Above: In the foyer of a Milan apartment, Studio Peregalli went full patinated glam with 18th-century gilt-wood chairs in the original damask and an antique mural from the wall of a French château.
Beth Diana Smith couldn’t help but speak up. The designer was hired as a remote consultant to help zhuzh a living room but spotted an eyesore in the background. It was a bad, bad foyer, complete with an exposed closet organizing system that was so unsightly it took the fun right out of function. “I said, ‘I absolutely have to address this,’ ” Smith recalls. “This is the first impression. It’s the first thing that people see when they walk inside your home. So it’s where you want to set the tone.”
Essentially, your entrance hall is like a taste test at the ice cream parlor—and it can either be a spoonful of humdrum vanilla or an addictive sea salt with caramel ribbons that you can’t get enough of. “I want someone to feel like, I gotta come in and see what the rest of the house looks like,” says Smith, who recently installed green and white hexagonal floor tile, oversize Buddhas, and a shagreen console table in a client’s Colonial Revival in New Jersey.
Sometimes an afterthought for homeowners, foyer design is now going full throttle—and finally getting the attention it deserves. A major key to getting it right? DRAMA, in all caps. “We’re doing an entry in New York City where we’re using bas-relief to make an all-plaster vine that goes up the double-height entrance,” says designer Katie Ridder. Her own Millbrook, New York, foyer is aesthetic candy, with its floors sheathed in purple Moroccan tiles and a handkerchief dome overhead. Ridder chose bas-relief for her clients’ project because “it’s very tactile and not too fancy, for lack of a better word. But it’s unusual. Not everybody has bas-relief.”
While practicality is a must in an entrance hall—you need a place to take off your shoes and toss your keys, and a mirror to give yourself one last glance before you head out the door—a glammed-up foyer can help you live your best life. “For the person who lives there, it’s the last thing they see before going to work and the first thing they see upon returning,” says designer Jarvis Wong, who recently included a sculpture hewn from upcycled wood as a focal point in an apartment at 200 Amsterdam, a new skyscraper on New York City’s Upper West Side.
“It’s really about combining unusual elements that are attractive and exciting,” says designer Dianne Ramponi. She once hung an early-20th-century Maria Theresa chandelier in a Boston foyer above a mahogany center table. “I placed a custom mirror top, so it reflected that chandelier,” she says. “It was elegant and glamorous.” If you’re struggling with how to bring glamour into your own entry, Ramponi recommends decorating with finds from your travels, which can become instant conversation starters. “It piques your curiosity and interest about what else you’re going to be seeing in the home,” she says.
There are a few common foyer no-nos designers see again and again. One issue that Ridder notices: People often underfurnish it. Even in a smaller space, “you could have something you wouldn’t expect there, like a highboy, to make it less utilitarian,” she says. Smith, who keeps a 30-inch-tall rounded sweetgrass basket in her own foyer to act as a hidey-hole for shoes that might otherwise languish on the floor, just wants to ensure that people don’t forget about it.
An entrance hall becomes bothersome “when it doesn’t look or feel thoughtful, almost like they thought about it last—or you can tell that they didn’t think the room was important,” she says. The fact that many a foyer is smaller than the main living space means that, like a powder room, it’s prime real estate for going big, Ramponi says: “It’s small but can be a dramatic place.”
Scents and Sensibility
Sure, your foyer looks good. But does it pass the whiff test? Wafts of these fragrances are sure to wow, designers say.
Jo Malone English Pear & Freesia Candle: “It’s fruity and very fresh.” —Jarvis Wong
Freshly Cut Gardenia: “I like something alive and real.” —Katie Ridder
Capri Blue Volcano Candle: “It’s sweet with a hint of spice. It makes me feel happy and inspired.” —Beth Diana Smith
Lilacs, Roses, and Lilies: “I prefer to use the natural scents of aromatic flowers.”
This story originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE
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