Your Questions Answered

At the beginning of the month I invited guest blogger Karen Knox to introduce my new problem page series and for you to post your dilemmas in the comments box below. Karen wrote a great post on how to plan your decorating budget and we reviewed the questions afterwards.

paint the dado rail all the way up the stairs as well
paint the dado rail all the way up the stairs as well image via making-spaces

Firstly I’m glad that so many of you found the post interesting and useful and also it was lovely to see that you were also answering each other’s questions. However, there was one theme that came out of the conversation and that was the hall. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post on how to create the perfect hall focusing on furniture and storage but we didn’t really get into the decorating as I felt that was another post on its own.

And here it is. I have assembled my crack team of experts to help you out so that’s Karen Knox, who you have already met and I would also like to introduce you to Sian Astley who is a property developer and television presenter. Sian has been painstakingly renovating and restoring her own home and she knows SO much of the real practical stuff so I’m thrilled to have her here with us.

Lastly, but of course not leastly, is Kimberly Duran, who, some of you will know, featured in my book as having found the perfect shade of pale grey (Dusted Moss by Dulux) and whose hall is next on her to do list.

the emerald green stair runner belong to Erica Davies of
the emerald green stair runner belong to Erica Davies of came from Roger Oates

So, Maria Taylor said: “My question is about my entrance hall, the walls are white and I’m thinking about painting them, installing wallpaper or maybe some wood panels, but I’m worried about how far to go, the hall never ends it goes all the way to the kitchen and all the way to the stairs. How much do I cover and how do I finish the feature wall?”

This is a really common dilemma which is why I thought it was worth focusing on.

hall painted in worsted and peignoir by farrow and ball via karen knox of
hall painted in worsted and peignoir by farrow and ball via karen knox of

Karen said: “If you have a period property with a dado or picture rail use that as a cut-off point for darker colours. If your house doesn’t have that – and mine doesn’t – then get the frog tape out and either go with the 50/50 wall or the 60/40 approach. This is a good way to bring in dark colours without having to go over the whole wall and will give you the look of a dado rail but in a more contemporary way. It’s a good way to bring in dark colours to anchor the space and, if you use scrubbable paint, your hall will be both kid and pet-proof.”Sian said: “This is exactly the reason why large, older houses had those dado rails – to allow break points and demarcation for paint and paper. They went out of fashion and looked a bit passe for a while but they look great when designed with a contemporary twist and can be both practical and stylish. If you don’t have the original then you can choose where you want it to start and stop either as wallpapering panelling or dividing the wall. Then you can paint it or stain it to suit – what about a neon dado rail for a punch of colour?

farrow and ball worsted via
farrow and ball worsted via

Jane Whincup wanted to know what to do about radiators when you have wallpaper as obviously you can’t paint them the same colour as the walls in this case.

Karen suggested: “If you can then install a column radiator as you’ll get to see flashes of the paper from behind it. Then either paint it the same colour as the woodwork or pick a colour out from the wallpaper. Radiators can be different colours throughout the house but try and keep them to the same style if possible.”

column radiator and wallpaper
column radiator and wallpaper via making-spaces 

Cecile asked for some ideas of nice lighting for a hall, which was quite a wide open brief but Sian had this to say: “Everyone from Great Aunt Nellie to the UPS driver sees your hallway so make the lighting impressive. They are designed for elegant feature drop pendants which you can duplicate on the higher floors and long narrow corridors are perfect for cool filament sconces (that means wall lights for anyone who just opened a new Google tab).

“Design the lighting at the start (if possible) and don’t forget to have switches at the top and bottom of the stairs and both ends of the hall for ease of use. Always use dimmers. Always. Do you hear?”

the green hall belonging to Sarah Akwisombe
the green hall belonging to Sarah Akwisombe who painted the door to match the walls to make it disappear

Finally Sian had some general ideas to sort out your hallway: “Hallways can be great places to leave some exposed brick which can bring a soft industrial look to your home. Walls to other rooms are often external or party walls which can lead to cold or noise issues if the brick is left exposed but in hallways one wall is usually internal so that’s the one to leave. Mine aren’t finished yet but here’s a taster of what we are doing with exposed brick in the hall.

exposed brick in hall via moregous
exposed brick in hall via moregeous

And, as a final word Sian suggests tiles on the floor. “There’s a reason the Victorians used patterned tiles in their hallways and it’s not just because they were pretty. Decorative is good but tiling is hardwearing and practical and it won’t scratch like wood. Don’t forget to lay plywood first as a stable substrate to prevent cracks from moving joists. There’s masses of choice in geometrics and encaustics now too.”

I am going to add a word to that and say that instead of wallpapering your hall, you can tile the bottom half up to a dado rail either real or imaginary. That’s also fantastically practical as it’s easy to wipe clean and won’t be damaged by bikes, kids, pets and Great Auntie Nellie trailing her handbag along the wall. If patterned tiles is too much then consider a plain tile with an embossed pattern on it – a 21st century way of getting the anaglytpa look, which, by the way, is enormously fashionable if you paint it in dark matt colours rather than the pale vinyl silk of yore.

dotty carpet by alternative flooring image by
dotty carpet in my hall by alternative flooring image by

And the last word to Kimberly whose advice is that if you keep the walls fairly soft and subtle then you can really have fun with the stair runner. An idea which has definitely resonated as you can see from my dots and Erica’s green. Kimberly is toying with leopard print but would take the fabulous Zebo by Alternative Flooring as well.

zebo by alternative flooring
zebo by alternative flooring

Now I hope that has been useful and given you all some ideas for your own hallways. Do leave your next dilemmas below and we will look at them at the end of March. I know we already have one question on small bedrooms. Send over the rest.


Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. i only see pics of Victorian houses with the stairs in the hallway. i have just bought a Victorian house with a narrow hall and the stairs come off between the front room and middle eg across house instead of with it.

    and ideas on decorating narrow NE facing hallway.

  2. Hi Kate,

    Slightly separate topic, sorry! But I was wondering what blinds or covering you have over the bottom half of your living room windows please? Looking for something very similar.

    Thank you

    1. Hi, they’re just Ikea blinds and are fixed to the actual sash window rather than the frame. They roll up to the halfway point of the sash or you can open the window and they go with it – but remain closed – as it were.

  3. The hallway in the first image is beaitiful however I’m having tried it on my freshly undercoated wall at home, I’m absolutely convinced the pink isn’t peignoir! On my walls, peignoir looks so much darker…

    1. That’s the trouble with these grey shades – they vary so much from wall to wall and house to house. It was very grey in my house but I have seen it in other places and it’s quite lilac.

    2. It’s definitely Peignoir. I ordered the paint! 🙂
      It’s all about the light and what other colours are in the space too. I’ve probably adjusted the exposure on the image too and then your screen might be showing it differently. So many variables which is why testers are a must!

  4. I am renovating my 60s semi (ugly house to lovely house – I hope). Having read your post I am inspired to try Karen’s suggestion; using frog tape to achieve a colour split in my hallway. Slightly nervous of getting a crisp finish where the colours meet – and any rules on whether I should do the light (top) or dark (bottom) colour first? Have just found your blog and love it – it’s so useful! thanks.

    1. well one always wants to start at the bottom and go up but it would be easier to correct a pale mistake with dark than vice versa. As long as you are firm with the frog tape it should all be fine….

    2. Hi Lucylou, with frogtape, it doesn’t really matter which you do first but what I’d suggest is painting straight over the frogtape with the first colour – this will seal it so when you go over it with the second, no paint will bleed through. You’ll get a nice crisp finish then once you remove the tape 😉 x

    3. Hi Lucy,
      Paint your lighter (top) colour first. Let it dry for a couple of days. Buy Frogtape, the green one (only if’ you’ve let it dry for 2-3 days) and use a spirit level to mask your line across the wall. Once masked, paint your bottom, darker section. Remove the tape when it’s still wet. Done!

  5. would also love ideas for homes with the door opening right into the main room – no landing area, side walls, etc. thanks!

  6. I love the stair runner idea but does it have to be laid on bare floorboards? How does that work at the top of the stairs if you want to switch to carpet, is there an awkward join?

    1. Some people take the runner over the landing in the strip and leave the boards at the side. Some widen out to carpet on the landings. Some start with full width on the stairs to make sense of the landings. Me? Well we have runner on the stairs and it stops just under the nose of the top step – ie the top of the top riser (as opposed to the flat tread) and the landing is bare. Then it starts again on the next flight. We did this for two reasons – money and also as I have the spotty carpet shown above we thought it might be a bit much to have more spots all over the landings. The point is you can kind of do what you want!

  7. Any advice on wall lights which go up a staircase which wraps round several times in a contemporary georgian property?

    1. Hi Sally, I have an Edwardian property which I’m currently renovating which has about six different levels and landings. It’s a headache! I’m using the same design wall sconces in three different areas to carry the design through the different levels, and then a feature pendant on the ground floor to mix things up a little. Wall lights used to be very boring but simply aren’t anymore, nor are they all cost prohibitive, although if you’re not at the early stages of a renovation, new wiring for lighting in a hallway can be quite disruptive. I like the idea of soft industrial in older period properties. Maybe try Dowsing & Reynolds or Industville. Sian x

  8. This post is so well timed- am currently way down a rabbit hole of online tile shops! Please can you answer 2 questions? 1. In your opinion should we stick to safe ‘London mosaic’ style trad or go crazy encaustic in an Edwardian house?? Q2: where did Erica get her tiles from?! Thank you

    1. Nah go crazy! Every time. You know you want to because you have called the London mosaic “safe”. I’ll back you all the way for the crazy encaustic. Erica’s came from Bert and May. Try also as… Have fun x

      1. Ah thanks! I am *obsessed* with the Popham Hex star tiles but at £350 psqm via Ann Sacks it’s not viable. I’ve found a stockist in Sweden who’ll sell them for £134psqm with a 4 month wait and am considering moving all the other work round to wait for them. Such is the extent of the rabbit hole I’ve fallen into. Absolutely love your blog and read every day!

  9. We have sloping ceilings in all of our bedrooms (it’s a converted barn). As well as the obvious problems of finding furniture to fit I’m struggling with paint/ wallpaper ideas. There are hardly any full size walls and sometimes it’s difficult to decide where the ceiling finishes and the wall starts! I’d like to try something more interesting than painting everything the same colour. There are also very dark beams which tend to dominate the space (I’d like to try to lighten them)but that’s another story. I know it’s probably not the sort of house you normally feature but maybe people have similar problems in loft conversions? I love the Worsted staircase by the way.

  10. Loved this advice on hallways – any suggestions for those in flats with large hallways but no stairs? I’m also interested in the small bedrooms question, mine has bunk beds in but not much else. Looking forward to some help with that. Thanks.

  11. A great article and thank you for answering my question. Some absolutely beautiful halls there.

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