I had seen this hall before, but coming as I did that day direct from the house on the other side of the square, with its dingy old hall which marked the height of a past-time splendor, the contrast between the two made a profound impression on me. I realized then what the architectural development of the last twenty-five years had done for New York; what, especially, it had done for our halls, no longer built along stilted and angular lines. The wild, haphazard departure of many an ambitious householder into halls large enough to be used as living-rooms merely marked a certain stage in its evolution. People felt the need of something better than the things they had, and when the larger halls were built, they did not want the extra space to go to waste. We are an economical people, for all our lavishness in certain directions. But the charm of the hall I have just described would have been hopelessly destroyed had there been any sign of its being used except as a means of passage from the street, and from the two cloak-rooms on that floor to the hall of the drawing-room floor above, where the family life began. For the possessor of a sumptuous house with beautifully proportioned halls can afford, even less than the possessor of a modest passage-way, to neglect certain principles of good form and social usage.
When one lives in the country on estates of one's own, and when one is remote from the neighbor and protected from the pedler, much latitude may be permitted in the arrangement of the hall, since much is permitted in the life of the family. In summer houses, built in the woods, or by the sea, the outer door may open directly into the living-room, out of which the stairs ascend to the bed-rooms. But this arrangement is the intended expression of a desire to escape the exactions of a punctilious world, to get away from responsibilities into a holiday atmosphere. The halls of such places, therefore, like the lives of the family frequenting them, cannot be subjected to conventional rules, the whole purpose having been to escape them.
When the hall is used as a living-room, a separate entrance should be provided for the stranger, the telegraph boy, the book agent, or the newly arrived neighbor who has come to return a visit. The lady of the house may not object to throwing her doors wide open to the world, but the timid stranger may prefer a more gradual approach. It makes a bad impression on the visitor to discover himself ushered into the very midst of things when the door of a town house is opened, whether the family be present or not. I do not like it any more than, having a note to write, I like to be seated by a maid before a desk where all my hostess's papers lie open before me. Halls that are used as living-rooms are never permissible unless there are service doors in some other parts of the house. The ancestral halls of Europe, pictures of which have no doubt quickened the longing of many an imitator on this side the water, served a different purpose. An upstairs hall reserved for the exclusive use of the family, like the downstairs hall of an out of the way country house, is an altogether different affair. It may be treated as a family lounging place, provided only the servants do not need to pass through it on their way to their rooms.
I am careful to make this point, because the hall and the passage are so often violated in attempts to use them as living-rooms. Not long since, some one wrote to ask me how a passage-way, eight by fourteen and without windows, in an ordinary brick house, could be made into a Turkish smoking-room for her husband and his guests - Turkish smoking-rooms, as she told me, having become fashionable in her neighborhood, and there being no other space in her house available for one. She was particularly anxious to know how the draught from the staircase, which led into her basement, might be kept from the smokers, and the other stairs concealed, - the only stairs, by the way, which her servants could use. She permitted no smoking in her parlor on account of the odor.
One of the most exquisite halls I know of, for a country house, was designed with reference to a pine-tree outside. The design included it in the scheme of the interior, as it were. This was done by putting a large plate-glass window before it at the end of the hall. Not to make too abrupt an impression, the six feet of wall-space below the window was filled with green, an Italian marble fountain dripping over them into a marble basin on the floor which held aquatic plants. At the other end the hall opens on a wide marble terrace descending by steps to the lawn, beyond which miles of green land stretch to the hills on the horizon. In this way the feeling of the country has been preserved in a hall of beautiful appointments, the green woods at one end being balanced by the stretch of green lands on the other.
The entrance door is on the side, so are the stairs, which turn half-way up and give a wide landing with a large memorial window. This window is so placed as to be visible only from the bottom or top of the stairs, making a distinct and separate feature, which does not interfere with the hall's general tone or character. I am careful to make this point, because again and again I have been appealed to by persons living in the country who have been persuaded into the use of stained glass in their houses only to have everything about them thrown out of key, without their understanding why; and who have placed this glass, not where, were it beautiful (which unhappily it is not apt to be), it would have a value of its own, and for itself, but where, as in a parlor, it becomes a dominating and discordant note.