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Architect's Viewpoint

With Foyers, Style Is More Important Than Size


You never get a second chance to make a first impression--so goes the old saying. Given this, your home's entry deserves a lot of thought, if not always a lot of space.

In the past, the entry was a rather practical affair. In alpine climates, it provided a kind of air lock, keeping cold drafts from blowing directly into the house. In the Middle East, it kept visitors from peeking into the private heart of the house, which was strictly reserved for the family.

In the Jura Mountains of eastern France, the entry took the form of a room-sized, tapering shaft, which extended clear up through the roof and was topped with a pair of openable flaps. In addition to having doors leading to various parts of the house, it brought in light and served as an escape hatch when the house was snowbound.

Most important, though, it formed a sort of combined fireplace and smokehouse in which hams and sausages could be hung to cure. That, incidentally, is where we get the term foyer, French for fireplace.

Compared to having a bunch of hams dangling overhead, today's entry designs are pretty predictable. They follow one of two opposing philosophies: Either they're soaring, ostentatious rooms meant to impress, or tiny ones meant to heighten the drama of subsequent spaces.

Frank Lloyd Wright favored the latter approach. Being around 5-foot-6, he seemed to take diabolical pleasure in making tall people feel uncomfortable in his telephone booth-like entries. But the momentary discomfort was worth it: By making the entry oppressively small, he managed to wring even more drama out of the stunningly airy spaces that followed.

With today's fashion for overscaled homes, the knock-their-socks-off school of entry design usually prevails. Such entries routinely displace the equivalent of a bedroom--twice that if they extend through two stories. With today's astronomical real estate prices, it's foolhardy to lavish so much space on a room that's largely ceremonial, especially at the expense of areas you'll actually use.

Mercifully, not everyone has money to burn on such productions. So here are a few ideas that'll help create an inviting entry regardless of size:

* Don't feel obliged to make the entry spectacular. A dazzling entry that leads to a series of mundane rooms will only create an anticlimax. Maintain a sense of hierarchy, with the major living areas getting the most dramatic treatment.

* Rather than relying on stupendous volume for impact, capitalize on inherently dramatic yet functional elements such as staircases and archways. Stairs, especially those whose terminus is hidden, can also add a sense of mystery that makes the entry more compelling--everyone, young or old, will have a sneaking desire to see what's up there.

* Use a special, one-of-a-kind window in the entry. This is the perfect place for that stained-glass piece you found at the salvage yard, or the cute little octagon you saw at the lumberyard. This is also a good place to splurge on extravagant finish materials--whether stone flooring, a paneled wainscot or crown molding--that might be too costly to use in big rooms. Focus your entry plans on quality, and quantity won't matter.


Arrol Gellner is an architect with 23 years experience in residential and commercial architecture. Distributed by Inman News Features.

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