Tips for a tidy entry

Q: I am constantly challenged with keeping up the appearance of my back-entrance hall. This long, dark hallway (no windows except for the one in the back door) links our backyard and garage to the rest of our main floor, so it is highly visible as we walk past it all the time. I have four kids under the age of 10 and a golden retriever. This entrance gets used all the time and, with boots everywhere, it is just a dismal mess all the time. I would add a door to close off the hall, but the walls don't match up for a clean division.

A: Rather than hiding this problem, I suggest you use some creative storage instead. It is important to treat this space like a real room, not just a utility area. Function is very important, but so are esthetics.

In general, I find if things don't have boundaries they tend to stray. To keep your muckies contained, get a long, sturdy leather, wooden or wicker storage bench. Try Pier 1IkeaUrban Barn or other fine decor stores. It should be long enough to contain four pairs of boots. You are looking for something that has storing capacity as well as a hinged lid sturdy enough to sit on. Make sure the bench is ventilated - wicker will naturally offer this, but make sure it is part of the design if you choose leather or wood.

Purchase or create a large tray that will fit in the base of the bench. If the tray is wooden, seal the bottom to protect it from moisture. Fill it with loose, small pebbles that you can rinse as needed. Now you can stow away unsightly footwear, allowing the drippy mess to accumulate in the concealed tray. It can be cleaned as required, it allows for practical seating for those putting on or taking off their footwear, and makes your space feel like a real room.

Now you can add personality to make it feel like a welcoming entrance. Add a hall rug that complements your home's decor but that stand up to the rigours of the season. Select a long, runner-style rug so that people can safely move into the house if there is a group. Practical shelving and clothing hooks can be punctuated with wall art to balance the visual effect. Seasonal pillows on the bench can add whimsy as well as comfort.

As you organize your family's winter wear, don't forget your pet's contribution to this area. Keep a decorative basket close to the door to hold a towel that will come in handy to dry wet paws.

Finally, ensure you have adequate lighting that also provides a welcoming ambience. Since you say your hallway is long and dark, I suggest a central light fixture with great range, or sconce-style lighting strategically placed on the walls to brighten up the space adequately. No "hiding" doors required.

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