Why You Should Decorate Your Hallway (and How to Get Started)

It’s easy to become obsessed with the design details in your kitchen, bathroom or living room. But what about your hallways? Many of us forget to decorate them – and it’s a missed opportunity.

“Nobody ever thinks about these hallways, but you’re in them more often than you think,” says Allison Lind, an interior designer in Seattle. “Why wouldn’t you use every inch of this space to do something personal and interesting?”

Decorating your hall not only makes it feel more like a travel destination, but also improves the feel of your home, said David Frazier, an interior designer in New York: “If you make it chic, it feels like it’s not just a Service area, and also raises all rooms leading from it.”

Ms. Lind, Mr. Frazier and other designers shared ideas on how to make your hallway—and by extension, your home—more welcoming.

In bedrooms and powder rooms, wallpaper is valued for its ability to make a big statement while adding a sense of coziness. It can do the same in an empty hallway.

When Ms. Lind was designing a Manhattan apartment with a narrow hallway leading to the bedrooms, she applied Cavern wallpaper with a graphic pattern of black arrows. “This hallway is right in your line of sight as you enter, and it was previously an all-white, boring hallway,” she said. “So we really wanted something that would catch the eye and make it a ‘wow’ moment.”

When choosing wallpaper for a hallway, a larger pattern is often best, said Phillip Thomas, a New York-based designer who has used painterly wallpapers by Gracie and de Gournay depicting large-scale trees, flowers and birds.

“People are nervous that putting a big design in a small space is going to overwhelm the space,” he said. “But a large pattern can actually help open up space, even if it doesn’t seem intuitive, because you create the illusion of greater depth.”

If you prefer color to wallpaper, you don’t have to resort to Benjamin Moore’s ubiquitous hue, Decorator’s White. Vivid or dark colors that can be overwhelming on a paint chip can create a dramatic mood in a hall. Even just painting the trim, doors, or ceiling a deep color can make a big difference.

In a white hallway, Mr. Frazier painted the ceiling and doors high gloss black. “We wanted to add some depth and character,” he said. “It creates a little more intimacy.”

Mr. Thomas painted the ceiling of one hallway a glossy sky blue paint and another a metallic gold paint. The best part? Black, blue, or gold paint costs the same as white, making it an economical design choice.

“Only careful choice of finishes can really transform the space without breaking the budget,” said Mr. Thomas.

If you have to choose between wallpaper and paint, you can split the difference with a painted mural. Options range from blocking a simple geometric design to DIY with painter’s tape, to hiring an experienced mural artist to create something more elaborate.

Or you could do what the ancient Romans did and add a fresco. “What makes a fresco a fresco is that it’s painted with earth and mineral pigments suspended in water and applied directly to freshly applied lime plaster,” said Mariel Capanna, an artist who studied the medium at Williams College and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture teaches.

Ms. Capanna recently completed a hallway fresco for a family in Palo Alto, California, depicting elements from their daily lives—furniture, clothing, vehicles, flowers, and other items.

Compared to paint, a fresco has “a very different texture,” she said. “You can get a really rich color but also a very matte, chalky quality.”

Hanging up some framed artwork or family photos is another easy way to decorate a hallway; When you put multiple pieces together as part of a gallery wall, the results can be impressive.

Mr. Frazier sometimes fills hallways with images arranged in strict grids. In a Denver home, he placed a selection of family photos in identical black frames and mounted them wall to wall, floor to ceiling. For a home in Alys Beach, Florida, he used the same technique but with antique illustrations of sea life in white frames.

From a distance, these installations almost look like wall coverings. They invite you to discover them up close. “As you walk down the hall, you notice different pieces every time,” said Mr. Frazier. “Or if you come out of one of the rooms, you have a different perspective, which makes it interesting.”

A long, narrow corridor naturally draws attention to what is at the end. So if your hallway ends at a blank wall, you might as well use it.

Hanging a single piece of art is an option, but a favorite piece of furniture or a mirror could also do the trick. In the Manhattan apartment with the arrow pattern wallpaper that Ms. Lind designed, she placed an antique chair at the end of the hallway. The chair, which she painted red and upholstered in black and white fabric, serves as a functional sculpture.

In Denver, Mr. Frazier placed a modern leather chair under a stuffed ram. In Alys Beach, he placed a campaign chair in front of a full-length mirror.

“Especially in those cases where you have a very strong line of sight,” he said, “you want to have something in focus.”

Narrow hallways usually don’t offer much space for furniture, but wide ones or hallways with alcoves often offer space for a few pieces of furniture. When space is available, many designers add a console to display sculptural objects, books, flowers, and lamps, often beneath a wall-mounted mirror or artwork.

“When you have guests, it’s a wonderful place to welcome them with beautiful flowers and candlelight,” said Mr. Thomas.

Kate Marker, an interior designer in Barrington, Illinois, uses low dressers and long benches in hallways. “If it’s appropriate for the space, we always try to put a piece of furniture in there,” she said. “It feels more like a room than a passageway.”

Ms. Marker usually rolls out a long runner that runs the length of the hallway. “We love vintage rugs, so we usually have a special, one-of-a-kind rug that we use almost like a piece of art,” she said. “It adds color and texture and brings some warmth into it.”

As in other spaces, the lighting of a hallway offers the opportunity to evoke a certain mood while celebrating sculptural fixtures. “Nice lighting always adds a little bling to the room,” Ms. Marker said.

In long hallways, she uses several eye-catching fixtures to provide even lighting and emphasize the directional nature of the space. Sometimes she uses lantern-like devices for a traditional feel; sometimes she uses elegant pendant lights for a modern touch.

Either way, she said, the goal is to make the hallway feel warm and welcoming. A dimmer can also help by allowing the light level to be increased during the day and decreased at night.

“This is an area that leads you to the bedrooms,” Ms. Marker said. “So you want it to be a moment that feels good.”

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