Interior designer Summer Thornton's 12 hallway decor rules – for truly standout transitional spaces

The designer, who's renowned for her use of joyous color, shares how she makes hallways shine

Three brightly colored hallways
(Image credit: Thomas Loof / Josh Thornton)

'Hallways should add life and joy to your homes. Well-designed hallways can romance you the moment you step in, so it’s important to set the mood straight away.'

Recently, we extracted the very best hallway ideas and rules from interior designer Summer Thornton, and they do not disappoint. 

Summer is well-known for her use of bold color in her interior design, and likes to make every space memorable. This is how she does it.

Summer Thornton
Summer Thornton

Summer is known for fearlessly bold and colorful interiors that give homes life. Based in Chicago, Summer's firm works on projects throughout North America. She believes that each client's home should be a reflection of their personal style, so no two of her projects ever look alike. The author of Wonderland: Adventures in Decorating, available on Amazon, Summer also shares a masterclass in decorating with color in our dedicated feature. 

1. Use gloss paint

Pink high gloss painted hallway

(Image credit: Josh Thornton)

Looking for space-enhancing hallway paint ideas? Gloss paint is your friend, assuming wall finishes are perfect, says Summer.

'One of my favorite tricks is to brighten hallways by using a high-gloss lacquer treatment on the walls because it bounces light around and gives a feeling of much more depth,' she says. 

'I recently painted one of my clients’ hallways (above) a lacquered lavender color. Originally, it had a dark windowless vibe with dark floors, and the lavender lacquer created an ethereal mood when mixed with the cove ceiling, with integrated lighting and painted floor.'

2. Use it as a gallery

The White Company memory wall

(Image credit: The White Company)

A hallway is a great place to indulge in gallery wall ideas, according to Summer:

'A hallway is not the place to be shy – I think it is an opportunity to really make a statement. It can be very personal – cover the walls from floor to ceiling with artwork or family photos. 

'If you’ve got lots of pieces to display, consider building a floating shelf to allow for a rotating gallery – it means you can move pieces around, changing the look and feel of the space.'

3. Make your floor choice dramatic

Long hallway with patterned floor and walls

(Image credit: Josh Thornton)

'Always pay attention to the hallway floor – it’s a great excuse for a bit of drama. A patterned floor can really pick up the pace and delight your eye from one end to the other,' says Summer. 

'In one of my recent projects (above), we decorated an unusually long hallway with a bold graphic floor. We ripped out old stone floors and painted the floor with a geometric pattern, but without any obvious repeats and it totally transformed the space.'

4. Wallpaper the ceiling

Hallway with wallpapered ceiling

(Image credit: Thomas Loof)

Hallways are perfect for ceiling wallpaper ideas.

'You can also draw the eye up when decorating a hallway. I love to wallpaper ceilings to add interest. I also like a lacquered ceiling for adding reflection and the illusion of more height,' reveals Summer.

5. Add interest with intricate architecture

Blue painted hall with patterned floor and chandelier

(Image credit: Alex Wilson)

'I like to celebrate what architectural details there are – and if there aren’t any, then I add them in, especially architectural lighting. Most of the hallways we have done we have added the architectural details to them, so don’t be shy,' encourages Summer.

6. Make a statement with bold lighting

A hallway lighting idea with table lamps on a console table, backed onto a mirrored wall

(Image credit: Davide Lovatti)

Hallway lighting is a chance for indulgence as well as practicality, advises Summer. 

'Lighting is key in a hallway because it can create a statement in a space where you typically don’t have much furniture and possibly not a lot of natural light. 

'If you have the height, I love repeating pendants or lanterns. If you don’t have the height, pretty sconces can add drama.'

7. Choose noteworthy furniture for transitional spaces

Yellow walls, rope light, black wooden floor

(Image credit: Marisha Taylor / James French)

'Don’t save your antiques just for your living space. Lavish furnishings make a hallway feel like a room, rather than just a path to get somewhere,' says Summer. 

'In one hallway we renovated, we styled a pair of antique mahogany tables with bronze inlays and marble tops.'

It also allows you the chance to stage a hallway, for example by styling a console table.

8. Install a mini bar (yes, really)

grand small home bar in alcove, vintage painting above, hardwood floor, freestanding antique bar, green walls

(Image credit: Kellie Burke Interiors/Michael Partenio)

Hallways can, says Summer, be the perfect spaces for small home bar ideas

'Hallways can be multifunctional,' she says. 'I like to use them as mini bars – you don’t even need much space, just a beautiful console table and a well-stocked bar.'

9. Bounce light around with mirrors

Graham & Green large window pane mirror

(Image credit: Graham & Green)

Hallway mirrors have two purposes: they bounce light around and can make a small room look bigger.

'If you have a dark corridor, then you need to be inventive to get natural light in,' warns Summer. 'Giant mirrors can help – get them custom made from a glass shop. My advice is to go as big as you can and try to reflect some source of light. 

'For added shine, add polished tiles and even brass inlay details to bounce any remaining light.'

10. Make staircases the star

Blue and green scheme, blue painted tiled staircase, patterned blue wallpaper with green chair and green accessories

(Image credit: Jan Baldwin)

'Staircases are an important visual – and logistical – part of the hallway, and you can use them to create more impact,' suggests Summer. 

'On a few occasions I’ve done very neutral hallways, then a bright pop of color on the stair risers to add a graphic punch.'

11. Make flooring practical

White hallway with gallery wall and red patterned rug

(Image credit: Maddux Creative)

Don't overlook hallway flooring ideas in your design, with practical, hard surfaces softened by hallway runners.

'Don’t forget practicalities: I’m from Chicago where it snows seemingly half the year, so door mats are essential. For a main entrance I often favor something functional, like a heavy rug that can be easily replaced. 

'If the doorway is less used, then I might find an old rug with a busy pattern that can take another 100 years of wear and tear.'

12. Don't forget storage

Built in storage in a hallway

(Image credit: Richard Powers)

Copious hallway storage ideas never go amiss. 

'Shoes and coats need to be stored away. I prefer a mudroom if possible, but if that isn’t an option, a closet is the neatest. If space does not allow for that, then natural baskets are great for corralling clutter,' concludes Summer.

Jessica Salter
Contributing Editor

Jessica Salter is an interiors writer who interviews the leading interior designers and tastemakers each month in Homes and Gardens about their inspiring, yet practical ways to instill a slice of high-end design nous in our own homes and lives.


Jessica has had the luxury of snooping around some of the most stylish houses in the world, such as Pearl Lowe’s Cotswolds manor house, designer Matilda Goad’s London house and the interior design studio and husband and wife duo Buchanan Studio. She delights in asking the biggest names in the world of interiors, from Nina Campbell to Sophie Ashby, the really practical questions that we all want answers to – such as where to source that perfect living rug, kitchen cupboard handle, or paint finish – and loves finding out the design hacks that we can all achieve, especially on a budget.


After studying English Literature, Jessica started her career in journalism as a news reporter at the Daily Telegraph, before moving into the paper’s Saturday Magazine as a commissioning editor of lifestyle and food features, interviewing cultural influencers from authors and actors to politicians and inspirational figures, reporting on key trends across the sectors of health, fitness and wellbeing.