Creating a Welcoming Foyer

This entry space can make a great first impression

A foyer can be a tricky space to design. In former days, it set the tone and aesthetic of the entire home, but, sadly, homeowners rarely welcome guests at the front door anymore. Now, the mudroom — the servants’ door in previous generations — has been elevated to the status of a grand entrance (never mind that we’re always apologizing for the state of the mudroom, with the kids’ gear, the shopping bags, etc.), and the foyer has become an overlooked and neglected place between the living spaces below and the bedrooms above. Do we no longer care about first impressions?

I wanted to change that trend in my own 1790 home. I wanted to welcome my friends and guests through the front door into a space that felt lovely and fresh but also historically inspired — a little twist on tradition. This space had to transition our downstairs library and dining room to the upstairs bedrooms with a feeling of continuity. And of course, being an entry, the space would require a place to sit, a place to hang your coat and a place to toss your keys. A mirror would also be nice.

My inspirational starting point was a painting I’d picked up at auction of a turbulent Florida beach sunset following a storm. Its turquoises, reds and corals played a variation on a theme I’d been developing with the deep blues and berry reds in my library and the coral accents in my dining room.

I picked Benjamin Moore’s Pirates Cove Beach for the backdrop, a color from the company’s off-white collection. It glows without being saccharine and picks up on some of the more subtle colors in the painting. A vintage blue opaline lamp from eBay, together with a deep coral silk shade, makes for a unique statement piece. I created a place to sit down and take off your shoes with a Ballard Designs bench upholstered in a custom fabric. The console table, holding a vintage enamel bowl for keys, was a Craigslist find for $75. Without much wall space to hang a mirror, I laid it against the stairs for a more casual feel.

I balanced the brighter colors with neutrals in the foyer rug, Roman shade at the window, and a heavy dose of ivory going up the stairs. I didn’t want just any boring old runner, so the wool coral and ivory carpet in a mini-diamond pattern that I found was perfect. Nothing is better than wool for durability, and since we don’t wear shoes in our house, I knew that getting it dirty wouldn’t be too much of a problem. The oversized silhouettes of my boys are, again, a fresh spin to a century-and-a-half-old tradition.

With any room, there should be multiple layers of light, which should all “speak” to each other through shape and/or finish for a fluid space. Many of the historical accents in my home — like the newel post at the bottom of the stairs — actually date more to the turn of the last century than to 1790. Inspired by that period and shape, I chose brass semi-flush mounts lights that were an updated take on Edwardian fixtures. That shape is also picked up by the opaline lamp, which I love to turn on in the evening to create a warm glow, and the vintage French coat rack, another eBay score. A huge bronze orb lantern fills the former void overhead up the staircase, and slim bronze sconces light the top of the stairs.

In “Pride & Prejudice,” Elizabeth Bennet says, “I always believe in first impressions, and [a] good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.” Well, as it happens, we welcomed new friends through the front door of our house just yesterday. They immediately took off their shoes, hung up their coats on the rack and dropped their wallets and keys on the table. Then they commented on what a beautiful home we had. I felt so happy that our friends saw our house as I wanted them to see it — lovely, charming, welcoming. Hopefully, that first impression lasted when I next brought them into the disaster that is my kitchen for a cup of coffee … because even though we still have a servants’ entrance, the servants themselves are lacking.

Decorator and color consultant Amy Mitchell is the owner of Home Glow Design. Each week, she writes for Home Glow’s “Saturday Blog," focusing on fresh twists on classic style, American craftsmanship and value and quality for dollars spent. The blog also features more photos from this story. She lives in Hopkinton with her husband and two boys.

Categories: Features