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First impressions – how to decorate and make the most of your hallway

You put the key in the front door, open it, step inside … and you’re home. Here, in the entrance hall, you have the first glimpse of the space in which you live. It’s the first area visitors and guests see, too. And yet the hallway is often neglected, relegated to a thoroughfare not worthy of a well-thought-out decorating plan. But the fact that it’s a functional space rather than one where you might sit and relax or entertain opens up all sorts of possibilities.

Colour and creativity

While you might not dare to paint the walls of your living room a vibrant shade of orange or use that dramatic patterned wallpaper you really love, in a hallway you can afford to be a bit braver. After all, you don’t tend to linger here as you would do in a reception room. Plus, because it’s a small space, it’s fairly cost-efficient to redecorate if you decide you want a different look in a year or two.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with dark colours. These can make a hallway look intimate and cosy, and can also make the rooms leading off from this space feel open and airy by contrast.

Having said that, you may prefer to opt for a serene first impression, something to soothe you after a busy day at work, and for guests, send the message that they’ll be well rested after a few hours or days here. Soft neutrals, pastels and shades such as lavender and duck-egg blue are all good choices for calming the senses.

Nature also works well in a hallway, as it’s the boundary between your indoor and outdoor spaces. Try different tones of green and botanical prints, mixed in with pale shades of sand, chalk and dove grey, plus natural woods and rustic textured fabrics such as linen and raw cotton.

Getting practical

Before you get too carried away creating a mood board, though, it’s worth considering the practicalities of this space. As a high-traffic area, it needs to be able to withstand a bit of wear and tear, so choose wisely and invest in hardy fittings and furnishings.

The floor will need to be sturdy and easy to clean – no delicate shag carpeting here. Instead, choose wood, tiles, stone or laminate, or even something modern and stylish such as concrete. Any­thing with a pattern is good for hiding moderate amounts of dirt, whereas polished surfaces will only make a mess more obvious.

If you really want carpet, short, tufted or woven options in dark colours are the best choice for durability, as are naturally hard-wearing alternatives such as sisal, seagrass or coir.

The walls may also need some protection, especially if you have children or pets. Patterned wallpaper will help disguise scuff marks, and most DIY stores stock easy-clean paints that are tough, and scribble and stain-resistant.

Another option is to use a decorative rail or panelling to separate the lower and upper parts of your walls, keeping the former dark to hide marks and the latter light to keep your hallway feeling bright and airy. You could even tile your walls, fully or partially, ensuring you’ve got a durable surface while making a real style statement.

The storage challenge

Possibly the biggest challenge in any hallway is how to stop it from looking cluttered with bags, coats, shoes and everything else you might want to keep there. You’ll need to think carefully about how you want to stow your belongings, especially if space is an issue.

One option is to go for a minimalistic approach, hiding everything away in cupboards and drawers. Shallow built-in units are great for this, and if you can opt for space-saving sliding doors, so much the better. Handle-­free, push-latch doors are also a good choice for the minimalist look and will reduce the risk of snags as you move past them.

Or you could go in the complete opposite direction and use the items you would usually store to create a decorative feature, displaying them to give your entrance hall a sense character. Look for an old-fashioned coat rack and umbrella stand, or hang vintage picture frames around mismatched hooks so any clothing items become 3-D works of art.

If you want a table to dump keys and other items on when you come in, a console table should be narrow enough to fit without blocking your way, or go for a hanging sideboard to maximise floor space. Another option is a taller, slimmer unit that could fit in a corner. Look for one with integrated storage such as drawers or under-­counter baskets to maximise storage.

Multi-use furniture works wonderfully in a hallway – for example, a hollow ottoman can act as a place to sit and take off shoes as well as somewhere to store those shoes once they’re off. And then there are the really clever options, such as drawers that slide out from under stairs or chairs that fold down from the wall. Designers are always coming up with innovative new ideas, so do plenty of research before making your final choices.

Finishing touches

Lighting can be a problem in hallways, which are surrounded by other rooms and therefore don’t tend to have windows. A door with frosted panes will help let light in, while mirrors – and mirrored surfaces – reflect the light around and maximise its effect. Pale colours also increase a sense of light, although remember that you can play with dark colours to turn the lack of light into a feature.

Don’t forget electric lighting. Most hallways are harshly lit from overhead, but a combination of wall lights, standing and table lamps and even decorative floor spots can help create a layered effect that changes the mood of the space with the flick of a switch.

The hallway is a good spot for a noticeboard, especially if you’ve got busy family schedules to coordinate. Whether you prefer a fabric or cork push-pin board, an old-fashioned chalkboard or even something quirky such as a wire frame with mini craft pegs and bulldog clips, there’s something to suit every style.

If you’ve got a flight of stairs leading off your hallway, turn it into a feature with a strip of luxurious carpet, perhaps pinned down with old-fashioned stair rods. Or why not do something fun with the risers? Paint them different colours – perhaps an ombre gradient or rainbow – or use wallpaper or découpage paper to really make a statement.

Finally, remember how important smell is to a good first impression. A vase of fresh, beautifully perfumed flowers is a wonderful way to welcome people into your home, as is a scented candle, which will also add an atmospheric glow in the evenings.

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