Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hallowing the House: Focal Points and Entryways

When I was in Oregon I visited a house that some friends of my sons had just moved into.  The parents of the family were from Singapore; the house was spacious and new.   What I remember vividly was that even though they had already unpacked, almost every closet was nearly empty!   My own house was stuffed--  the attic, the closets, even under the beds --.   Of course we were six people living in 1000 square feet.  But this was a family of five and they apparently had WAY less stuff than I did, even though by the size and location of the house they could have afforded lots more junk than I could.

The other thing I noticed about the house was that every room had a focal point.    In the living room attention immediately went to a huge but simply spray of branches (or something like that -- it was elegant and spare and eyecatching).    All the surfaces were clean and empty.   It did not look barren, though.    My interior would not be suited by an exterior like that, but I did admire it, and it has lasted in my mind as an example of simplicity than was not barren, but beautiful.

I'm getting to the entryway ....

Thomas Howard suggests that entryways have gone out of favor because we don't admire "show" and ceremony in our culture.   "Come in through the garage door -- make yourself one of the family!"    He thinks that this blurs a distinction and misses an opportunity.  Not that everyone has to rush out and buy a house with a formal entry and then decorate it at great expense -- BUT...

Coming in and leaving a place involve a transition, a sort of pause and preparation.  An entryway is sort of an architectural statement of that.   Even entering a tiny house or a tent, there is usually some sort of place to stop for a moment, take off your coat and shoes perhaps, and make yourself ready to join in the stream of the family life.    This physical space, even if tiny and simple, provides a welcome, and evokes the dignity of the guest or newcomer -- it respects and acknowledges them.

Thinking over all the entryways I've been in, I'm thinking that they also provide an early preview of what kind of house one is going into.    Hospitality is a relationship between guest and householders, and the entryway serves as a sort of introduction and preparation.   It may also indicate somewhat the kind of manners that are expected.   My mother in law has a condo in town and a cabin up in the mountains.   The condo is elegant and spic and span.  The cabin is homely, with old comfy furniture and "mountain colors" (my mother in law's term for colors that hide the mountain dust!).   The condo has an entryway through a little garden patio; the mountain cabin has three entrances and all are open and lead right into family living -- one to the kitchen, one to the living room, and one to the dining room.  Both are very welcoming, because the hosts are welcoming and love visitors, but they are welcoming in very different ways. 

So to tie into the beginning of the post, which you probably wondered had to do with the rest of it, the entryway (Howard says) CAN seem like wasted space, but really it is a focal point.   It hopefully gives the message that you welcome your guests (and returning family members) and want to make things pleasant and attractive for them.    You don't want them overwhelmed with clutter or dirt; you don't want them puzzling over where to put their coat; you don't want them left in the darkness because the light bulb is burned out.   On the other hand, I think most of the time in the US you don't want them intimidated by fancy features that are more about impressing them than welcoming them.


  1. One of the things that drives me crazy about our current house is that it completely lacks an entryway. You walk directly in from the driveway into the living room. There is a closet right there to hang your coat but it is really an ad hoc sort of entryway. There is no proper place to take off your shoes and in New England in the winter and spring that's a disaster. Muddy boots tread right onto the beige colored carpet which extends all the way to the front door-- a housekeeper's nightmare.

    Our back door opens into the dining room and that's almost as bad. Muddy boots get kicked off right under the table and chairs. Dirt drifts under the table and into the kitchen.

    The lack of a transitional spaces really affects me. I now so appreciate the value of the old-fashioned mud room and foyer and desperately want them not only for the practical aspects but also for the reasons you outline hear about the spaces being a warming, welcoming place, a transition and a focal point.

  2. Hi Willa. We have a fair sized entry and sometimes it gets used for dumping stuff that no one knows what to do with. At the moment there are bags and bags of clothes waiting to go to St Vincent de Paul as well as boxes of papers and books that were retrieved when our garage flooded during a storm a few weeks ago. BUT, my husband has promised that I will get my entrance back today. While he is out delivering the bags of clothes he will stop off and buy a shelving unit for the garage to get the boxes up off the floor.

    I am inspired by your post, and a previous one on Speedcleaning, to do some rearranging and autumn cleaning in preparation for Easter.

    btw, I am enjoying all the book reviews! God bless.


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!