tabletop objets d’art. And why stop with just one? “It’s almost impossible to have too many mirrors,” Baltimore said. “Group them together like pieces of art.” Collect different sizes in stylish frames and create a gallery wall. Or prop an oversize floor mirror against a wall, positioned to reflect the ceiling. This creates the optical illusion of instant height.

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A dynamic area rug paired with eye-catching statement pieces enhances the look of even the smallest foyer. image: pablo corradi

Size isn’t everything when it comes to foyers. Throw every visual trick into a tiny entry and, well…it’s still tiny. Why not celebrate that smallness in a big way? Opt for a rich or bold color on the walls, even a deep neutral, to define the space in a palette complementary to the rest of the home. “Here’s your chance to use a shade you love that could overpower a normal-size room but will act as a highlight in a small entryway,” Baltimore said. His one criterion for color selection? Something that makes you smile.

Three other small foyer/big style concepts: wallpaper on an accent wall, a dynamic area rug coupled with a striking new door and architectural endowments. (Remember that part about a lasting impression?) “Wallpaper is coming back, thanks in part to some great new fabrications out there,” Gildersleeve said. “A more dramatic and/or colorful composition acts like artwork on a single wall.” Similarly, a beautiful—if daring—area rug adds a shot of drama while anchoring the space. Look for square or round styles that allow a three- or four-inch border of floor to show.

No foyer? No problem. Dressing up a single wall closest to the front door provides a savvy stand-in, Gildersleeve said. The idea is to create a vignette of equal parts function and style. First, position the requisite piece of furniture. Then hang a striking rack of hooks or collection of individual ones to either of its sides. (Figure out what each will be used for; then mark and measure to avoid making too many “oops” holes.) If a bench takes center stage, a single decorative shelf hung at arm’s length works well as a catchall. But mind the height— benches meant to be used should see shelves hung high enough to avoid head-on collisions. Finish with a mirror or three and voila!