First impressions count, whether you are meeting new people or welcoming old friends to your home. A front door covered by a rusty screen door, or a dark and cluttered foyer, can give a negative vibe to your home's introduction that may not be offset by your remodeled kitchen or magazine-perfect living room.
Although few homeowners bring in interior designers for the sole purpose of revamping their foyers, the entrance often becomes part of an overall design plan that sometimes includes exterior remodeling.
"If you don't have a defined entry to your home and just have a front door, we suggest a portico that clearly defines your entrance and gives it presence," said Rick Matus, a senior vice president and director of design and sales for Case Design/Remodeling Inc. in Bethesda. "This is especially important for a rambler or split-level, but it also helps a Colonial-style home because they typically have a flat front."
Mr. Matus recommended mixing materials to add interest. For example, if your home is brick, he suggested adding a flagstone stoop and step trimmed with brick edges. He said a wood portico or a painted-wood-look PVC material can be tied in with the home's trim color and shutters.
"Maintenance-free columns and trim and a ceiling that looks like beaded wood on the portico looks good with any style of home," he said.
Kelley Proxmire, principal of Kelley Interior Design in Bethesda, said homeowners should make sure their front door looks welcoming. She recommended changing the door or the hardware to update it.
"If you have brass hardware, make sure you keep it polished, especially the threshold," Ms. Proxmire said.
She suggested purchasing big planters for the front porch or stoop that can be filled with greenery or flowers depending on the season.
"I like to add color to a front entrance," said Whitney Stewart, principal of Whitney Stewart Interior Design in the District. "For instance, on a dark-brick Colonial-style house in the city, we put out new lanterns, painted the shutters dark blue and used a yellow-taupe color for the front door with yellow-white trim."
Mr. Matus said that after homeowners add a portico and add color to their facade with a new or freshly painted front door, the next step is to add landscaping to the walkway and in front of the foundation to soften the house.
"We also suggest supplemental items to complement the house, such as adding an oversized light fixture," he said. "If you put on a large portico, you need a large enough light fixture."
Once guests are inside, Ms. Stewart said, the foyer needs to have something notable to add a little drama to the space.
"If nothing else is going on with the space, you should use lots of color," she said. "You're missing an opportunity if you are ignoring the role the foyer has to play to pull your house together."
In one home Ms. Stewart designed, the foyer was too tiny to accommodate a rug, so Ms. Stewart painted a colorful blue, yellow and white mosaic on the hardwood floor that looks like tile.
"The painted tile rug gives the room zip and brightens the space," Ms. Stewart said.
Mr. Matus said homeowners with hardwood flooring throughout the main level may want to set off the foyer with different flooring such as porcelain or stone tiles. He said porcelain tiles are harder than ceramic tile and more durable.
"You need something practical for the foyer floor, especially if this is the main entrance everyone uses daily," Ms. Proxmire said. "You may need a mat outside and one inside, such as an updated patterned rug, for a jolt of color."
In one foyer, Ms. Proxmire found a coral settee, painted the walls yellow and added a yellow-and-white striped rug. She said you can add splashes of color with a colored lampshade on a table lamp.
One challenge many homeowners face is a lack of natural light in a foyer.
"I think table lamps are welcoming along with overhead lighting," Ms. Proxmire said. "You can use mirrors to reflect the light. I always think you should go larger than you think with a lamp on a console table or chest. When company comes, you can put votive candles on every surface. Recently, I found these beeswax candles with LED lights inside so they glow like candles but are safer."
Ms. Stewart replaced a center globe light in one home with a recessed light tilted to focus on an interesting object.
"You have to make sure the foyer has enough light, so if you don't have enough natural light, you need to add light in as many ways as you can," Ms. Stewart said.
Another option is to replace your front door with one that is about one-third glass, Mr. Matus said.
"If you have the space and the budget, you can widen the front door and add 1-foot-wide sidelights on each side," he said. "That could cost as much as $5,000 to $15,000. It might be easier to bump out the foyer and add a portico along with a new front door."
If your budget doesn't run to a complete renovation, Mr. Matus suggested adding recessed lighting above the front door and wall sconces.
Homeowners who tend to have too much clutter in their foyers may not want additional natural or artificial light shining on their accumulations of papers, cellphones and keys.
"You need to find a way to organize your foyer to accommodate whatever you need to keep there," Ms. Stewart said. "I found this great bamboo hall tree for the foyer with the painted faux rug that holds the homeowner's hats and coats. I'm not a fan of built-in organizers. I think it's more fun to do something funky, to find something eccentric and yet pleasing to the eye."
Ms. Proxmire said families who use the front door regularly instead of a garage entrance need to find places for mittens, keys and everything else.
"You may need a chest of drawers instead of a console table," she said. "You should have baskets for the mail and a tray for your keys and sunglasses so you can find them. If there's a door nearby, you put hooks on the back for scarves and coats. You need an organizational plan to eliminate clutter because you want your foyer to be welcoming."
If your budget can accommodate a $4,000 to $12,000 remodeling project, Mr. Matus said, you might want to consider building low walls between the living room and foyer to create a defined entrance space and to incorporate storage. He said an archway or columns can be built to add to the "wow" factor.