What do I do with this room?
May 4, 2016 12:48 PM   Subscribe

We just bought a new house. Yay! It's a 140-year-old building with a formal entryway (!), which is a room unlike anything I have ever lived in. What should I do with it?

c.f. this FPP about unexpected partitions of living space, I'm wondering what the hell to do with a room that I would best describe as a "formal entryway." It's a small room on the first floor, with much of the square footage taken up by the bottom portion of a spiral staircase leading to the main living space. It's really gorgeous, with original wood detailing from the house's ~1880 construction, a large (possibly original) chandelier, two lamps built into the staircase, and a windowseat with stained glass. Pictures are here:

View of the stairs from the front door
View from the other end of the room
View looking down from the top of the stairs
The one wall that you can't see (directly behind the spot where picture #2 is taken) is wood-paneled (same color stain) to a height of about 4 feet, and then a featureless beige wall above it. There's also a door to the basement from here, which can't be blocked.

When we looked at the house, it was staged like you see it here: stuffed chair and a small table. Which is very elegant and all, if you're the smoke-cigars-and-drink-brandy type, but it feels like kind of a waste of space. It's such an unexpected room to find in a house that I want to do something really interesting, or at least visually arresting, with it. Maybe not old-timey telephone weird, but something that is very distinctively not what you would expect to find in, say, a mudroom. If this was your weirdly charming space, what would you do with it?

(I'd prefer not to spend a zillion dollars on it, but this can be a long-term project. Bonus points if it won't endanger a 3-year-old or antagonize a partner)
posted by Mayor West to Home & Garden (42 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Get a lovely old armchair or bench where people can change shoes. The bonus is that a piece of furniture is not permanent, so you can experiment and be as funky as you want. Cool house!
posted by Atrahasis at 12:53 PM on May 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

Deacon's bench as well as telephone table with lamp?
posted by Kitteh at 12:53 PM on May 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Wow, that is a gorgeous space! If it were me, I would seek out a really interesting coat rack/stand and a nice, well-constructed two- or three-shelved vintage console table (a space like this deserves better than Ikea! And you may be able to find a bargain at estate sales or antique malls). The latter I would treat as a "landing space" for mail, keys, etc. but would add visual interest with neat coffee table books, plants, and a few knick-knacks on the lower shelves.
posted by lovableiago at 12:54 PM on May 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

A nice table where you can put seasonal display/decor items is what I see most often in that sort of space. You may also be able to put up a Christmas tree (if you're the Christmas tree type) in there and get some good height.
posted by xingcat at 12:55 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

That is such a gorgeous space.

I actually think a chair and table is pretty great. We too have a formal hall. The chair is fab for a quick sit down to look at mail or your phone or to put on boots or when you're trying to put on or take off a dog collar. We have an old bureau next to it in the hall. We keep all of our winter accessories (hats gloves etc) in the drawers, and so then have a nice top on which to toss keys, mail, etc. Also to put a vase of seasonal flowers which you've picked from the garden. If that is too utilitarian and not weird enough, consider that it is also the perfect place to put a really cool old dress form or mannequin, which you could dress up according to whim or holiday.
posted by the webmistress at 1:01 PM on May 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

Nothing screams Victorian like a big old potted palm. I would replace the chair with a substantial one, and put something like, I dunno, a vintage birdcage on a stand on the other side. Also, I don't think your enormous horizontal artwork is working on the stairs where it is; it does not follow the flow of the space. If there's somewhere else you can put it I think multiple smaller pieces that step upward along with the stairs would be more harmonious. The table's not horrible but I'd think about eventually upgrading to a proper and more substantial entryway console table.
posted by drlith at 1:04 PM on May 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

Depends on what you're missing space for in the rest of the house. If you wanted to build a rock climbing practice wall, or a toddler command center, or a marble-run type kinetic sculpture, or a yoga space, this could be the place for it. But it all depends on what you do with your life and hobbies, and what you want.
posted by aimedwander at 1:05 PM on May 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

If that were my house (and I had oodles of extra $$ lying around) I'd put a full-size suit of armor there.
posted by Elly Vortex at 1:23 PM on May 4, 2016 [10 favorites]

Those gorgeous floors are begging for a no-shoes-in-the-house rule, and that space would be a perfect spot for a nice bench where people can sit and take off their shoes. A lovely cedar closet/coat rack would look great, as would a nice metal storage bucket for umbrellas.
posted by jesourie at 1:24 PM on May 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yes, a chair/bench for taking off shoes and a table/dresser for mail/phones/gloves/calling cards/ostentatious floral arrangement.
posted by sarajane at 1:28 PM on May 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

That's a reception area. In the olden days, you would have a round table in the curve of the stairs and your butler would put the calling cards of the folks who had come to call upon it. Not super functional these days.

I like areas like this for books. I would get a round, revolving bookcase for the area.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:28 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I was growing up, my parents had a bible stand on which they kept one of those huge, old dictionaries. Putting something like that in such a prominent place would be awesome.
posted by mchorn at 1:31 PM on May 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have friends who have as similar thing and what they have is a nice coat rack, a narrow table with a dish (for keys or whatever little stuff you might have) a mat for shoes (if that's your thing) and a guest book with a really nice pen.

I think if it were me I'd make the perfect reading nook with a great (favorite) chair and hassock and a great reading lamp and a fuzzy blanket and a table for a drink and my reading glasses.

Alternate ideas: pachinko/pinball game, secret panel in the wall to go to some little revolving something with a surprise in it, dictionary stand or some other nice book stand with a nice book in it that you set to different pages on different days, weird circular rug, some sort of small fountain with music playing.
posted by jessamyn at 1:52 PM on May 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

Big round table with a fantastic centerpiece - big bowl of fruit, floral arrangement, insane jar of candy, leg lamp, whatever you like.

Or I'd put in a giant dinosaur.
posted by Mchelly at 1:53 PM on May 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yes, this room is either for entryway stuff (coat rack, umbrella stand, place for most-used shoes, chair or bench for putting on/removing shoes, console of some sort for keys and mail and such) or for art(*). It could house a reading nook if you don't use that door or wouldn't have disruptive stair traffic, though that wouldn't be my personal preference. (* Where art could include music, like where you store all your old-timey instruments for evening/weekend practice, jam sessions, and house concerts. Or, if you're more in the punk house tradition, it would be the appropriate place to put your magazine display shelf with your zine collection/library.)
posted by eviemath at 2:13 PM on May 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

A large dollhouse customized to look like your house.
posted by vunder at 2:14 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

If that were my house (and I had oodles of extra $$ lying around) I'd put a full-size suit of armor there.

Museum Replicas has a full suit of armor on sale, if you have a spare $2000.
posted by lharmon at 2:28 PM on May 4, 2016

The set designers for the recent Paddington movie did some interesting things with a similar space!
posted by KateViolet at 2:41 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

big old vase for huge structural flowers, like branches of magnolia, or a large, victorian-era house plant. Nothing ironic, modern or cluttery, that stair rail is way too heavenly to be hid
posted by runincircles at 2:47 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

keep your bikes, wet coats, boots there? in which case you probably need waterproof flooring, maybe racks or hangers, etc.
posted by andrewcooke at 2:48 PM on May 4, 2016

My folks live in a newer-construction house with a very similar entryway. They have a closet on either side of the double front doors which they use for warm and cold weather coats/shoes respectively. Mail and other in/out items go on an antique table in the nook of the stair, next to which is a bench that's great for donning boots and coats in the winter.

Your space is a bit nicer and were it mine I'd find a quirky old fainting couch, side table, and a tall sculptural indoor tree like a fiddle-leaf fig, which you can switch out for a large evergreen at the holidays.

Unless you know a sculptor who you can commission to install something.
posted by a halcyon day at 2:58 PM on May 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

A piano? Or a ribbon typewriter .
posted by taff at 3:04 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

I just made myself a formal entryway - it's furnished with a good quality sofa, a chair and a table, and during winter it's used for getting off heavy boots and the sofa is filled with stuff. The table is also where my keys belong.
During summer, we love to sit there with the door open for drinks before dinner. We can see whats going on in the yard, there is sunlight, but we're in after a long day out.

That said, if I had 1) your space + 2) the money, I'd buy me something like a Chihuly chandelier, and there would be nothing else there. Or even better, and pricier: an Ernesto Neto piece. Maybe you have a local artist you like. But that's just me.
posted by mumimor at 3:05 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

A globe on a stand, and a chair next to it for dreaming about all your world travels.
posted by Liesl at 3:38 PM on May 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

I would put a grandfather clock there, but perhaps I am influenced by the fact my parents put a grandfather clock in the entry hall of our house while I was a kid. The same room now features a narrow console table with a mirror above it, and potted dried flowers.

If you have a tendency towards insomnia, though, having a clock chime every fifteen minutes to remind you how long you haven't been asleep is not the best thing.
posted by fedward at 3:51 PM on May 4, 2016

It needs a really fantastic chandelier as mentioned above. It also needs a rug, maybe round.

I'm really advocating for period appropriate, and maybe flamboyant, wallpaper.

Beyond that, maybe a fainting couch would fit in well, and a small side table.
posted by littlewater at 3:53 PM on May 4, 2016

What a great place to call home!

If it fits your lifestyle, a big blank book with lovely paper displayed on a shelf or book stand, with some colored ink pens. Treat it like a guest book and have visitors and family sign and illustrate it. Tuck souvenirs in it from travels, write down menus from special meals, include photos from parties and encourage people in the house to draw in it when relaxing. As you fill each book you can get a fresh one, or do a new one every year.

On that little stairway corner, a bowl of candy, absolutely. Or if you're an anti-candy monster, a big clear vase filled with modular origami (ikea is great for affordable clear vases, make the origami from collected paper scraps and magazines).

If you do Christmas, that is the best place for a tree. I think a big gorgeous potted plant year round would be great too, of course. And nobody says you can't have lights on a potted plant, you know. They make really cute ones now like little rattan shapes with soft warm leds that don't look Christmassy.
posted by Mizu at 4:01 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Large Ficus Lyrata tree?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:06 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

A mirror is a useful thing to have in an entry way - so you can make sure you've done your buttons up correctly before leaving the house.
posted by kjs4 at 5:00 PM on May 4, 2016

I have a small cabinet with a bunch of doors and drawers by my front door, and it is super useful for keeping the kind of stuff you need when you are coming and going - like there is a drawer for gloves/sunglasses/passport/wallets/cards. there is a shoe shelf, a drawer for pens/index cards/staplers/paperclips/tape, a cupboard for reusable grocery bags, art supply drawer... The cabinet was a gift, and at first I didn't know what to do with it, but it has turned out to be really handy. Your entryway would be a perfect place for something like that.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:12 PM on May 4, 2016

Huzzah! That house is gorgeous!!!
I'm picturing an ornate metal birdcage on a stand in that entryway. Yes, it is a terrible idea to buy pet birds purely for decorating purposes. But perhaps you've always dreamed of owning a pair of pet finches? Or maybe a large fern in the bird cage instead? They did that on Designing Women once and those ladies were design professionals. Again, congrats!
posted by areaperson at 5:41 PM on May 4, 2016

I think a credenza or small sideboard with a chair would be functional and decorative. You could display lovely things on top, as well as have a tray for keys and mail and have storage inside for umbrellas, scarves, hats, what have you. Here's how Making it Lovely uses a similar space in her Victorian home.
posted by missmerrymack at 5:51 PM on May 4, 2016

Hall tree, though the shape of the space might be a problem. Generally I think a tall indoor tree, a coat rack, and a table of throwing would be where I started to figure out how to deal with the curve.
posted by rhizome at 6:17 PM on May 4, 2016

Don't forget the rugs. The wood floor is gorgeous and a rug to tie the room together is appropriate. If you live in a place with rain or snow, having a rug will protect the floors. My front entry way is quite modest and it has two chairs and a bench so people and take off their shoes (we do not judge about the sock, shoe, sock, shoe thing), a reading lamp, a place to hang gear, shoe trays and rack (3 kids and 2 adults is quite the pile of gear.) We used to have two level bookshelves but it seemed a bit congested.

You have that curve but fortunately, there is lovely furniture that has curvature that would fit that space.
posted by jadepearl at 6:33 PM on May 4, 2016

You have a lovely home! Some ideas:

Walking in: patterned, sturdy rug beneath your feet to catch dirt. To right side of the door against the wall (depending on the size of the items chosen): hanging mirror, small, narrow table/credenza/traditional hall tree/other piece of furniture as a landing strip for mails/keys/etc., and shoe storage underneath. Coat hooks beside door (with maybe a fun, animal-shaped cast metal one closer to the floor for the 3-year-old). I'd change out that plastic-looking switch cover by the door (which absolutely might look different in person).

For the area currently shown with chair: bookcase with lending library, different chair, either a smaller side table or a larger pedestal table. +1 to a mural treatment similar to the one pictured in the Paddington link above: something with continuity and interesting color to draw the eye up, tweak tradition, and replace the current rectangular frame. Or another version of a tree with thicker branches, cheesily sporting family portraits. I'd put a bust on the landing shelf, and probably store a hat on it. But with a young child in residence, whatever you choose (sculpture? acrylic vase with sculptural branches?) you should practically nail down the base.
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:35 PM on May 4, 2016

I apologise if this has been covered; just skimmed the answer. But, a 3yo? Heh. I live in a town of old houses and that style of entryway is very common. The families with kids have a jumble of bike helmets, scooters, wellies, and other kid detritus there. The most effort I have ever seen in a kid-inhabited house is a lot of hooks and cubbies. 'Formal' goes right out the window. Your kid might have sterling manners, but his or her friends will jump up and down on any nice chair, muddy boots still on...

The families with older or no kids either find a series of period-appropriate hooks, hire a carpenter to put in a wardrobe, or do something to deal with the fact that in the people who built the house only had one pair of shoes and one coat and thus did not put in a closet anywhere.

I had a dresser in mine for a long time that I used for shoes, and then for scarf/mitten/hat storage when IKEA proved too weak to store shoes, and then I finally managed to get the right-size wardrobe in there, which fits every seasons' coats and shoes and takes up most of the space and which has been a tremendous relief. There are stairs nearby if somebody wishes to sit to lace boots etc. I also took an old teak hutch with frosted glass doors and stuck it in a space that happened to be a perfect fit; it is filled with too many board (and similar) games. This I kind of like because when you can recognise the MONOPOLY and so on peeking through the glass, you think, or at least I like to think, 'Here is an unstuffy place where I am likely to be offered to stay a while!'

We also have two leather elephants guarding the games cupboard, because why not, and a poster advertising NZ's Kia-Ora drink because my name is Kia (though mine is pronounced 'Kia,' not 'Kia'). It is a perfect space to advertise what sort of occupants the visitor is about to deal with. (Also, this being Canada, shoes come off, so there are a lot of rugs for wiping down footwear before taking it off...)
posted by kmennie at 6:38 PM on May 4, 2016

What is in ours:
* A rug that will keep the water off the floor

* A nice bench to sit and change shoes

* A coat rack (we have one integrated with a bench in ours)

* A small mirror tucked next to the door to check oneself before going out (helps me remember to turn my bike headlight off too), with some hooks for keys below.

* An umbrella stand.
posted by nickggully at 7:35 PM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

A foosball table.
posted by AugustWest at 9:50 PM on May 4, 2016

Beautiful house! While I'd be tempted to put in a shoes/jackets/bags bench and a keys/mail/parking tickets table, it seems like that entryway is the first thing people would see in your house and clutter might not be ideal. Consider your aesthetic vs. practical tolerance and go from there.
posted by bendy at 10:10 PM on May 4, 2016

Congratulations on your very lovely new old house!

I'd use that table and chair area to reflect seasonal / holiday / celebration periods, so it would be a fun ongoing family project to plan the look and find items to display, and something guests would look forward to seeing when visiting. Here's a Christmas and a Halloween view of the foyer from East Coast Creative blog, as a one example.

Aside from the standard holidays, you could do seasonal things with autumn colors, leaves, branches or pinecones, etc, for Fall, crystal and snowflakes, or snowglobe and poinsettias for winter, birds, bees, gorgeous bouquets for Spring, and so on, plus special things for birthdays (portrait of the birthday person, their carved initial, favorite colors), anniversaries, and other significant family events (graduations, achievements, weddings, births), and have fun with lesser known observance days.

May 22 is National Maritime Day, for example, so you could do something like a ship in a bottle on the table with anchor, lighthouse image, or other nautical art or artifact on the wall, and lifebuoy pillow (or more subtle design) on the chair.

Vunder mentioned a dollhouse customized to look like your house, which made me think that you could have House Holiday every year, where you celebrate the period of moving into your new house, with a miniature or painting of your home, and maybe a scrapbook or book of photos with before and after shots, and photos of the family in different rooms through the years, possibly architectural bits and/or bobs, like a bit of moulding or a weathered newel post finial that was replaced. Also, your child could come up with their own celebrations to decorate for: Frog Friday! Ice Cream Sundae Sunday! Dino Day!
posted by taz at 12:43 AM on May 5, 2016

Is this the entrance you'll be using most often? Or can you shift the daily clutter to the back door.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:58 AM on May 5, 2016

A pinball machine or an antique slot machine?
posted by CathyG at 8:03 AM on May 5, 2016

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