You're Welcome

By Eliza McGraw
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, November 9, 2006

Fortunate are those who have a foyer or front hall or entry hall or whatever you call the space where people -- both those who live there and those just visiting -- can pull off muddy boots, drop their umbrellas and feel welcomed.

"A foyer, however diminutive, is a good thing because it acts as a transition from the outside to the inside," says Simon Temprell, an interior designer from Alexandria. "When you are forced to enter a home directly into the living room or kitchen, it makes meeting and greeting just a little less formal and much less private." And besides: "When the UPS guy comes to deliver a parcel, do you really want him peering straight into your living room to witness the fact that you're watching 'Days of Our Lives' and eating Ben & Jerry's straight from the carton?"

No, we don't.

So in homes without a designated entry space, it's worth some effort to devise a transition -- however small -- where we can greet guests, hang up a jacket, drop our keys and check the mail. A welcoming light is always nice, as is storage for coats and gloves. Even a little table or shelf can help organize our daily comings and goings (Where's my cellphone?). A mirror, most people agree, is a plus.

Mary Challinor and Henry Richardson found a way to include those qualities in their foyerless Cleveland Park four-square. Although the front door opens directly into their large open living space, half-walls with Doric columns were added on one side to set off a bright study; a long table backing a couch defines a living room on the other.

The advantages of this simple change are myriad. The low walls create space to display decorative objects. Small built-in drawers can corral keys and cellphones. And in a particularly inventive touch, the cupboard doors below are faced with woven caning typically seen in chairs, which allows plenty of airflow to encourage drying of damp scarves and mittens.

The design maintains a feeling of light and openness, Challinor says. As architect Alan Dynerman put it during the 1997 renovation, she says, the space remains so open "you can still play baseball between the two rooms."

The couple's two children were in grade school when they moved into the house -- just the age when backpacks, sports gear, toys and boots tend to get dropped right inside the door.

Though the children are now grown, "we definitely had the snowsuit phase," Challinor says. She asked her children not to dump their things on the floor and to put things away in the cabinet. "You just have to be a little disciplined about that," she says.

There are drawbacks to not having an even more separate space. "If you have a dinner party and it's snowing, you have to lay out trays, and people leave salty, wet puddles," Challinor says. And rugs take a beating when there is not place between porch and living space. "It's the footfall problem."

Across town in Shaw, the front door of Washington architect Ira Tattelman's townhouse also opens directly into his open living/dining/kitchen area. Less than four feet inside the door, a stairway heads up to the second floor, leaving precious little entry space.

Without much room to maneuver, Tattelman still managed to add elements of a foyer to create an efficient, welcoming area.

A durable carpet tile defines the area between front door and living room. It protects the bamboo floors and can be changed when it gets too dirty.

Tattelman didn't want a mirror in the space, so he hung sturdy hooks on the wall instead. "Basically, there are no closets on that first floor, so if someone comes over and has a wet coat, that seemed to be the most appropriate location to hang coats."

To the right of the staircase, two foot-tall glass vases hold umbrellas when needed. Nearby, an oblong table holds a table lamp. "We put our mail there, and we keep an extra set of keys there."

Sharon Hayden owns Fabulous Finds, an antique business that operates within Stuff, a home decorating store in Vienna. She says carefully chosen furniture can create a natural transition space for an entry.

"I encourage people to use a low piece, almost as if it were a knee wall. . . . It gives you a place to drop your keys or mail while providing plenty of storage. Flanked by a couple of small chairs, you even have a place to sit while removing outerwear."

Low furniture also makes an adjoining living room seem larger, by leaving an unobstructed view across the space. With a small lamp placed on a chest, for example, the chest can offer storage space while doubling as a sofa table or love seat.

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