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Hallway Reveal | Making a narrow and dark hallway brighter, bigger, happier

Hallway inspiration, narrow hallway, colourful hallway

Hallways, the spaces that more often than not get renovated last. A part of our homes known to see the end of our energies and cash, if either is still available by the time the extension is built, the bathroom is upgraded, the other rooms are renovated, the garden is landscaped, etc etc etc. It’s usually a space that is left to last on purpose, of course, mainly because of the said other improvements and the fact that the many DIY tools, endless amounts of paint, or the various building materials will more often than not make their way through the hallway. It seems an absolute waste of time and money to even start thinking about the hallway before all the other rooms are finished. Right?

BUT, our hallways are also the spaces that welcome us to our home. They are the ones giving us a hug and saying “hello, come on in, take your shoes off, and make yourself feel at home”. Hallways are a real hidden talent of any house. They are the connectors. The spaces we are all moving through more times a day than we even realise. Though the kitchen has long carried the title of being the heart of the home, technically the hallway actually is. Wouldn’t you agree?

Well, I think so, and given this, and the fact that I wanted to come home to a space that feels like “me”, a space that reflects my personality and gives a preview of the feel of the rest of my home, I decided that this time, I won’t leave the hallway to last, and so I put paintbrush to wall.

The before

The hallway at my current home is a central space in the middle of the apartment, lacking any direct natural light as a result. The only natural light the hallway does get, comes from the rooms surrounding it, so it heavily relies on artificial lighting, as well as the interior scheme to brighten it. Keeping it simple and toned down may be a good approach for small dark spaces. However, in this type of hallway, the neutral colour scheme actually achieves the exact opposite. The cool blue-grey on the walls makes the light deprived room feel even darker and quite cold, and painting the walls all the way up to the ceiling in the same colour, accentuates the long and narrow shape of the room. The eye is drawn up to the ceiling, which looks like a narrow strip, bringing the walls in visually, and making the whole hallway appear even narrower than it already is.

The narrow space in turn is also an issue for storage, and a lot of hallways, built as functional spaces to connect rooms, will have the same problem. They, more often than not, would be slotted in between the other rooms, based on the space available, rather than the space really needed. This leaves anyone requiring to use the hallway on a day-to-day basis with a limited choice of storage options. These should a) not leave the room feeling even narrower, and b) work hard to ensure the hallway is not made too impractical to move through, while still offering enough space for shoes, scarves, umbrellas, jackets, and all the other items you may usually need to grab on your way out the door.

Lastly, something that is quite unique to every individual, but I find very important when assessing a space you’re about to renovate: the feel you want to achieve. Though a warm neutral colour scheme could absolutely work here in making the space look brighter and bigger, it would however certainly not feel right for me or complement the design scheme for this apartment as a whole. So the current cool neutral has to go to make room for a more joyous and fun welcome, which will give visitors a glimpse of what’s to come and the personality to discover within, an important function of the hallway after all too.

The mood board

Small dark hallway inspiration, half-painted wall, peg rail, fun colour clocking, pops of colour
Left to right, anti-clockwise: Design: Camille Hermand Architectures | Photography: Hervé Goluza || Design: Amy Bracks for ioa studio | Photography: Tom Ross || Prints: Arteex || Design: Ezz Wilson | Photography: Christopher Dibble

The colour scheme

The main aim of this halfway revamp was to make the space feel brighter and bigger. As there was no option to bring in any more natural light or extend the hallway, not that there would have been any budget to do either anyway, the only tool available to achieve both aims was paint.

There are many different colour schemes and paint effects that can make a natural-light deprived narrow hallway feel more spacious. It could be using warm neutrals and taking these up over the ceiling as well as the walls. After all, painting a space one colour blurs the lines between walls and ceiling, removing those natural points the eye would rest on to help us define the size of a space. Another option could be to steer away from the standard matte paint finishes and instead go for satin, eggshell, or even a gloss. All these reflect the light, making a space appear brighter and bigger. The great side effect of the more reflective paint finishes is their durability and cleanability, perfect for high-traffic areas, such as hallways. Then, there are various multi-paint effects, which can help a room look more spacious. One of those is a half-painted wall, the approach I’ve chosen for my hallway.

Drawing on the advantages of blurring the lines between walls and ceiling, by painting them all one colour, the half-painted wall effect adds a layer of interest by painting the bottom half, up to dado rail height for instance, an accent colour. This adds some definition to the space, as well as giving it the impression of more height. This effect is emphasised even more when the flooring complements the accent colour, which was the case with the darker wood already available in my hallway and the green I’ve chosen as the accent.

Farrow & Ball’s Calke Green made the cut for various reasons. It is a colour I absolutely adore. There was more than enough leftover from the kitchen renovation, which certainly helped the budget and sustainability of this project. This shade has a particularly suitable colour saturation value for a space where there is less light reflecting off the colour. However, the most important reason for choosing this green was to keep a consistent design story throughout the apartment, the red thread, if you like.

Next to the accent colour, the rest of the walls, as well as the ceiling, were painted in Flint by Little Greene, a very light grey, which by the help of its versatility and light reflecting value is looking rather like a calming off-white in this darker space, but without any of that yellow tinge you may expect when the artificial lighting comes on at night.

The storage

Given storage is a real struggle in this hallway due to the little width available, using a closet or any other closed storage would not be possible without closing off the room even further. Luckily though, in my case, the developers have already created a small built-in closet, so at least all my jackets and shoes have a home. Then I already had the low open shelving unit, which is actually a shoe rack, but is equally great to hold scarves and baskets. However, when thinking of storage in a hallway, there is the important matter of the, let’s call it, occasional or convenience storage, that is crucial to make this through-room fit for everyday life.

Just think about entering your home. What is the first thing you naturally do? I take off my shoes and coat, and put my bag down. Now, in my hallway here, once you’ve done that, where would these items actually go? Would you just leave everything on the floor? Do you carry them into another room? It may be fine for me to shove it all out of sight into that said built-in cupboard, but that’s a long way down the corridor and just doesn’t help the flow of the space. And what about guests? They still don’t know what to do with their belongings, and in my case have to carry them into the living room, where things get in the way for the duration of their visit.

To avoid all this, it’s an absolute must to incorporate hanging storage into any hallway design, like a peg rail for instance. Their very simple design and high amount of hanging storage are perfect for narrow spaces, and if you cannot find one you like ready-made, they are super easy to DIY, where you can even reuse materials, as I did here. The strips of wood came from a storage unit which was left in the apartment and was falling apart. So the only thing I needed to add was the pegs, which are actually door knobs I purchased from Amazon. If you’re interested in a step by step on how I’ve made this peg rail, and the basics to consider, I’ll elaborate on this in a future blog post, but for now, feel free to post any questions in the comments, or check out my highlight on Instagram.

The personality

To the really fun part: Adding the all important personality and playfulness to the design, which will make it yours, well, or mine for the project at hand. There are so many ways to make a space more intriguing and for me colour blocking transpired to be the path I needed to go down, given the huge amount of inspiration I was saving to my Pinterest board.

It’s such a versatile approach to decorating spaces. You could frame your desk space by the use of a block of colour in a semicircle, as beautifully done by Amara from @thepajaamahub in her office. Or, how about running big bold stripes down a bathroom wall and along the floor, blurring the lines between both, as Natalie Papier has cleverly done in her home. Then, there is the option of framing art by the use of paint, something I was particularly drawn to, especially after being stopped in my tracks by designer Emma Gurner’s stunning creation for her Woodside Project.

Now though, following the inspiration, comes the design, and this took me quite a while to figure out. I knew the accumulation of all the straight lines of the half-painted wall, the picture frames, the mirror, the peg rail, and even the lights, would make the space feel quite stark. Then add some straight lined colour blocking to the mix, and this effect would be even more exaggerated. Thus, adding softness and movement, as a distraction, was key. For this project, this came in an alternative form of colour blocking, where the full-blocks of colour are replaced by soft-shaped forms in multiple colours, while still confining those to playful overarching shapes, helping to frame the art within the hallway.

The multi-coloured shapes came in the form of a nature inspired stencil, I purchased from CreateCuts on Etsy, giving a nod to the plant filled rooms surrounding the hallway. The colour combination was heavily influenced by the apartment's overall design scheme. The main colours used thus far are green in the kitchen and red in the dining nook. There are also some hints of blues and yellows in the form of accessories or art in both spaces. As the hallway brings all the rooms of a home together, and as I’ve already started to form a vision for the rest of the spaces, I felt that a more prominent use of both, yellow and blue, next to the base of green and some pops of red, would create just the right balance within the design of the apartment as a whole, and give a good preview of what’s to come when you enter.

Lastly, the overarching shapes framing the hallway art, have been deliberately chosen. All three shapes complement each other, while being different in form, size, and purpose. The arch lying on its side, for instance, fills the otherwise empty wall space next to the art by the entrance and purposefully leads the eye into the room as you walk in. The long vertical strip in the middle helps to blur the lines between the white and green base colours, as well as the wall and ceiling, by bleeding into the green as well as continuing its way up the ceiling. The latter is a further approach to help the room feel even taller, as the eye travels up to follow the multi-coloured shapes.

Finishing off with some pops of colourful lights, which were the existing ones painted in the same red used within the dining nook, and that is the hallway transformation complete. I absolutely love coming home now, and opening that entrance door puts a big smile on my face. But what do you think? Did you find it useful to get to know the thinking behind this design? And most importantly, did I achieve my goal of making the hallway look brighter, bigger, happier?

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