The hall was undoubtedly the ugliest bit of the house when we moved in. The walls were painted in a shiny magnolia finish. This showed up every imperfection in the plasterwork – and there were many.
Other problems included broken white plastic spotlights (replaced with Brooklyn Tiffany light), a murky green carpet, chipped cream paintwork, and an oversized radiator cover that was only useful as a place to store dog leads, pizza takeaway adverts, and empty cartons.
The overall ‘look’ was “student rental in large Victorian house with a slum landlord”. Needless to say, it became my top target (beyond clearing the garden) for a revamp.
Victorian hallways tend to be narrow and dark. Our hall and stairwell has only two direct sources of outside light – the front door and the door to the roof terrace. The usual interior approach is to paint dark hallways white to maximise available light, but – having already decorated the north-facing back room – white paint with limited natural light makes the wall look like someone left a black sock in the wash.
Instead, I opted to play up the darkness to create a sense of intimacy and drama. My initial inspiration was a blogpost by designer Abigail Ahern and a gorgeous hall transformation on interiors blog Around the Houses. However, I wanted to give the hall a truly Victorian twist with lush period wallpapers, dado rails, picture rails, and gilded detailing.
My original colour scheme was chosen to complement the red and mustard colours in the back parlour and conservatory. I chose a rich, deep Victorian purple-brown by Little Greene – a colour that evokes chocolate and decadence, and complimented this with Morris & Co Pimpernel wallpaper in the Fig & Sisal colour way.
After some investigation into wooden panelling (for durability), I decided I would use Lincrusta Edwardian dado panel beneath the dado rail – painted in purple brown and highlighted with gold.
You may have noticed I’ve been talking about my colour scheme in the past tense. My decorating plan didn’t survive contact with the Lares Familiares, our friendly household gods.
For a start, the plaster at the front of the hall was completely rotten. Any attempt to disturb the lining paper (e.g. poking a hole in it) caused grey dust to pour from the wall. The plaster was also visibly blown in a couple of places above the radiator cover and we were warned, by one builder, that the lime render on the brickwork could come off with the plaster – causing the wall to collapse!
We ended up hiring our own plasterer (sourced via Mumsnet) who has just finished a fortnight repairing plasterwork and stripping paper. The wall didn’t collapse, although the plaster in the entranceway crashed straight off the wall. It’s been replaced with modern multicore.
Although, strictly speaking, you should use lime plaster in old houses, we were advised by a Guardian of the Society of Ancient Buildings that there was a limited risk of damp in our hall – it’s a mid-terrace and there’s a cellar. Moreover, there were six different eras of plaster in the entranceway alone and it didn’t seem to have done the hall any harm.
Possibly unsurprisingly, the hall looks better with a mishmash of new plaster and peeling 1970s yellow paint than it did with its original (naff) (magnolia) paint job. The upper landing looks particularly fresh with its old coat of peeling white paint.