THE halls of many old-fashioned houses of New England ran in a straight line through the middle of the house, with a door at either end. The back door, when opened and thrown back, gave charming glimpses of green bushes and flower-beds. Great dignity and repose characterized most of these passage-ways. The substantial was never neglected. The tables and the chairs were of the best, always of wood, often beautifully carved, and seldom failing to look as though they held their respective places from the beginning of things, unmoved by the flight of new generations past them. When the stairs turned, as they do in Mr. Longfellow's house in Cambridge, a tall clock was placed on the landing, so as to be seen by those up stairs as well as down. Nothing as easily upset as a lamp on a slim pedestal could have been substituted for it, nor anything as meaningless as a bust on an ill-balanced stand which a whisk of a petticoat would have upset. A bust worthy of a place on a pedestal is worthy of being placed out of harm's way. Now and then a window at the head of the stairs was filled with flowers. In considering, then, the halls of conventional town houses and those in old-fashioned dwellings, which are in reality nothing more than passageways, pure and simple, furnished with doors opening directly in front of an ascending flight of stairs, we can hardly do better than revert to the example of our forefathers, remembering that whatever their aim they succeeded in expressing it with dignity and repose. We of to-day may be as successful. It all depends upon our possession of sympathy and taste, our quickness in appreciating the needs of others, and the readiness to provide for them with felicity. No preparation should obtrude itself; the general make-up of the hall, like the dress of a well-appointed woman, should be so perfect in all its details that utility is forgotten in the grace and beauty of the whole. This should hold good of every hall, whatever the shape or the special architectural features; whether in a house or an apartment, or whether it is represented only by a tiny ante-chamber opening from a studio. To repeat: a hall to which casual visitors are admitted, whatever the size or wherever the house, should respect the utilities, pay observance to every need, but it should do so with grace and tact. Nothing of a tawdry character should be admitted; nothing suggesting the domestic relations. The employment of beautiful objects is always to be urged; but it must be remembered that either the inappropriate or the meretricious, when falsely used, will rob of all its charm that which might otherwise be beautiful.
A bench may take the place of the hall chair; elaborate oak carvings be substituted for mahogany; stone may be used instead of wood; a card-tray may be of copper, fine porphyry, or simple lacquer. The hall, too, may be of costly marbles or simple pine; but unless there be dressing-rooms near by, like those built in some of our largest houses, where wraps and overcoats are removed for a dinner or a ball, some preparation must be made for the visitor's comfort. In the table drawer of the smallest hall, as in the dressing-rooms of magnificent houses, there should be a clothes-brush, some black and white pins, and a fresh paper of hairpins, and a hatpin or two, so that the maid need not run upstairs when a guest arriving, even for an afternoon visit, finds herself blown to pieces by the wind and in need of a little assistance.
The hats and coats of gentlemen may be laid by the butler on the hall table or carved bench. An old-fashioned hat-rack is no longer possible, neither is one of newer manufacture set out with mirrors and brass hooks. In the high-stoop houses of town the hall-space back of the stairs is now reserved for the hats and wraps of dinner guests wishing to be spared a journey upstairs. It is furnished with a mirror, sometimes running to the floor, sometimes placed over bench or chair. A tree is provided for the wraps.
Unless a staircase is enclosed, shutting off one floor from the other, the wallpaper of the lower floor should be continued to the roof. Few things are so hopelessly" ugly as a paper that stops on the bedroom floor, to be patched out there by one of a cheaper grade or another color.
In choosing the color, regard must be had for the light, the direction from which it comes; whether the sunlight enters, or only a flash of semi-darkness out of a vestibule when the street door is opened. Regard must also be had, not only for the neighborhood outside, the fact of your having to enter from brick pavements or green fields, but for the prevailing color of the other rooms, on one or both sides of the hall. With rooms on either side, the color, as you look, should present easy and graceful transitions, not a series of shocks and unpleasant impressions.
Were a hall, for instance, covered with a maroon paper showing gilt figures (a wall-covering, unhappily enough, not uncommon in cheap houses made ready to rent), and were the dining-room on one side to be covered with blue paper having gilt stripes (I have seen them like this), and the parlor on the other side with a red-flowered paper; and were any one entering the front door able to see all these at once, what would be the condition of sensitive nerves? what the state of those obliged to live with these combinations of color?
Papers pretty in themselves may not "tone" when seen in relation to each other. From a seat in the green and white living-room, in one country house, you could look through a green hall to a green dining-room on the other side. The last green, that of the dining-room, was a different shade, throwing the hall and the rest of the house out of key and spoiling everything. From the dining-room door, on the other hand, you had only a charming vista, because the greens of the hall and of the living-room blended delightfully.