While rural New England farmhouses were modest, the wealthy members of town typically owned large homes, which showed off their wealth and importance. One of the most important rooms was the entry hallway. Unlike our concept of “hallways” today, in 1830s the entry hallway was really a room in the house. It typically was about six to eight feet in width and ran the length of the house with doors off the hall for access to the dining room, front and back parlors and sitting room. The hallway was the first place a guest entered and it was important for the owner to present a grand entrance to his guests.
The early 1800s was a time of vibrant patterns on the floor, walls and in fabrics. Elaborate patterns and bold colors were extremely common and a sign of wealth and good taste.
Wallpaper was very popular in the 1800s. This hallway showcases an intricately patterned blue and yellow wallpaper. By the end of the 1820s, rolls of wallpaper were becoming increasingly more abundant, but at the time this wallpaper was applied, it was made in square sheets. The sheets were painstakingly applied one by one; the pattern seamlessly matched. Also notice the intricate detail of the border that frames the entry into each room and follows the chair rail up the stairs. Another border ran along the ceiling. Together, all these elements resulted in a very elaborate design and rich-feeling space.
While not a major part of the design of the hallway, fabrics were still very important and not chosen lightly when putting a room together. Guests would surely visit the sitting room or dining room and they needed to be just as splendid as the entry. Quite often, red was used in the dining room, as it complemented dark furniture and was believed to aid digestion. Wool damask was often use for slip covers and curtains in the dining room. Chintz (and glazed chintz, a cotton fabric) was a very popular at the time as well. Bold patterns with bright colors, especially large animal prints, were popular for use in sitting rooms. As you see in the picture below, bird prints were extremely popular. Stairs where also decorated with bright partnered carpet runners. In this case a stripped pattern of bold colors was used.
Floor Cloths were used as the primary floor covering in America from the mid 1700’s to the late 1800’s. These were canvas rugs, oil-painted by hand, that were prized for their beauty, durability and easy care. Floor cloths were commonly used in entrance halls, not only because they made for a decorative first impression, but also because they were durable and easy to clean. In a time where roads were made of dirt and horses and oxen were a common means of travel, much muck and grime was tracked into the house. Floor cloths were much easier to clean and much more durable than rugs.
The floor cloth in the pictures below has been painted with an intricate border. You’ll notice corner medallions were painted at the door openings to neatly end the border and indicate an opening as well. Once the design on this floor cloth was painted, layers of varnish were painted over it. Simply applying new coats of varnish each year or two refreshed this long lasting durable floor covering.
A hallway wasn’t complete without furniture. A chest, some chairs, artwork and a mirror put the final touches on the space, making it truly feel like a room, a welcoming, opulent room!