After a color has been chosen, that of the design must arise. A long narrow hall wants neither a large figure nor a perfectly plain surface. A small broken, unobtrusive figure, just large enough to give a feeling of quality, without over-accentuating the outline, is best. A burlaps may be plain, however, and a plaster that is rough may be painted with a solid tone, because in both these instances the surfaces are uneven, and take up the light in another way. Personally, I dislike the roughened plaster when painted, possibly because it is so seldom well done, the average painter understanding nothing of color. The manufacturer of a good burlaps, on the other hand, has had an expert at work on his colors, producing better results.
A wainscoting of wood improves these halls, or a dado of burlaps on which a figure has been stencilled, not printed, and above which a border of wood is shown. An Indian or Japanese matting may be used instead of burlaps. Textiles of finer quality, which are appropriate in drawing-rooms and parlors, are out of key in a hall, where the formal and enduring should alone be expressed.
The hall floors of rented houses are often of common wood, in too bad a state of repair to stain and cover with rugs. A carpet is necessary, although in a hall where young children run in or out from wet or muddy pavements, a carpet is not to be thought of, unless it can be shaken once a week at least. Nothing makes a house so objectionable as a well-trodden floor-covering seldom aired. Halls should be scrubbed at frequent intervals, and when in country places a bare floor of wood or marble is not possible, oil-cloth should be used, darker in tone than the walls, and unobtrusive in color. Large patterns, squares, and all designs imitating marble, are to be avoided. With oil-cloth or linoleum, uncarpeted stairs are to be recommended, if the condition of the wood renders this possible. It must be remembered that by their straight ascent, stairs present a surface which you regard more or less as you do your walls. Standing at your front door or in your hall, you do not look down on your stair-covering as you do on your floor. You face it. Your endeavor must therefore be to keep to low tones, to plain surfaces or unobtrusive figures harmonizing with the walls. An up and down staircase has no architectural values to be respected, no curving lines of beauty, no proportions meant to satisfy the eye. Unlike a grand staircase, it lends itself to no pictures, no charming compositions made by men and by women in sumptuous toilettes descending into spacious halls. Elaborate decorations of the staircase are not possible, as when palms are put on wide marble steps, after the fashion prevailing in palaces.
One sees, in many of the houses of to-day, and always in those of artists, a fashion which has long prevailed in museums - that of lining the wall at the side of the stairs with pictures. Not with one's Van Dycks, nor one's Rembrandts, not even with one's best water-colors, but with interesting etchings, photographs, and engravings. The idea is, while providing a passage-way in and out and up and down a house, for the benefit of the inmates, to make that passage-way pleasant as well. These pictures take the places of those superb tapestries, bronzes, marbles, and plasters which are used in the halls and about the stairways of imposing dwellings. A distinctive touch may be added to one's own more modest stairway by a bit of brass on the newel post.
The pictures placed along the stairs are often made to express a special line of interest. A clever man made a bare hall interesting by photographs of distinguished men and women. Inscriptions, by the originals, gave the portraits more than a fleeting interest, making them worthy of being framed and given so conspicuous a place. An artist will choose a series of etchings, or engravings, or reproductions of Raphael's cartoons, Botticelli angels, or Braun's photographs of the Van Dycks and Rembrandts. A lover of horses lines his stairs with fine old sporting prints.
The stairs facing the front door are sometimes turned half-way down their flight, bringing the bottom step by the pantry instead of the street door. This arrangement, admirable in case of no back stairs for the maids, not only insures more privacy to the inmates of the house, but makes the hall itself more interesting. The turn of the steps, forming a platform protected by a railing of carved wood, may be hung with rugs or bits of tapestry, and made delightful with cathedral lamps. The curtains falling from under the platform cover two openings, - one leading into a coat-closet under the stairs, the other into the passage-way. The pantry door, when of glass, must, of course, be treated with a curtain or leaded panes, and the lights carefully arranged, and some note of importance added by a plaster cast or a mirror. Growing plants, suggesting in such a place a sure demise, would be objectionable to any lover of plants or flowers. I would not protest against the use of artificial plants except that I know what a temptation they are to people, who will even put them in the halls of their country houses, and this when the gardens are abloom with flowers. Happily I do not know their owners. We would never be able to agree.
A vestibule should be even more formal in character than a hall. It is meant in these days merely as a protection from the weather, answering the purpose of old-fashioned storm-doors seen in many country houses. Unless left open, it becomes intolerably close, unbearable to the visitor shut inside by the spring of the outside door. The vestibules of new houses are larger and the atmosphere less depressing. But whatever the size and however beautiful the marbles employed, it preserves the same formality. It may have its steps lined with evergreens, but with nothing else of a portable nature. Like the storm-door to which reference has been made, this vestibule is only intended for protection from the elements, and beautiful as it may be in detail, it is false to its spirit when this formal character is sacrificed.