Help For A Long Boring Hallway {and what not to do}



Dear Laurel!

I’d love to see a post on how to decorate a dark, long boring hallway. What to do to keep it from looking like a hotel corridor? Love your website!



Hi All. Most of my Dear Laurel letters are fictitious but this one is not. So, if you are interested in getting help for something and want free advice, you might take the approach that Kate did. I can’t promise that I’ll write a post about it, but it’s worth a try.

Hotel Corridor made me laugh.


Yes, Exit.


Kate’s hall is more like this. It’s a nice start with the sea grass rug. I prefer runners over wall to wall and there should be at least a 3 inch margin of wood but probably not more than 6″ for a narrow hallway.

brighton-homes-wide-entryBrighton Homes

We’re all not so fortunate to have exquisite, wide architecturally beautiful hallways such as this.

One of Kate’s halls is 50 feet long. These are basement halls so maybe not as important as the main living areas, but no matter.

I’m going to give you numerous ideas to help make even the most narrow, dark, long, boring hallway reach its max potential.

The narrowest hallway is going to be only three feet wide. That’s the limit on acceptability from a code standard. Quite frankly, for a very long corridor, I think it’s really bad design. I really feel that most halls should be at least four feet wide and preferably five feet or more.

However, let’s begin with the worst case scenario. A perfectly plain, no doors or windows, 50 foot long, 3-feet wide hallway.


First of all… On the other side of this insanely cramped, spooky sliver of a pathway lies another room. Right?

Can we borrow space from either of those rooms?

No, Laurel, we can’t afford it. We’re moving in 5 years or less…

Right. But if you can swing it, that would be my first consideration.

However, let’s work with the suppurating, suffocating hallway.

We need to take a lot of the same principles that we find in our gorgeous wide hallway and use them here, but judiciously, of course.

Let’s begin with the architecture.

You know me if you’ve been reading this blog for a while. I’m a nutjob about architectural features–because that is the key to creating a beautiful interior.

We can add some sort of wainscoting, be it picture frame moulding, rail and stile or the very popular board and batten which is like rail and stile only plainer. Assuming that we don’t have a very high ceiling, I would not go up more than 36″ with wainscotting with a chair-rail. Otherwise, it might feel somewhat overwhelming.


Here, we have a panel above the wainscoting which is very pretty and helps break up the wall nicely.

We can also break up this long expanse and create more of what isn’t there.

We could add one-inch pilasters (engaged columns) to help break up the expanse.

Please see the example below.

Hallway+to+Master+BathImage from a Real Estate Listing

We can add windows and/or doors, with or without mirrors, but mirrors will help expand the space a lot.

Yes, interior windows. We had them in our old home and I loved them.

You could even have it electrically rigged up to shine a dim light behind them so that they look more like real windows. I would probably use frosted glass, however. It depends on what’s on the other side. There also might be enough direct sunlight.

chloe-warner-domaine-long-hallChloe Warner via Domaine- Designer, Redmond Aldrich

We could add a soffit to create a sort of doorway. If the hall is only 3 feet wide, we can only afford to lose an inch or two on each side but that’s enough to create the effect of stopping the eye from moving down a long, never-ending expanse of sameness.

Melanie-Davis-Designs-Woodruff-House-Red-Clay-Soul-emily-jenkins-followillvia: Red Clay SoulDesigner, Melanie Davis

photo: Emily Jenkins Followill

I love this idea of using a transom window instead of the soffit. (the rest of the home is just as stunning if you click on the Red Clay Soul link)

We could also create shallow between the stud cabinetry to mimic a doorway like we were talking about recently with our unkitchens.

hidden_storage_ideas_small_spaces_kitchann_style-e1436450191814Providence Design

How fabulous is this hidden storage. We could do this anywhere!

We could even put in French Doors, again with frosted glass. Yes, it’s shallow storage, but again, perhaps space can be borrowed from adjacent rooms. However, even if it was a dummy door, it would lend itself to giving the architectural feature needed to make the hallway far less boring.


Did you just say that I should put in a door that isn’t an entrance into anything but a stud wall?

haha! I’m not saying you need to be putting up fake doors;

just presenting it as an option to get the ideas flowing.


original source unknown

Perhaps, in some cases, there’s an option to make a real doorway from this side of the hall into the space that has no entrance.

What if the hall butts up against the concrete foundation? Well, there are still studs and the opportunity to do everything we’ve discussed except borrowing space.

Now that we have the architecture in better shape, our long boring hallway, might look more like this lovely hall below or one of the above spaces.

interesting-hall-decor-Architect Lewin WertheimerLewin Wertheimer

Yes, those are real windows and doors, but we can create something along these lines. Here, they used beadboard or something like that.

Next we will address the floor.

I recommend some sort of rug runner to add visual interest. Or, the floor itself could be the visual interest. Having a beautiful floor will take the eye away from the cramped corridor.

ivassalletti-long-hallway-beautiful-parquet-floor-white-walls-white-linen-drapesI Vassalletti

irene-lovett-designer-sabra-lattos-photo-domain-main.original.640x0cIrene Lovett

Love how these antique Oriental creates a smashing focal point. I think the way they handled the art is wonderful too. In a narrow hall, I wouldn’t make a complete gallery wall on both sides. It’s too much.

Dovetail-Design-Works-Design-long-narrow-hallway-Wills-Co-Bond-House-HallwayDovetail Designworks

A focal point at the end of the hall is a great idea to draw the eye towards the back.

However, do not use vertical stripes for your runner!


Vertical stripes will only accentuate the length. If you do stripes, they should be horizontal.

Above and below by Dash and Albert


Good Boy! Horizontal stripes on the floor. Yes!
On the wall – NO! Not on a very long narrow hallway.


[tweet_box design=”default”]Not only does it make your guests dizzy and nauseous, it serves only to make the hall seem longer and more narrow![/tweet_box]



Good thing there’s a bathroom at the end.

As I always say. “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”


original source unknown

Painting the door a deeper color drawers the eye to the back, not to the narrow sides.

hall-library-Jonny Valiant and Jospeh St. PierrePhoto: Jonny Valiant and Joseph St. Pierre for Traditional Home

If space allows, books are wonderful in a hall. Do you agree? Love how they tucked in a little desk.

suzanne-dimma-Bookshelves-in-HallwaySuzanne Dimma

Lighting is very important.

Lighting can either be overhead or if not too narrow, sconces are always nice. I would not do sconces in a three-foot hallway because most sconces project at least 4-6 inches or more.

sconces board and battenDana Wolter Interiors

opal-design-group-wainscoting-hall-coffered-ceiling-brass-pendant-lanterns-white-gloss-paintOpal Design Group

Lanterns for a tall ceiling are perfect.

moravian star pendants hallwayJennifer Schoenberger

So are Moravian Star lights. Well, I’ve always liked them.


Wall Colors

Can we paint the walls anything other than white or a pale color?

Yes, absolutely but… with a very long narrow hall it requires a very deft hand.

04c76c896bba65395182ff8f821bc736Shift Interiors

It’s one scenario where I would advocate for an accent wall. In so doing it pushes the darker wall over, giving the illusion of a wider hall. I love the addition here of the fresh looking photos framed in white.

Dark halls require great lighting and either lots of white accents or colorful accents, unless you are going for something very contemporary and moody.


This works because of the sophisticated styling of the home and very high ceilings.

malmö9-my-scandinavian-home-green-hallMy Scandinavian Home

This is a Swedish Home and I think that painting the color all the way around is an effective technique. I think with dark colors it is imperative that there be many breaks in the color with art, doors, windows, moulding, etc.  If the hall is wider and shorter, then it doesn’t matter as much. I think this works because the left side is mostly doors and the hallway looks to be about five feet wide.


I hope that gave y’all some great ideas for decorating your halls–especially those problematic dark, plain long boring hallways. Did I leave anything out? Do you have some special tips for your difficult hallways?



PS: Next Sunday I’ll be at the Design Bloggers Conference in Atlanta. However, I will have a post for you.


5th edition rolodex-post-graphic - November 2018 - A unique shopping guide with hundreds of sources created by Laurel Bern

  • Lisa - February 24, 2017 - 10:14 AM

    Hi Laurel, I’m a big fan of your blog. Love your design and your writing style. I find a lot of design blogs irritating with their writing style but yours is quite refreshing!

    We have a long 3’x16′ hallway in our 1949 brick ranch. I wasn’t sure if something like wainscoating would work but your post has me reevaluating. Will see if we can make it work with our plaster walls.ReplyCancel

  • Catherine Forneri - March 9, 2016 - 11:07 PM

    Oops! Posted my comment before I was done.

    I wanted to add that those long planks of hardwood flooring we so adore, laid lenghtwise, affect me somewhat like that striped runner (not so severely, but still). Adding area carpets certainly breaks that up. Good idea. I also really like the herringbone style (Architizer).

    The picture you posted with source unknown intrigued because there is either another hallway intersecting the one in the photo, or more likely, rooms that are recessed from the hallway. Love the sense of mystery and curiosity it conveys. Perhaps recessing the rooms doorways might be an option.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 10, 2016 - 6:38 PM

      Hi Again, Catherine.

      I love that image too. Since that’s the dressing area I imagine that in one direction is the bedroom and the other one is the bathroom. It’s a lovely design!ReplyCancel

  • Catherine Forneri - March 9, 2016 - 10:51 PM

    Hi Laurel: This was an enjoyable post. Hallways don’t often get discussed but are often a puzzling area to decorate because they aren’t a room, per se, and yet we spend a surprising amount of time in them, don’t we?

    I haven’t tackled my hallway yet but will later this year.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 10, 2016 - 6:33 PM

      Hi Catherine,

      Glad you enjoyed it. Yes, hallways are often forgotten and it would seem by the architect as well!ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth Floyd - March 1, 2016 - 9:26 AM

    Laurel, thanks for your post! Our upstairs hall is about 4 feet wide and isn’t particularly long, but the ceiling is a disaster! It is almost completely covered by a pulldown attic door, a large return vent, a smoke alarm, and three recessed can lights. The ceiling is the first thing you look at because there’s nothing else going on in the hall. I like the idea of hanging some eye-catching light fixtures. I’m also thinking about some striking wallpaper, maybe just on one wall. Thanks again. I’m always inspired by your posts!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - March 1, 2016 - 7:11 PM

      My first thought was that if the ceiling is eyesore to take the eye away from it, so maybe the ceiling fixtures are not the best idea. But again, I’m not there. I would focus on bringing the eye down with an interesting rug, mouldings, art or wallpaper. ReplyCancel

  • Jolene - February 29, 2016 - 3:37 PM

    Solar tubes are also a great way to add light and can really make a big difference in a dark upstairs hallway. They are also relatively inexpensive to install. I had two installed in our hallway and one at the top of the stairs and it totally transformed our dark upstairs hallway.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 29, 2016 - 10:45 PM

      thanks again! I should look into that because I’ve never used them.ReplyCancel

  • Jolene - February 29, 2016 - 3:33 PM

    Solar tubes add a great deal of light and can turn a dark upstairs hallway into a well-lighted hall during the day.ReplyCancel

  • Megan - February 29, 2016 - 3:21 PM

    Another fabulous post and very timely! Hubby and I were just discussing about carrying the new board and batten design we are completing in the dining room down our dark, long narrow back hallway to the garage. I just was telling him that adding that visual distinction would help break up the wall, creating more interest. Thank you for writing a great article that I can use to persuade him!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 29, 2016 - 10:44 PM

      Hi Megan,

      That sounds wonderful and I will hold good thoughts that your campaign is a success!ReplyCancel

  • Susie - February 29, 2016 - 10:41 AM

    I think making the hallway walls into gallery walls is perfect. Have fun in Atlanta.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 29, 2016 - 2:48 PM

      Thanks Susie! I’m very much looking forward to the break and seeing an old friend I haven’t seen in 40 years! She’s a dancer not a designer.ReplyCancel

  • Val - February 29, 2016 - 9:54 AM

    Wow, what a great and timely post! The last month I am deciding, doubting, and re-deciding what to do with my hallway, which is not only narrow (about 3′) but also short (10′). There are 2 doors there, a window, and a staircase, which is another 3′ wide.

    I love the architectural features and I would love to add wainscoting but I am afraid in such a small space the result might be in the lines of “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

    Laurel, is it OK to add mouldings in a small hallway?ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 29, 2016 - 2:42 PM

      Hi Val,

      Oh yes, mouldings can go everywhere and will add a lot of charm, I think. If you do wainscoting though, maybe just on the side with less doors if that’s the case.ReplyCancel

  • jo pearson - February 29, 2016 - 1:35 AM

    “good job there’s a bathroom at the end”…made me laugh into my early morning

    coffee. Too much ! (but keep it coming.)ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 29, 2016 - 2:40 PM

      Glad you’re laughing Jo! Sometimes with all of the possibilities for decor that are out there, you have to wonder…ReplyCancel

  • Jenny - February 28, 2016 - 10:51 PM

    Great post as ever! My favorite ones are with the bookcases of course..
    It reminded me: when I was twelve, our family went to the seaside for a month. The sanatorium, as it was called back then, was at the top of the hill, and the beach, as you can imagine, was at the bottom. In the morning we went to the sea down the hill, full of energy, skipping along the way. When we had to return though, we were tired, the sun was high up and the day at its hottest, and the hill was quite steep and long. At the certain point you would have a feeling you are just not going to make it.
    And at the same exact point, where the hill turned to go up and become steeper even more, somebody built a stone wall, and put there a saying(also made of stone). The said saying read:
    “Movement is life”
    It was so annoyingly funny you’d embrace yourself and continue to crawl.
    So I wonder..)))ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 29, 2016 - 2:39 PM

      Hi Jenny,

      What a beautiful comment! I’m quite the sentimental type myself. But that sanitorium sounds divine!ReplyCancel

  • Tammy Fairbanks - February 28, 2016 - 9:04 PM

    I have waited far too long to tell you how much l enjoy your blog. Always look forward to reading your posts. I would love to learn how those who rent can distract the eye from focusing on the decorating choices of our landlord’s, such as different flooring in every room or orange cherry cabinets and a tomatoe red kitchen sink. Oh and green wall to wall carpeting. Of course this is completely hypothetical ; ).ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 29, 2016 - 2:34 PM

      Oh Tammy,

      I hope for your sake it’s hypothetical but since it’s so specific, it may not be.

      Well, one great option is to move! No?

      I suppose one could gently inquire as to whether he would be willing to upgrade some things. It’s possible that he would be open to it but just hasn’t gotten around to it yet.

      On the other hand, he might raise your rent!ReplyCancel

      • tammy fairbanks - February 29, 2016 - 4:06 PM

        It’s all true. Some upgrades may be possible if l do the work. Unfortunately l may not always be compensated but sometimes it’s still worth it. On the plus side l am on the water and have a nice amount of square footage and the rent is reasonable. I love the views and never thought l could live on the coast in a home from the eighteen hundreds. Thanks for your thoughtful reply and have a safe and enjoyable trip.ReplyCancel

        • Laurel Bern - February 29, 2016 - 10:47 PM

          Well it sounds charming despite the green wall to wall. haha. Maybe if you change one or two things, it’ll make a big difference.ReplyCancel

  • Paula VanHoogen - February 28, 2016 - 9:00 PM

    Hi Laurel- haven’t been commenting lately, ( I wrote you at Christmas time) but I so enjoy everything you writeAND your design sense! Favorite comment here, “I’m a nutjob about architectural features.” That’s when I jumped in the pool with you! ( also love to dance!) My chief area of interest is interior architecture. Not so much decorating as designing in those features into a floorplan. You are on target with urging some of these folks to open up a wall into a space off the hall. ….one of the first images ( source unknown) of the closets with glass doors and a window focal point at the end is identical to a master bedroom/ closet set up I drew. Haven’t seen it built yet, so it was great to actually see an image of it!
    Thanks so much for all the effort you devote to these posts– they are wonderful!

    • Laurel Bern - February 29, 2016 - 2:28 PM

      Thanks Paula for the incredibly lovely comment. I have clients who did a huge number on their second floor. The layout was horrendous. Now, when one goes up there, it looks like it was always like that. Moving walls is not going to work for everyone, but it’s a viable option if the budget allows and one is planning on staying for a while.ReplyCancel

  • Susan - February 28, 2016 - 6:22 PM

    I’m a newcomer here and look forward to every email I receive from you! I learn something from each topic you write about even though it may not apply directly to me. Your knowledge and humor make every post an enjoyable read.

    So, Thank You from a new fan and enjoy your trip to Atlanta!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 29, 2016 - 2:19 PM

      Thank you so much for your kind message Susan and welcome to the blog!ReplyCancel

  • KG - February 28, 2016 - 2:16 PM

    Hi Laurel,

    Taking you up on your offer to send a desperate letter:

    Help–we have a narrow back stairwell that gets lots and lots of use (as in children brushing against the walls and stuff being carried up and down). The prior owners put in wallpaper whose durability is only surpassed by its ugliness but the 80s called up and are repossessing the wallpaper.

    I would love wallpaper there for interest as one sees this from various angles and makes the small back door area more interesting…but it has to be durable. Virtually indestructible. No beautiful expensive paper will survive. But I still want it to be elegant and not plsticky. I love William Morris and chinoiserie and am not on board with the soon-to-be-dated-Kelly-Wearstler-bold-geometric-stuff. And one more thing. Dark stairwell so would like to avoid dark colours.

    Is there any hope for my stairwell?

    thank you!

    ps…did you promise us a curtain posting…?ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 28, 2016 - 3:24 PM

      Hey KG, That’s two requests! ;] But I will add them to the list. I think I did mutter something once about a curtain post. Thanks for the reminder!ReplyCancel

  • Maryanne - February 28, 2016 - 11:00 AM

    Bfish: sounds gorgeous. Would love to see a pic!

    “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should” is my favorite line for bikinis and leggings on older women. (Sorry off topic…) ; – )ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 28, 2016 - 3:22 PM

      Hi Maryanne,

      I hear you but there’s always an exception or two. I’m a dancer (but not as much as I’d like these days) and I dance with a woman who just turned 79! Believe me when I tell you, she would look completely hot and awesome in either a bikini or leggings! ReplyCancel

  • Jo - February 28, 2016 - 10:27 AM

    We Southerners love our wide hallways, and this is perhaps my favorite of all your posts to date. Thanks for sharing…ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 28, 2016 - 3:19 PM

      Hi Jo,

      Glad you liked it. I’m trying to keep the topics varied. ReplyCancel

  • Anna - February 28, 2016 - 10:20 AM

    Awesome post! Thanks for sharing great ideas and photos.ReplyCancel

  • Tiffany Hicks - February 28, 2016 - 10:16 AM

    This is another wonderful article Lauren – as are all of yours – thoughtful and humorous. Long hallways in NY railroad apartments are tiresome – you feel like you’re on a train or a barge. You have great insight here – I also like to use several runners if the hallway is long enough – to break up the length and also I find using an alternative ceiling colour can help – breaking that up with lighting if possible.
    Thanks for being such an inspiring fellow designer!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 28, 2016 - 3:18 PM

      Hi Tiffany,

      I was going to add something about multiple rugs and that is I feel they need to make sense. I had one pic of a long hall with about 8 round rugs. They were like stepping stones! Too funny! But usually, if it’s a really long hall, there’s some stopping and ending point, or we can always create it! Thanks for stopping by!ReplyCancel

  • APB - February 28, 2016 - 9:17 AM

    Well you hit another one out of the park! Now I have to add “long hallway” to the wish list for our next place so I can play with it! It was fun and so instructive to see how halls can be transformed with your ideas and ingenuity. I love the idea of hidden storage but, since we have 1000s of books, I was delighted to see that you included one of my favorite halls of all time, Suzanne Dimma’s, with the handsome bookcases.

    It seems you also going around saying the very phrase I’ve been saying to my husband for 20 years (mostly about graphic design and wearing loud ties): “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.” Really made me laugh.ReplyCancel

  • Monique - February 28, 2016 - 8:02 AM

    This is such a great post. I love the line about the bathroom at the end of the horrible striped monstrosity you featured! I laughed out loud! Thanks for writing a blog I look forward to enjoying each Sunday morning with tea. You are so funny!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 28, 2016 - 3:15 PM

      Hi Monique,

      Thank you so much! Don’t know where I find this stuff. I just know that when I’ve found the right image, it jumps out at me. Love that the bathroom is all lit up and ready to be useful.
      This is really no joke but some patterns actually DO make me nauseous. I have to look away or close my eyes!ReplyCancel

  • bfish - February 28, 2016 - 6:56 AM

    Hi Laurel — This was another great post from you! We had the opposite hallway problem from what you’re dealing with here — at least we used to think it was a problem. Our home was built in the late 1920s and the design goes back at least a decade earlier. In a house that was built to be barely 2000 sq ft there is an entry hall and an upstairs hall each measuring about 8′ x 15′. On top of that our stairwell is very wide, has a big landing midway, and another landing hall at the top.

    We thought having so much space in a relatively small house was functionally obsolescent — yet we’ve come to really appreciate this feature! “Normal” newer house narrow halls and stairways make me feel claustrophobic now. The entry hall has 6 doorways leading from it and the upstairs hall 7.

    What we’ve done is treat our entry like another room in the house. My husband built-in a shallow floor to ceiling bookcase with several “step-backs” and a lot of trim detail. It’s filled with books and some of my favorite objects and fronted by a long narrow bench. We also have a desk and bar cabinet in there (fit between various doorways). It sounds crowded but isn’t.

    Since I love color and high contrast I decided to let this first step into my home reflect that. Trim (with added simple crown) is white, walls are saffron yellow-orange, ceiling is pale aqua blue (a continuation of the color from beadboard ceiling on our large front porch). Desk and cabinet are dark wood, there’s a variety of artwork, and décor is predominately navy/red/yellow. Persian runner is navy and red. Lighting includes lamp on desk, two can lights, and a ceiling fixture with amber bulbs for when I need mood lighting.

    In the upstairs hall we have an old dresser and we built a wardrobe closet directly across from it. Even with that the “hallway” between them isn’t narrow. You can tell, since I’ve carried on so, that I love my hallways now!ReplyCancel

    • Babs - April 18, 2016 - 2:03 AM

      HI Bfish!

      Your landing sounds lovely. Is there anywhere you can post pircures? I would love the inspiration!


    • Laurel Bern - February 28, 2016 - 3:12 PM

      Hi Bfish,

      Except for the large entry, that could’ve been my old home which was a townhouse. We used the upstairs landing as a little office and laundry room as the washer/dryer was behind two closet doors.ReplyCancel