Most homeowners overlook this room’s potential for beautiful design

Hallways are the most underappreciated, overlooked design opportunity in your house. Think about how many times you pass through them each day. What if they were something special?

When designing halls for his clients, D.C. interior decorator Jonathan Senner prefers more of a classic look, with neutral walls and a salon-style gallery. In hers, Seattle-based blogger and designer Cassandra LaValle likes the chance to be bold, with patterned wallpaper and funky lighting. "Rooms should flow," LaValle says. "You don't want your house to feel like a patchwork, but there are opportunities like hallways to create something fun."

Whatever your preference, a hallway is a great way to put your personality on display. Family portraits are perfect here, as is a collection of postcards or Polaroids. Those with long and wide halls can think about built-in bookcases or a spot to put a writing desk. One of the best parts about outfitting a hall is that it doesn't take much. Fresh paint, a runner, frames — that's all you need for a full transformation. On her blog, Coco Kelley (cocokelley.com), LaValle documents one weekend hallway makeover that used just those three tools, and seeing the "after" with rich blue paint, a plush runner and crisp white frames is enough to make anyone reconsider this usually wasted space.

● A bench in a hall, whether at the end or to the side, is a great place to drop shoes or a coat if your hallway comes off an entry. Over a bench, if you want to hang artwork, think big. "A lot of people say you should never hang a large piece of art in a hallway because you don't have a visual distance to admire it," Senner says, "but I think a large piece of art or tapestry almost becomes the wall. It's luxurious." The Sticotti V Bench, made of Petiribi wood, is a stately piece of furniture that would hold its own with any work of art and could even display elegantly arranged piles of books ( $1,250, dwr.com).

●Flor's Suit Yourself rug is practical (it's made of tough sisal) yet unexpected. Its funky zigzag shape mixes up the standard rectangle ($224, flor.com). "Hallways are a chance to do something quirky," says LaValle, who also designs interiors for her firm Emerald Studio in Seattle. The sisal tiles can also be purchased separately to make your own configuration.

● The Davis Zinc Wall Shelf can hold a rotating gallery of framed children's art, family photos, art from travels — just about anything that strikes your fancy ($35-$55, crateandbarrel.com). LaValle likes to use picture ledges to display objects, too, such as a shell collection or other mementos, "things that get put up on mantels," she says.

● LaValle likes a slight, minimal console in a hallway because it takes up little visual space and helps keep the hall from feeling cluttered. Her pick: CB2's Mini Mill Console Table ($199, cb2.com). Just try not to cover it immediately with vases, lamps and other objects. "Resist the temptation to overstyle or overfurnish any part of a hallway," Senner cautions.

● "Mirrors are useful in hallways to reflect available light and to create the illusion of space, especially at the end of a hallway," Senner says. If they're substantial, big mirrors, such as the handcrafted Acacia Wood ­40-Inch Mirror, can serve as a spot to check yourself before heading out for the day ($299, cb2.com).

● "A hallway is a great spot to add pattern," says LaValle, who especially likes Kelly Ventura's designs for Chasing Paper. A watercolor print of Ventura's, Wild Grass, comes in navy, neutral and turquoise and is removable in case you're renting or likely to change your mind ($40 per 2-by-
4-foot panel, chasingpaper.com).

● "If you have a longer hallway with a space at the end, it's great to have a vignette there," Senner says, "a bench with a piece of art over it, a nice table or cabinet, a wall of a different color. Having a vignette down at the end invites you into the space." The Bone Inlaid ­3-Drawer Dresser is a solid foundation for additional accessories ($1,299, westelm.com).

● If hallways are a clutter drop zone, make sure there are baskets with lids on them, LaValle says. Lidded La Jolla Baskets, made by hand with seagrass and recycled plastic, are just the ticket ($128-$188, serenaandlily.com).

● Before choosing lighting for a hallway, Senner suggests thinking about what the purpose of the lighting will be. To light your path in the dark? Or ground a wild pattern of wallpaper with the symmetry of sconces? Or maybe you want to light up artwork. In the last case, Senner, who is designing a room for this year's DC Design House, likes practical-yet-elegant picture lights. For ease of installation, a cordless option, such as Concept Picture Lights' Cordless LED Remote Control Picture Light , is nice ($115, bellacor.com).

● A salon-style gallery is a natural decorating approach to a hallway. If you're starting from scratch, LaValle says, buy a set of frames that match and then add to it slowly over time with pieces that you love. West Elm's Gallery Frames come in four sizes and eight finishes ($29-$79 for polished nickel finish, westelm.com). LaValle also likes Minted for help with gallery walls because you can build a test gallery online, as well as choose from curated, coordinated collections of art.

● In a small hallway, lighting can be a statement piece, whether you have a tall ceiling and room to hang a row of pendants, or a shorter ceiling, which would work better with recessed or flush-mount fixtures. The Thurman comes in nine finishes and 66 shade options ($150, rejuvenation.com). The Old Brass and Metal Dome Shade in gloss black is a striking combination.

● Hallways are high-traffic areas, so LaValle says to look for durable runners. Persian-style rugs and kilim rugs, such as the Geo Kilim Rug, are designed to be shaken out every now and then, so they're a good choice ($238 for 21/2-by-9-foot rug, anthropologie.com). Pair runners with rug pads; natural fiber and 100 percent rubber pads will protect wood floors. "Don't get something too thick, because it becomes a tripping hazard, especially for kids. You just want something to protect your floors," Senner says. He suggests keeping the thickness under half an inch.

● Sometimes a hallway has to be a catchall place more than just a pretty spot in the house. If that is the case for you, a storage piece, such as the hardwood Windham Entryway Bench, with cupboards and a place to sit and put on shoes, makes best use of limited real estate ($170, target.com). Seven color options match all aesthetics.

● Place two Adjustable Tabletop Lamps on a console, and you have a calming spot of symmetry to pass by every day ($149 each, wisteria.com). "Minimal and lovely," as LaValle says, they can be made taller or shorter to better complement artwork or other elements. Senner adds: "I often think of table lamps being used in hallways more for mood/atmosphere versus practical lighting; a couple of well-placed lamps on dimmers can create a really serene space at night."

●A hallway can be a missed opportunity for storage. That won't be the case with Gabby's Chelsea Demilune, whose shape also makes it easy to walk around ($997.50, shopcandelabra.com). Keep tops of furniture clear, as Senner says: "Too many items on top of a console table or desk will look cluttered and are prone to getting knocked over when people pass by."

● "Stools are a great accessory for hallways, whether under a console table or by themselves," LaValle says. "They can hold a plant, a little box for dropping items into or just [add] interest." She has the Zigzag Garden Stool in her own home ($246, burkedecor.com).

●A wide hallway with built-in bookshelves at the end is the dream. If you can't do built-ins, try a two-shelf bookcase, such as the Gunmetal Holden Open 2-Shelf Bookcase, and accessorize with a nice table lamp and art ($200, worldmarket.com). Another option is to pair two along one side of a hallway, as long as there's room to walk down the hall without bumping into them.

●Both LaValle and Senner agree that the biggest mistake to make with a runner is getting one that's too short. CB2's Tweed Dark Brown Linen Runner is a generous 10 feet ($169, cb2.com). For extra-long hallways, consider a custom rug. Senner says that the exposed floor space should be the same size on all four sides of the rug — like the frame of a picture.

●Because a hallway is not an area where you'll need to concentrate on tasks for a long time, generally speaking, LaValle likes to focus on the form over the function of the lighting. She especially likes star-shaped flush mounts, such as the Crystorama Astro Wide Bronze Ceiling Light Fixture ($150, lampsplus.com). "There's a lot of great lighting out there that's not meant to light a whole dining room but is great for a hallway," she says.


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