Designer Minnie Kemp on the style secrets for the perfect hallways

Minnie Kemp knows hallways can be so much more than just corridors to pass through. Here's how to turn them into spaces to stop and wonder

black and white hallway
(Image credit: Future)

When I think about entryways I think of Dorothea Tanning’s heart wrenching, multifaceted painting “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.” It shows what appears to be a hotel corridor with numbered doors, the farthest of which is open just enough to offer a glimpse of incandescent light. Two girls and a torn decrepit sunflower are the focal point of the scene. Perhaps it’s depicting the loss of childlike innocence? 

The message is unclear. I think the most fascinating thing about this painting is what’s behind the door. Could it be a sunlit desert or a burning inferno? This is a transitional moment in a transitional space before an exciting explosion.  It reminds me that instead of being overlooked spaces to pass through, corridors and hallways are spaces to dream, let the mind wander and to take your time. Remember this when creating your scheme and curating your home. 

The most impressive corridor I have ever seen resides at the 18th century Palladian house Marchmont, nestled on the Scottish borders. Sir Robert Lorimer, the architect hired by Robert Finnie McEwen in 1914, is responsible for transforming the old stables into a magnificent oak panelled music room. To connect this to the rest of the house a grand vaulted corridor was created. It was so vast that the McEwen children used to play hockey along its tapestry-adorned walls! 

Go big on wallpaper

antique mural in a hallway

Au Bord Du Lac wallpaper by Pierre Frey

(Image credit: Pierre Frey)

If you want to re-create this look but don’t quite have the budget for the real deal then I’m obsessed with Pierre Frey’s new Au Bord Du Lac mural. Hallway wallpaper is an easy and uplifting way to transform a hallway from a drab corridor to a place to ponder, and choosing something that tells a story will inspire you as you go about your merry way.

The composition of this particular design places the spectator in the undergrowth at the edge of a forest and there is a castle on the horizon which glimmers with flecks of gold due to the fact it’s printed on straw with a metallic base. 

Get the lighting right

hallway lighting ideas

(Image credit: Kati Curtis Design)

Avoid installing ceiling spot lights in a hallway if possible.  In a recent project I commissioned Margit Wittig to create bespoke cast resin wall lights that give off a warm glow like willow-the-wisps leading you through the large property.   Combined with bright turquoise Ikat shades sourced from Susan Deliss and soft blue walls the space becomes a gentle oasis you want to spend time in.

Hallway lighting works best when it's at its softest. It's then when I think you allow yourself to drift across the boards below, instead of being frazzled by strong lights as you rush from one room to another.

Anything that is at shoulder height, that gives off a small pool of a glow, perhaps backed by a burnished gold sconce, will do wonders for your soul.  

Or hide lighting to focus on decor

hallwy with green floor and yellow walls

(Image credit: Future)

Another easy and ingenious way to create drama leading into a space is by installing repeated vertical strip lighting hidden within a niche. This way you can go bold with your color choice on the wall as the area will be filled with light and there is no need to hang any pictures.  

Keep it clean and contemporary for a Hollywood moment, or pair a dark floor with two-tone walls. The trick is get lighter in color as you go up the wall, so the whole space feels like it opens out - corridors by their very nature are enclosed. So play against this with clever hallway paint choices.

Inspire your mind with your favorite books

landing hallway lined with books

(Image credit: Future)

And if in doubt line the walls with the rainbow spines of books. Nobody says it better than C.S Lewis in his book Surprised by Joy: the shape of my early life. “I am a product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles. Also, of endless books.” 

Minnie Kemp is an interior designer, part of the team of design experts at the Firmdale Hotel Group. She has worked on the interiors of international hotels such as The Whitby Hotel and the Crosby Street Hotel in New York, and Ham Yard and Charlotte Street Hotel in London. She has also been involved in designing various residential projects in both the Unite States of America and the United Kingdom. She is the interiors columnist for Livingetc, reporting on trends and offering advice on home design and decor, and she was a judge on the first Livingetc Style Awards in 2021.