Old House Renovation: Creating The Grand Foyer

Allison Beatty

Most of us can envision a grand foyer in a large house dating back to the early 1900s. From the large, detailed moldings to the grand staircase, the foyer proclaimed a sort of regal elegance.

There are many ways to recreate such a foyer in your own house. Depending on your floor plan, it might involve repainting, staining and generally sprucing up the existing structure. Or, you may have to tear out part of a wall and start from scratch to turn the space into a dream foyer.

Your House's Architecture
When planning a foyer renovation, start by examining the architecture style of the house. You'll want to keep the renovation in close relation to the period style, taking into account what might have been there originally.

If you live in a Victorian house, for example, feel free to add all the pomp and circumstance you can afford. Victorian houses often included plenty of dark stained crown and baseboard molding and perhaps a hand carved staircase railing as well. Add a large front door with decorative glass for the final touch.

A Victorian foyer should not be oversized, however. In those days, the foyer was a cozy spot where visitors would wait to be greeted. Victorian architecture was known for its small rooms filled with antiques and other period decor.

Sizing Your Foyer
As you survey your foyer, think about the ideal size of the space. If your house has a small foyer that is not in proportion with the rest of the house, then consider expanding it if space allows.

Some old walk-up brownstones, for example, were built with narrow foyers with two door openings leading to what once were first floor and second floor apartments. If your dwelling is no longer a two-flat, then consider removing the dividing doorways to expand the foyer. Just remember to keep the room proportional and compatible with the architecture.
The Renovation Plan

Now that you've determined the size and shape of the room, it's time to create a renovation plan. While most foyers are not huge, you'll still have plenty of details to think about. Your renovation might include a few or all of the following areas:

  • Front Door
  • Floor
  • Lighting
  • Staircase
  • Walls
  • Woodwork

The Grand Front Entrance
Your front door can make a dramatic statement to usher visitors into your new foyer. If your door is sturdy and in good shape, consider repainting or staining it, or adding decorative picture frame molding along the bottom panel.

If your door is beyond repair, then you'll find plenty of options for replacing it.

A Floor Renovation
Many grand old houses have well worn stone or wood floors. A rustic slate or marble floor would bring an elegant tone to any foyer. Each comes in a variety of colors, from green slate to cream marble and varying shades in between.

If you have a wood floor, consider having it refinished and stain to coordinate with trim and furnishings. If you want the floor to become a key focal point, add a decorative medallion in the middle in a contrasting wood species or finish. Or, create a border with stone to frame the wood.

Enhancing Your Woodwork
Many old houses were built with thick baseboard and crown molding, and carved staircase railings. If those attributes would fit with the rest of your house, consider adding them in the foyer.

The same wood species and stain can be used on smaller decorative moldings. Many old houses have wainscoting, which creates a paneled look on the wall. This type of picture frame wall design adds a classic sense of elegance.

As part of your foyer renovation, also consider adding:

  • A dangling chandelier with crystal, stained glass or other period details
  • A decorative rug runner on the staircase
  • An antique table and mirror to anchor the space
  • Decorative glass sidelights to frame the front door

Your House Budget
As with any renovation, it is important to consider your budget. If this is the only house project you have left and money is no issue, then go for broke. If you have a long list of renovation projects, then some restraint is in order.

In the latter case, consider picking two focal points and spend your money there. If might be too costly to replace the staircase railing, so focus instead on installing crown and baseboard molding. Just make sure they blend with other molding throughout the house – and particularly in adjacent rooms.

Another budget saving option is to simply buy a decorative chandelier and use a textured paint treatment to give the walls some drama. Refinish the floor and the room will look like new.

Regardless your budget, design goals or the architectural style of your house, there are many ways to give your foyer a dramatic facelift. The key is to zero in on the traits that give it character – then make those areas shine.

About the Author
By Allison E. Beatty

Search Improvement Project