Chapter One: A First Impression
An entrance hall is a gateway into someone's life. As a first glimpse of how a person presents himself or herself, it must be arresting and beautiful. I like to establish a client's design message up front—with color, the placement of art, or perhaps the way a door beyond captures the light and frames an adjoining room.
A foyer is uniquely suited to a kind of formality. There should be a degree of emptiness about the space because it's a place that people flow through. Very few elements are extraneous, so things placed there and the surface finishes you choose will attract attention and ought to be eye-catching. A stairway banister and newel post can be crafted as artistically as sculpture. The floor, the walls, the furniture, the artwork—all are essential parts.
Graciousness requires that the space be hospitable, planned with the idea of welcoming guests. The room speaks to the owner's identity. But the self-contained quality of a foyer, as a place unto itself, is freeing in a design sense. Here, I am at liberty to introduce, to amuse, to surprise. It's the perfect staging ground for stunning art and for unexpected visual connections.
A front hall has a job to do, but not at the expense of aesthetics. The necessities are a table where the mail is left and a surface to put down keys. Briefcases and shopping bags want a place under a table or console. People need convenient areas to hang coats and stash umbrellas. I prefer to offload utilitarian tasks at a secondary entrance, if available, so I can focus the “wow factor” to make a great impression in the formal entry.
Our own country house has a very large foyer that incorporates three areas of equal visual importance: a weighty Tuscan console table with a playful sculpture on it by Niki de Saint Phalle, a sweeping staircase, and an ornamental, eighteenth-century Swedish ceramic stove that stands on the deep umber-stained wood floor. The stove was my grandmother's, and it is full of meaning for me. After World War II she began her life anew, in Denmark. As long as I can remember, I've been going to visit family in Denmark, so Scandinavian blue-and-white porcelain is a big through-line for me. My grandmother loved that stove dearly; it heated her bedroom and made an indelible decorative statement. When I inherited it and the movers brought it to my house, they happened to set it down in the front hall, and it was as if the stove had claimed its rightful place. I love the serendipity of how that came to be.
I like to receive people in a grand way, but it's not about being grand. When we give cocktail parties, people love to cluster in our foyer. When there's music, it becomes a dance floor. On cold winter days when the kids were little, they skateboarded in this hall. There's a certain luxury in just having that space to use.
None of the objects in our front hall is really related, but everything relates. The ingredients may appear to be random, but they were chosen with care. We've assembled pieces with personality that hint at ours. They are strong pieces that reinforce or offset each other but can also stand alone decoratively.
If design is done right, the elements of a room work well together without it being obvious why. Meaningful objects inevitably come into your life, and it is for you to define the proper associations among them. In an entrance hall, you can strikingly establish those relationships. You can also set the rapport you want your guests to have with your home. It's not essential that the front hall deliberately send a message about what's coming next. But, frankly, it always does.