Should we decrease size of opening from foyer into dining room?

threeapplesMay 30, 2012

Our foyer is a somewhat dark space, super dark now because of no light fixtures and the opening to the front door being blocked by plywood (it will ultimately have a transom and side lites to bring light in). Anyway, our dining room opens into the foyer and, at the moment, the opening from the foyer into the dining room is 9 ft wide. The opening on the short wall of the dining room (opposite the window wall) is 6 ft wide. I feel that the 9 ft wide opening looks rather contemporary and also kind of arbitrary and strange. I tried to convince my husband and our architect of this even before the house was built, but they wanted the openness. I've finally convinced my husband there is no way to make this look like an attempt at an historic home with this large opening. He's offering to shrink it to 6ft, but I wonder if this will make the foyer even darker, if the drywall won't look even once they add these sections, and whether the lightswitch being a few feet away from the opening of the room will look really odd. Do any of you have comments on what we should do with this opening in question? thanks.

foyer into dining room


foyer looking toward ante room door, closet door, and dining room

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let me try these pics again....

foyer into dining room

foyer looking toward ante room door, closet door, and dining room

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 7:50PM
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You can move the lightswitch - don't worry about that. I would definitely move it if you shrink the opening. We were swapping door swings a few weeks ago in a couple of areas (blocked the tv in my husbands golf room and not enough room to maneuver around if you were big in the powder room). They had to move light switches to the other side of the door. We had already painted one coat. No big deal. The sheetrock guys will be out there several times before you are done - things get slammed into walls, etc.

I like the big opening, personally. I don't think they have to match. I would be afraid the 6' one would feel a little dinky. How big is your room? Maybe a compromise down to 8' - 9' does seem big.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 8:02PM
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Are they directly across from each other?

Are they the same height?

6 feet is still a big opening, since most interior doorways are 32"-36".

The other thing that seems so taboo now, is the idea of compression and release (also called various other things).

There is a concept of making areas where you don't spend a lot of time, transitional areas, intentionally a bit smaller and a bit darker (perhaps) so that one feels a psychological difference upon entering the larger room. Frank Lloyd Wright utilized this a lot.

Of course now the trend is to have a grandiose double height entryway that looks into a dinky dining room and other lower -ceilinged spaces: it's kind of backwards, these days, much to the discredit of whoever is designing house plans these days.

I would think about making the entryway a bit enclosed or dim (it will be well lit at night regardless) so you walk Into brighter rooms, the ones you are actually meant to spend time in.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 8:13PM
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I'd shrink the opening to 6 feet, to match the other doorway. Once you get artificial light in the foyer, it will look beautiful! :)

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 8:17PM
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Three apples, what is the style again? I am wondering if a visual shrinking would work--some sort of column? (or not, just wondering.)

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 8:26PM
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The house is a Georgian style. We're trying so hard to make it as authentic as possible, but are obviously still aware that many of our choices are rather contemporary for reasons of ease of use mainly. We decided (I think) to lower the openings in this room and the other room I posted about to 8 ft. so we can accommodate crown molding and doorway casings.

Neither of the openings in the dining room will have doors because of the expense. The dining room is 22 ft long x 15.5 wide and the ceilings are 10 ft.

The foyer will be slightly darker if we close the opening into the dining room a little because the two windows in the dining room clearly let some light into the foyer. The foyer is dark because there is no upper story window (we needed that floor space for our master bathroom). So, once the plywood is removed from the front door, the front door and its side lites and transom as well as the ante room's door, side lites, and transom are installed, we'll have a little more natural light. I wish this space wasn't so dark. It wasn't intentional, it just happened this way for several other "long story" reasons. Palimpset, are you referring to us making the foyer dark along the vein of what you've described?

thanks for any additional input, we need to decide quickly.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 8:50PM
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Palimpset, I forgot to answer--yes, the heights to both openings into the dining room will be the same. We think we'll have them at 8 ft. The other opening into the dining room is on the wall opposite the windows. You enter it from the hallway that separates the front half of the house from the back.
My husband (and I think our builder) are making it seem like moving the light switch is a big deal, that the electrician would have to go through the ceiling, the drywall guys will have to do major surgery, and it would be incredibly expensive. Is this not what you experienced, Athensmom?

As, for columns.....they're not for me. I feel they belong on the Parthenon, but not in my house. I've also not seen them done well, but don't want them inside regardless. thanks for the smart option though.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 9:03PM
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I think your walls are also too thin for columns. In a Federal you would want there to be an engaged column or pilaster at the opening and a full column set inside it, both essentially the same diameter as the wall is thick. When I have designed openings like this (never for anything that was actually built, mind you--studio projects--) I only used things like this where I could "cheat" the wall thickness. The jambs would appear very thick because there were built-ins or a plumbing stack or something that needed a thickness adjacent to them.

Anyway. I think the Georgians would want them to be the same size. They were still putting in fake doorways and windows at this point purely for symmetry's or balance's sake.

This feeds into another comment I have--since you are going for authentic proportions but with a contemporary approach, this is another reason I would use a cornice more "stripped" than the Hull. That is based upon a house chock-full of detail: since you are not building a replica, but an interpretation, I would take something like this down a notch because the attention to details should be pretty consistent throughout. If you were doing a replica, you would also be using brass box locks for example.

Respecting the proportion is the more important part of it.

As far as the foyer being dimmer than the rooms it leads into for whatever reason, yes, completely and totally appropriate, and I think somewhat desirable.

As for no upper window in the foyer: yay.:) The upper window almost always would have been on an upper floor. The double height foyer as executed today is anathema to classical architecture. (imo)

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 9:41PM
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Palimpset, you know so much about architecture....I love it. Do you have a degree in classics, design, architecture, etc.?

The real Georgian homes I've visited abroad have fancier molding in feature rooms, which is why we've decided to go with authentic plaster ceiling decoration and molding in the dining room even though it's much fancier than anything we'll put in the rest of the house. We're taking the dentil molding down a notch both in fancifulness and size, for the family room, so that should help. Generally this house will be very simple, i.e., no chandelier in the foyer, but rather a lantern, no exotic flooring (rift and quarter sawn oak and black and white marble), etc. I want the family room to have a historic feel to it, which is partly why I like the dentil molding there.
As for learning the foyer should be dim, that's the best news I've heard all day because that is how it truly will be. Thanks for pointing that out to me. Now if we can just decide on what to do about the size of this opening and figure out what to do for the stair case, I'll calm down a little bit.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 10:57PM
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oh, and i hated the idea of an upper story window in the foyer (please nobody take offense to this comment, it's just not for me, but lovely in other homes). we also have our upper story window (the one above the front door) smaller than the others on the front of the house and i think that really makes it authentic.

i think we are going to do some brass box locks, but in limited areas because of expense.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2012 at 11:00PM
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No, I just have a design degree, but my "day job" at the time I was getting the design degree included some clinical research, so I researched all my design projects as well. I live in a city full of Georgian, Federal, and Greek Revival architecture, and I have a lot of books.

As for the public rooms being fancier, that's good, too.

The rooms in my building seem to have an actual hierarchy from floor to floor with heavier cornices and ornamented ceilings giving way to less detailed cornices and simpler medallions, then just cornice, then nothing at the top of the house. Same with some of the woodwork. As long as it's systematic, its good.

What are you doing on the floors?

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 7:48AM
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Double height rooms are not all bad, but I am not very generous when it comes to their usage.

Double-height foyers seem to be the #1 "What do I do with this (awkward) space?" Then people will say how beautiful it is and then how to correct all the problems.

Really, if they were beautiful, there were be no problems, it would just be beautiful and no "what do I dos" about it.

You probably know that the floors would be widish and plain and depending upon whether you are going early or late period, they may have been random, much more random upstairs than down.

A couple of the museum houses here have wall to wall carpet, based on inventories. It was about 24" wide with obvious seams, sometimes topstiched.

They also sometimes tacked it down with those blue nails and the blue nails just hung out in plain view.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 12:44PM
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we are doing rift and quarter sawn oak, wide planks, long widths in the majority of the house with antique black (really dark gray) and white marble tile in the foyer and ante room. the upstairs will have more randomness in the oak.

any thoughts on the opening height now that i posted the photo of the hallway cased opening next to the family room opening?

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 3:08PM
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I am used to seeing the window openings higher than the door openings. Where would that put it?

I think if you don't use that mammoth molding you have a bit more leeway.

I am looking at that closet. How is that going to be treated? Lesser molding? A jib? Extra points if you do a jib. :)

Are you wallpapering?

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 5:47PM
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I'll take some pictures of ours tomorrow. We are not trying to be historically correct but have a very traditional house. Our foyer is like yours - not double height (not a fan either) - and is small. We have a door with true divided lights with a panel at the bottom and sidelights. Not much light other than the bell jar lantern in the hallway.

We have a big opening into our dining room which makes our foyer not seem small or tight - it is not very big. That is another consideration. My house doesn't feel cramped when you walk in because the door swing is opposite the large opening into the dining room - otherwise it might.

Switching light switches is no big deal. I am sure we paid for it to be done but they just cut through the sheetrock and moved it and patched it.

There were lots of dings and holes in our sheetrock by the time the trim guys finished - so there was lots of major surgery ;) They had to move some low voltage wires to the basement and cut a huge hole in the sheetrock to do so - you can't tell. Also there were plenty of things that I wasn't ever asked about that had to be moved - like the door bell chime in our entry hall. I had them move it to the back hall and outside the master. We have a pretty formal entrance hall with a herringbone floor and dentil molding and I didn't want a plastic doorbell on the wall ;)

Not sure how your builder works but mine just did it - sure we paid for it - but there was lots and lots of sheetrock work done well past where you are . . . As long as it is done before the final paint coat it is no big deal.

As far as moving electric switches - ours just went to the next stud (there were several I thought were too far from the door) or over the doorway onto the other side.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 7:06PM
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I'd love to do a jib on that closet door (actually space for an elevator if we ever need it in our golden years, but it'll be used as a closet now), but we won't be wallpapering that hallway. It's not looking like we'll do wainscoting in that hallway either, so I think a drywall jib would not look so great, right? The molding around all doors in the house is incredibly basic, but I think it's nice. I believe it's 5 inches, including the back band. The crown in the house (minus the family room and dining room) is also incredibly simple and has a bit of a frieze element to it (no pattern) in that part of it is flat, but it's very, very basic.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 9:04PM
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I think it depends on if there is enough wiring to move it, because you can't bury a splice in the wall. I had a fixture pre reno in the hallway that ended up off-center in the new hallway, and it was a huge recessed can. There was only enough wire to go to the center so there is a box in the center with a round plate over it and the new wiring starts there (and goes to the wall for a future fixture there.

If you have to leave the old junction box and splice from there maybe you could put it on the side where you would be most likely to hang a picture over it.

Or, pull the junction box to inside the closet. Have the blank plate in the closet and splice from there.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 9:22PM
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My drywall jib with MDF door.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 9:25PM
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I posted this already and who knows where it is, but it's a crazy non-sequitor in someone's thread. And you probably saw these anyway.

Here is a jib thanks to chijim and Arch. Digest.

You can see it, but all this says is "THIS door isn't as important as the others". I have seen Obvious jib doors in dining rooms that said "The Servants Come in through here, You Don't".

Speaking of Dining Rooms. See the columns here. Notice the wall thickness. Notice also that they ranked the orders, with lower order on the pilaster and higher order on the full column:

This dining room would only be improved by DeGournay grisaille paper with the figures in color. That would be On Crack. Please do a scenic in your dining room. It would only add another $20K to $50K to the budget. What bugs me in this picture is the "smoke" coming out of the mirror over the mantle.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 10:05PM
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Palimpset, your house is so great.
We're doing molding and wainscoting in the dining room--think that's a mistake?
If no job, might a pretty cherry 4-panel door look nice for the hallway closet instead?
My eyesight isn't great, so I didn't notice the smoke and mirrors in that AD pic, but I did notice the use of the orders (art history background here).

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 11:00PM
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I would deemphasize the closet.

I only live on the 3rd and 4th front of a large house, and I am on the market. I really wanted a Federal that had only had three owners since 1810 (excepting a turnover in the 20s)
1810-1920s 1931-2009. Pretty untouched, but plain. Not to be.

My next house is 1963 brutalist so no more mouldings, ornamental ceilings etc., for me :/

    Bookmark   May 31, 2012 at 11:17PM
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It was suggested that all door heights be the same.

In this type of house I disagree. There really would be a hierarchy (of emphasis) here as well.

Large cased openings , large pocket door openings tallest as well as widest.

Main door openings with hinged doors not as tall.

Narrow openings, closet etc. smallest.

The exceptions would be totally false doors or closets built purely for symmetry's sake, and that coat closet does not fit this category.

Here is something I did that is more Federal than Greek Revival to solve a problem of modern closets up against a room door, and to avoid stripes of wall only down one side and between and a bit at the top.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2012 at 9:10AM
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so i've put a call in to the builder about making the hallway closet a jib door. silly question, but you push it in to open it, right? then it pops open?

any ideas for how to handle the trim for the hallway cased openings (one on each end of the hallway on the first floor). we are not going to change the height of those openings (9 ft).

    Bookmark   June 1, 2012 at 9:40AM
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Actually no, mine has a small edge pull from IKEA on it.

See the bathroom door from chijim AD.

Mine has cabinet hinges because it is a linen closet, but for a coat closet you may want a top and bottom pivot hinge (Harmon hinges, which were also used are $$$). The cabinet hinges actually work fine. There are four, you may want more.

You could easily use a nice looking brass cabinet knob or the same knob as your other doors...that's what they did. Completely concealing it was not always the plan, just blending it in.

I am not sure about your question re: handling the casings. What do you mean, specifically?

    Bookmark   June 1, 2012 at 9:50AM
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for "handling the casings" i mean what do we do around the openings (9ft tall) on either end of the hallway off our foyer. One of these is near the cased opening to the family room, actually it's directly perpendicular to it. the crown molding for this hallway and the entrance area to it is incredibly simple. should we just add a plain wood element to connect it to the casing around the opening? also, if you look at the image you'll see there is little space between the opening and the wall--what on earth do we do with that?

    Bookmark   June 1, 2012 at 1:44PM
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My doors are poplar with an MDF recessed panel

All MDF can be really heavy.

I would Not tie the casing with the cornice I don't think

With regards to that tight corner, since these openings do not have doors, they don't really have to be a standard width. I would build out that jamb so it took at Least a full piece of trim, if not enough for a full piece of trim and an inch or two for wall.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2012 at 2:26PM
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