This came up in the comments last week and I thought it would be a good topic to write about as so many of us (in the UK at least) have small, dark, narrow halls and that’s if we even have one at all. As the reader pointed out; when you Google hallways you often get those huge American spaces where the biggest problem is should your central table be round or square, whereas in my hall it’s more about can I hang a second coat on this hook or is it going to stop me opening the door to the loo which is crammed in under the stairs and which, post too many lockdown cocktails and snacks, is feeling rather a tight squeeze at the moment.
So coming up are some general ideas that might work for you depending on your layout. For example, in my Victorian terrace the hall is the width of the front door – 106cm (3ft 5ins) give or take. There are stairs going up, a narrow radiator and it leads to the kitchen at the end. The loo and and an area for coats and shoes is under the stairs although, as I said, if there are too many shoes or coats the loo door won’t open. There is also a door to the basement there too – likewise.
But you might have a hallway that leads to a solid wall at the end with doors off to the sides giving you a space for a narrow table or a cupboard. Or you might live in a flat with doors in every direction and no natural light at all as it leads to a communal hallway. Some of you might have no hall at all and walk straight into one of the reception rooms; I grew up in a house like that – you came straight into the dining room and you had to walk through there and into the kitchen next to it and to the back of that to get to the coat hooks.
Whatever your layout I’m sure we would all like our entrances to feel lighter and more spacious and while the latter can only ever be an illusion there are things we can do about the former.
First up: structural changes – you can ask a builder about adding a pane of glass above the doors to drag in more light from the side rooms. They’re called Borrowed Light Windows and they are more common in 1930s houses. Strangely google seems to be full of forums asking how to get rid of them which seems odd but there you go.
It’s slightly complicated as you have to extend the lintel – the steel beam that goes over the opening where the door is. Once that is done you can install a pane of glass over the door, or as an alternative, suggested by tv architect Laura Jane Clark , you can add a glass panel down the side of the door giving a glimpse into the room you are borrowing the light from. As is often the case it’s easier to do this from scratch rather than adding to an existing wall/hall but she reckons you are looking at around £1000 for that job, less if it’s a simple stud wall.
Returning to our downstairs loo; it backs onto the kitchen and I wish I had put a high glass panel between the two when we built it. It would have added light from the kitchen but had no effect on privacy as it would be high up next to the ceiling. And I recently consulted on a large renovation for a friend who wanted to carve off a section of the main bedroom to add a dressing room and I suggested she do the same thing there – make the top part of the dividing wall glass to allow some natural light. All these things are easier to do from the start than adding afterwards.
Next it’s all about the decoration which is much easier. First up – if your hall has no windows or natural light (from the front door for example) then please don’t paint it white. White paint needs natural light to bounce off and without it it can look drab and dreary.
Far better to choose a pale colour that isn’t a bright white and then, and this is important, paint it all over from the skirting boards up over the walls and ceiling. And, if it’s really dark then do all the doors to match too. If you have a wooden floorboards you can paint those as well. I have. The only colour comes from the staircarpet and the back of the door which is painted to match the stairs.
If you have a dark floor that you can’t change then add a rug but rather than a pale colour, which isn’t practical consider a pattern which won’t show the dirt as much.
Now if all these feels like it might be a little lacking in character, you can start to bring in other colours in a variety of ways. Remember yesterday I showed you the pale pink woodwork of Melanie Lissack? You can do your woodwork in a contrasting colour to the walls and ceilings but keep it pale. I will point out, however, that if you have lots of doors painting them in a different colour to the walls will make the whole space look busier and therefore smaller, if not darker. Far better to keep the colours to a (pale) minimum.
However, you can add a wallpaper to the ceiling, which, as long as it isn’t too dark, will bring in some personality and shouldn’t affect the flow of light too much.
Alternatively paint the ceiling the same colour as the walls but in a gloss paint which will bounce the light around. Or you can paint the lower half of the wall in gloss and the top in matt to bring in some textural differences.
Remember to keep the doors to the other rooms open to bring light into your hall and try and hang mirrors on hall walls opposite those doors to bounce that light back round into the space.
If the ceiling is too low for dramatic pendant lights then wall lights can work well to wash light up onto the ceiling. Houseof have some ceiling lights that are more interesting than downlighters but still quite flush to the ceiling and you can also try adding LED tape along the top of a picture rail to throw light up if you want. Screwfix has one as does John Cullen.
Finally, you will need to keep the clutter to a minimum if you want to keep your hall feeling as light as you are able. I’m afraid discipline on the number of coats and shoes that can live there is key.
I hope that has given you some food for thought and some ideas as to how you can improve your own hallways.