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

It’s easy to obsess about 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.

“No one ever thinks of those passageways, but you’re in them more often than you realize,” said Allison Lind, an interior designer in Seattle. “Why wouldn’t you utilize every inch of that space to do something personal and interesting?”

Decorating your hall not only makes it feel like more of a destination, it also improves the feeling of your home, said David Frazier, an interior designer in New York: “Dressing it up helps it feel like it’s not just a service space, and elevates all the rooms that open off of it, too.”

Ms. Lind, Mr. Frazier and other designers shared ideas for making your hallway — and, by extension, your home — a more welcoming place.

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

When Ms. Lind designed a Manhattan apartment with a narrow hall leading to the bedrooms, she installed wallpaper from Cavern featuring a graphic pattern of black arrows. “That hallway is directly in your line of sight when you enter, and it was previously an all-white, bland hallway,” she said. “So we were really going for something that would catch your eye and make it a ‘wow’ moment.”

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

“People are nervous that putting a big-scale design in a small space will overwhelm the space,” he said. “But a big pattern can actually help to open the space up, even if that seems counterintuitive, because you’re creating the illusion of greater depth.”

If you prefer paint to wallpaper, you don’t have to default to Decorator’s White, the ubiquitous shade from Benjamin Moore. Vibrant or dark colors that may look overpowering on a paint chip can create a dramatic mood in a hall. Even painting just the trim, doors or ceiling a deep color can make a big difference.

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

Mr. Thomas coated the ceiling of one hallway with glossy, sky-blue paint and another with metallic gold paint. The best part? Black, blue or gold paint costs the same as white, which makes it a thrifty design choice.

“Just being thoughtful about your choice of finishes can really change the space, without impacting budget,” Mr. Thomas said.

If you’re stuck choosing between wallpaper and paint, you can split the difference with a painted mural. Options range from blocking out a simple do-it-yourself geometric design with painter’s tape to commissioning an experienced mural artist to realize 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 that are applied directly onto freshly applied lime plaster,” said Mariel Capanna, an artist who teaches the medium at Williams College and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.

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

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

Hanging a few framed pieces of art or family photos is another easy way to decorate a hallway; if you group numerous pieces together as part of a gallery wall, the results can be striking.

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

From a distance, these installations almost resemble wall paneling. Up close, they invite discovery. “As you walk down the hallway, you notice different pieces each time,” Mr. Frazier said. “Or if you’re coming out of one of the rooms, you have a different perspective, which keeps it interesting.”

A long, narrow corridor naturally focuses one’s attention on whatever is at the end, so if your hallway terminates at a blank wall, you may as well take advantage of it.

Hanging a single piece of art is one option, but a favorite piece of furniture or a mirror could also do the trick. In the Manhattan apartment with arrow-patterned wallpaper that Ms. Lind designed, she installed 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 sling chair beneath a taxidermy ram mount. In Alys Beach, he put a campaign chair in front of a full-height mirror.

“Particularly in these cases, where you have a very strong line of sight,” he said, “you want to have something be the focus.”

Narrow hallways usually don’t have much space for furniture, but wider ones, or corridors with niches, can often accommodate a few pieces. When there’s space, many designers will add a console for displaying sculptural objects, books, flowers and lamps, often beneath a wall-mounted mirror or artwork.

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

Kate Marker, an interior designer in Barrington, Ill., uses shallow chests and long benches in hallways. “If it’s appropriate for the space, we always try to put in a piece of furniture,” she said. “It makes it feel like more of a room, rather than a passageway.”

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

As in other rooms, lighting a hallway offers the opportunity to evoke a certain mood while celebrating sculptural fixtures. “Beautiful lighting always adds a little jewelry to the space,” Ms. Marker said.

In long hallways, she uses eye-catching light fixtures in multiples to provide even illumination and highlight the directional nature of the space. Sometimes she uses lantern-like fixtures, for a traditional feel; other times, she uses sleek pendant lamps, 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 light levels to be turned up during the day and down at night.

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

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