The Foyer: Think of this space as curb appeal for the interior; it suggests what extends beyond and is a place to set your mail, leave keys and take off those wet boots.
The back door, which increasingly leads into a practical mud room, has become the favored go-to entry for family, and sometimes friends, usually depending on where people park their cars to enter.
But no matter even if it’s rarely used, the front door and its foyer beyond remains an important feature of every home, both as an architectural focal point and the preferred entry for most guests and certainly for buyers. After those looking size up a home’s curb appeal—how the exterior and landscaping look, the entry makes a big difference in their next impression. The door itself is important, from the outside and within, its size and proportions, amount of natural and artificial light it allows in, and how it’s constructed and furnished.
For the home owners themselves, incorporating a number of features will make their daily lives more pleasant and practical/ This includes things such as having a place to set mail and keys to a mat to wipe off dirt and snow from shoes, to floors that are practical and help avoid slips, and even having a place to sit and put on or take off shoes if there’s no mud room. In addition, it should give off a warm vibe so they’re glad to return to it every time they come home.
All this may seem a lot to ask of a space that’s usually not too large. This is especially the case as home owners downsize square footage and give up having an energy-guzzling entry with vaulted ceiling and sweeping staircase if it’s a two-story home—the kind that were built so enthusiastically in the megahome craze of the ‘80s and ‘90s. In sum, the ideal front entry area today—and it’s still an area rather than a room—needs to offer a balance between being welcoming, aesthetically attractive, and highly utilitarian. Interior designer Lori Gilder, Allied ASID, of Interior Makeovers Inc. in Los Angeles, adds, “It should give your guests a glimpse into your personality and set the stage for what’s to come!” How can all of this best be achieved?
The door itself should be the most important component of the space. “Think of it as being a good return on investment,” says designer Marianne Cusato, author of The Just Right Home (Workman Publishing), based in South Bend, Ind. In fact, the last “Cost vs. Value” survey from Remodeling magazine pegged the ROI of a quality door in an upscale redo at a strong 77.8 percent and at 90.7 percent for a mid-level redo. Cusato suggests the door, whether fiberglass, steel or wood, measure at least 3 feet wide and 7’ tall, though 8’ will add a more impressive, grand look, she says. A solid doorknob adds cachet. Whether you want side lights and a transom above for extra light depends on personal preference, but be sure any glazing is in proportion to the door height and width, Cusato says. She also recommends avoiding fussy glass etching. “Less is more in this case,” she says.
The flooring definitely needs to be practical and able to withstand wear and tear from traffic as well as dirt and wet boots and shoes. The best choice here should depend in part on the home’s location since tile and slate may work well in southern climates while wood may be better for a colder area since it’s a warmer surface, Cusato says. But she recommends anyone laying a wood floor be sure it can withstand wear, which means no soft woods such as pine that easily dent and scratch. The specific species will depend in part on budget since some exotic or reclaimed boards can be extremely costly.
Once the floor choice is picked, Emile L’Eplattenier, a real estate analyst with FitSmallBusiness.com, based in New York, suggests installing a runner or area rug, which can add visual and textural panache as well as literally warm up a cold stone or slate floor.
While some may be tempted to install millwork to dress up the area through dentil molding near the ceiling, detailed baseboard molding near the floor, wainscoting on walls or even columns for a bit of drama, Cusato generally says, “Don’t. Too often any of these treatments will yield a heavy caked-on feeling that’s not architecturally correct. They become distractions,” she says.
Pattern can add some sizzle but too many different ones and especially bold ones may easily turn a hallway from inviting and warm to jarring and distracting or even claustrophobic, L’Esplattenier says. Color, too, should be used with discretion in his view. While deep gray and even blacks now showing up in more room decors may look “amazing” in certain rooms, he says they may can make an entryway feel claustrophobic unless there’s a front door with sidelights, transom or window panes or lots of artificial light. Others disagree and like how the intimacy dark colors provide produce a “wow effect,” sometimes with a contrast of white. Designer Gilder is among that group, who suggests sometimes painting the interior of the front door a high gloss black! Others also recommend the exterior door wear color boldly.
Good light is essential for safety, and particularly when entering a home. When choosing fixtures, L’Esplattenier suggests first thinking of the size of the space and not going with anything that’s too large and would overwhelm the spaces. He prefers a minimalist choice, maybe a classic modern design such as a George Nelson globe (or a copy you won’t mind leaving behind if you sell) or a simple bronze chandelier if your style is more traditional. He also advises steering clear of a sputnik-style or otherwise avant-garde piece or an over-the-top crystal chandelier, each of which can be too extreme for your eyes and others’. Whatever choice, it’s easy to install dimmer controls, which just don’t save energy but vary the light level and color to alter the mood for any occasion.
Extras are important for this space, too. A console table for mail might have some decorative elements to add visual interest. Find a special bowl or tray to set down on it where home owners can place their unread mail and keys. Gilder suggests adding a colorful piece from a favorite artist or showing off a vintage rug from your latest travels. Alternatively, a mirror will permit last-minute primping and can also help ratchet up the area’s style quotient. Finally, it’s useful to include some type of stand for umbrellas, canes, even tennis racquets, as well as a place to line up boots and shoes nicely if there’s no handy coat closet to stash them.
Your overall guiding principal should be to make the entryway charming yet functional, a place to have people pause before they continue on to other rooms in the house. “Remember,” L’Eplattenier says, “it’s not to be a focal point itself. Save your best stuff, however, for your living or dining room. That’s where you should enjoy a wonderful painting over the mantel with friends rather than in the hall where you’re pausing rather than staying.”
Avoid these no-gos from Emile L’Eplattenier:
- Lights that are fluorescent or buzz;
- Very dark paint colors, especially if there’s little or no natural light;
- Too many patterns, particularly contrasting ones;
- Wall sconces that can make an area look dated, especially those with candelabras;
- Too many welcome mats, both outside and inside, especially if you have a no-shoes-inside policy;
- A console table that’s arranged like the perfect still life with so many objects that there’s no room to place mail and keys;
- Too much clutter!