A few days ago, while dropping my son off at a birthday party, I found myself face to face with the most British of front doors: heavy and black with a large, centered brass knob and a door knocker set between two half panels of obscure glass. Little did I know that behind that door sat, unsuspected, a rare and wonderful thing- the residential vestibule. It was everything you would imagine a proper vestibule to be, black and white tiles, dark paint and separated from the rest of the house by another door, which opened into the landing at the base of the stairs and the hallway to the kitchen. I’ll admit I didn’t get as close a look as I would have liked, but this small rectangular antechamber stole my heart with a glance and had me wondering why we don’t see more vestibules being incorporated into homes today.
Merriam-Webster defines a vestibule as “a passage, hall or room between the outer door and the interior of a building”. The term has its origins in ancient Rome, where they were a common method of entry into the public portion of a Roman domus (home). Ancient Romans and Greeks used vestibules to separate the home from the street, adding extra privacy and security; most were divided into two parts, the first with a porter that monitored entry. Today, vestibules are still a great way to transition from outside to in and the perfect place to leave the mud, wet, and snow behind.
This small space can be used to great impact when creating a first impression for your home. Imagine the fun to be had with wall paper, paint, millwork, lighting types, tile patterns- the options are endless. But before you pick paint colors or plan your “vestibule-warming party”, there are a few important things to consider if you’re including one in a new build or as part of a renovation.
Interior or Exterior
The first question you should ask yourself concerns how you intend the space to function. Is your vestibule going to act as more of an enclosed porch or is it to be an extension of your interior space? If your answer is enclosed porch, think about bringing some of your home’s exterior finishes into the space. Consider whether the porch will be heated, which will have a direct impact on its use. When a vestibule is unheated, it will be less useful during the winter months as it is unlikely you will want to keep the coats and boots of guests in a space so cold the only thing missing is the windchill. If your vestibule will function as an extension of your interior space (even if separated by a door), the finishes can be more refined and match those of your interior while still maintaining a level of resilience.
The single most important element to consider in a vestibule is the flooring. This space will be the first line of defense against dust, dirt, mud and wet entering your home. Think about your front door now, do you use an entry mat to protect your floor? Do you leave wet shoes on the mat to dry? The flooring you choose for the vestibule should be very low maintenance and extremely resilient. Tile is the best option as it is easy to clean and difficult to damage. A mat can still be used to take the brunt of the mess and add some interest, but it won’t be required.
A dependable light source will create a welcoming atmosphere and prevent your vestibule from getting too dark. During the day, light might enter through a window in the front door, or from the interior of your home. But once the sun goes down, additional lighting will be required for tasks such as unlocking the door or putting on shoes, as well as for safety. If using exterior finishes, exterior sconces and lights can be used. Using interior finishes calls for a nice hanging lantern or ceiling mounted fixture.
Will you be keeping coats and shoes in your vestibule? If so, plan for some wall hooks or a coat rack. If there’s enough space, a chair or a bench is helpful for putting on shoes. Tuck a basket or baskets under or at the end of the bench to keep things tidy. Remember, this is the first room your guests encounter, so keep it clean and stylish.
Vestibule, foyer, entry way- what ever you call it, these are the primary considerations for designing a space that is both lovely and equal to its task. If you’d like to hear what else I have to say on the matter or are looking for guidance on planning a vestibule of your own, you can reach me here. Until then, I’m looking into forming a coalition for the return of the vestibule. Kind of like a league of super heroes but dedicated to the prevention of muddy footwear. Our super powers are picking kick ass finishes and hand crafting door wreaths. You in?