If you live in any sort of period property, I’m going to hazard a guess that you have a hallway, and that that hallway is a bit dark. The Victorians, the Edwardians, they might have invented the photograph, the electric lightbulb and the public flushing toilet (yes, I absolutely just Googled this), but they certainly didn’t devote any time to making their hallways cheery. Too busy flicking their new light switches on and off, and marvelling at it all, probably.
Hallways are functional spaces, there to provide a pathway from room to room. Unless you live in a modern, Grand Designs type of house <adopts Kevin McCloud voice – “it’s a very <elongated pause, hand gesture> honest build”> with lovely skylights and massive windows a-go-go, then chances are your hallway is a bit dingy.
Happily, there are ways to bring the light in and, groundbreakingly, none of them involve white paint. Pale coloured paint will not, of itself, do a whole lot to lighten up a hallway. It will just make it a white, dingy space as opposed to a coloured dingy space. My own hallway is painted mainly black (Farrow & Ball “Railings”). It doesn’t get a huge amount of natural light, so this may seem a strange choice, but I’m here to tell you that the colour isn’t the important bit. You can paint it whatever colour makes you happy, which is excellent news.
I’ll use my hallway as a case study, and show you the three things I’ve done to brighten it up. Mine is particularly dark, paint colour aside, as my house is in an unusual position, with a terrace built on to the back of it, so we have no back windows and everything is front-facing. There’s nothing at the back of the hallway, it would be more usual to have a room there but, much like me, it’s a funny old shape.
1. Add A Mirror, Bounce That Light Around.
Mirrors are one of the most transformative items I can think of when it comes to decor. As soon as a mirror goes up on a wall, a room is given greater depth, it’s lighter, it feels bigger and everything just feels pulled together. The bigger the mirror, the better, in my opinion. I have a huge mirror in almost every room of the house, because I love the way they open up a space. It follows that, in a dark hallway, mirrors aren’t just desirable, they’re essential. This is a hill I’m prepared to die on.
As there are no rooms at back of my hallway, I just have a blank wall. It faces my front door, which has glass panels and is the main source of light into the hallway (we’ll talk more about windows at point 2, below. I know, it’s exciting). Leaning a full length mirror against the back wall reflects the light source back through the hallway, adding a much-needed brightness to the back end of it and elongating the space. I can also wave to myself as I come home.
You can see in three of these pictures, from an earlier incarnation of the hallway, that there’s light coming in from the back left. There used to be a corridor there, which ran along the back of the house, which we later turned into a downstairs loo. While this was definitely a better use of the space, it cut off another natural light source, making the mirror even more important to the space.
During the building work, the mirror was removed so it didn’t get smashed to smithereens along with the rest of the house, and it’s no exaggeration to say that its absence bothered me every single day. It was depressing enough that the house had an inch of builder’s dust all over it and that we had to wash up in the bath, without plunging the hallway back into gloom. I was delighted to welcome the mirror back with open arms (albeit I had to do swapsies with a slimmer one from upstairs, as I now had a toilet door which needed to open out into the hallway, and the frame of the old mirror was too thick to allow it. I know, cool story, bro).
If you don’t have a back wall, then the side walls will do just as well. Try to get that sweet, sweet natural light reflection from wherever it flows into your house, be it from the front door, or a window shining through from an adjacent room. If you can’t do this, I’d still try and shoehorn one (or more!) in wherever you can. They never look wrong.
2. Glass. It’s Class.
Obviously, we cant call Safestyle UK round to bob a couple of UPVC double glazed specials in (remember that advert with Reg Holdsworth that was incessantly on the telly in the ’90s?), as we’re in an internal space. You might have the right sort of configuration to add a skylight which would be amazing, but it wouldn’t work in my house. I needed to work with what we had. First of all, I opted for a front door which let a lot of light in, with glass panels and a fanlight above it. The front door which was there when we moved in was hideous, but had the advantage of being mainly made of glass. When the happy day arrived that I was able to put a new, pretty, front door in, I made sure it was also glass-heavy. After we turned the back corridor into a loo, the front door became the only light source for the hallway, so this was really important.
The main rooms off the hallway are the living room to the right and the kitchen/dining room to the left, as you come in. Each room has its original Victorian, four-panelled, internal doors. This sounds better than it is in reality, they’re really not very exciting and nor are they in great condition, but I’ve kept them nonetheless. They were originally solid wood, so when closed, they cut off any light from the rooms on the other side. When we had the builders in, and I had access to a joiner for weeks on end, I had a lightbulb moment. He loved me and my lightbulb moments, forever increasing his workload. I asked him to remove the top panels from the doors and replace them with glass. And he did, and the light from the living room and kitchen (both of which have huge windows) now flows into the hallway. We’ve pinched it from elsewhere. It completely changed the feeling in the hallway for the better and, again, opened up the space.
3. Lighting. The Biggest Turn On.
While windows and mirrors are the key to a bright hallway during the day, once the sun sets, they’re no use whatsoever. We need electricity (we can at least thank the Victorians for that, even if they did give us dark hallways). My hallway had one central pendant light at the foot of the stairs and that was that. One central pendant light is the most horrible source of light I can think of, casting the sort of depressing gloom that gives me an involuntary eye twitch. Yes, it’s useful to have the overhead light but mainly when you’re looking for something you’ve dropped on the floor, rather than to cast a comfortable glow.
We need atmosphere, we need warmth, we need……. LAMPS AND WALL LIGHTS! For a lot of years I used a table lamp on a little chest of drawers I keep by the front door. This was good as far as it went, it didn’t do much to illuminate the back end of the hallway, but there are no sockets down there, so that was that. I also had a floor lamp there for a while, but it wasn’t ideal, it took up too much space (although it looked good in photos, and we all know that’s the most important thing).
The ideal scenario would have been a console table halfway down the hallway with another lamp but, alongside the lack of sockets, my hallway isn’t wide enough for that, so I did my best, but it wasn’t ideal. So, tip one is to include whatever table lamps, or perhaps floor lamps, you can fit into the space.
Another of my lightbulb moments during the renovation was, appropriately enough, for the electrician. The walls had been taken back to brick in the kitchen, which is the opposite side of the wall in the hallway, so while he was in there, I asked him to drill through and add some wall lights to the hallway. This has been transformative – I now have a bright, but non-oppressive light all the way along the hallway and the pretty lights (from Pooky) make me very happy. I added an over-mirror light above the chest of drawers by the front door, which freed up space on top of the drawers where I’d had a table lamp, for more trinkets. This can only ever be a good thing. Apologies to any minimalists (who are probably in no way on God’s Good Earth reading this blog).
So, there we have it. It’s taken a few years to get there, but the hallway is as gloom-free as I think I can make it. Have you got a dark hallway? Have you used any other ideas to brighten it up? Let me know!