Lynda Hallinan’s project: a tidy entrance way
Lynda Hallinan endeavours to make a better first impression by decluttering her farmhouse foyer and getting her boots in order.
AFIRM HANDSHAKE. A witty one-liner. The sort of winning smile enhanced by expensive veneers.
First impressions, aka ‘thin-slicing’ as described by Malcolm Gladwell, bestselling author of The Tipping Point and Blink, really do count.
Some people find fame at first sight. Think Liz Hurley at the height of her paparazzi popularity, when nothing but gold Versace safety pins – and a foppish Hugh Grant – separated her from her modesty. Or Susan Boyle, bumbling onto the Britain’s Got
Talent stage like a schoolmarmish spinster, her ill-fitted frock and nervous giggles offering no clue to her celestial vocal chords.
Not all first impressions are favourable. When Oscar-winning costume designer Jenny Beavan collected a Bafta for her work on Mad Max: Fury Road, host Stephen Fry compared her red-carpet ensemble – untamed hair, leather biker jacket, black slacks, casual scarf and flats – to that of a bag lady.
I, too, have recently been accused of being a bag lady – by my husband no less. Though the planet may thank me for shunning plastic supermarket bags, my family is less forgiving when they can’t get through our front door for all the eco-friendly hessian shopping sacks hanging from coat hooks behind it.
On any given day, our farmhouse foyer is littered with all the kit and caboodle associated with two adults, two kids, four cats and a dog. A snap stocktake reveals a dozen reusable tote bags, four pairs of gumboots, my husband’s size-14 heavy work boots, three umbrellas, a rubbish bin, two hand towels, five raincoats, three pairs of waterproof waders, three pairs of sneakers (all mine), half a dozen mismatched gardening gloves, two plastic ponchos, a brush and shovel, a long-handled mop, two dog leads, 6kg of cat biscuits (I buy in bulk) and a cat bowl invariably licked clean by the dog.
When visitors come knocking, what thin-sliced judgements must they make of my character? Herein lives a hoarder, they probably think, albeit one with an environmental conscience, undiagnosed ombrophobia and far too many cats.
If only we had a mudroom in which to deposit all our incoming clutter. Really, what could be more versatile than a transitional vestibule separating indoors and out, a place to ditch dirty boots and dripping raincoats, wash your hands (and rinse freshly dug produce), and let sodden
dogs shake themselves off before setting paw on the shag pile?
In English country houses, mudrooms were traditionally lined with wood panelling (much easier to wipe down than wallpaper) and laid with tiles or utilitarian concrete floors for convenient hosing. A square butler’s sink was a mudroom musthave – mind you, so were butlers
– as was a gumboot rack and jack, umbrella stand, low bench, laundry basket, coat hooks and storage shelves.
In the 1980s, Martha Stewart helped make mudrooms fashionable again – in American farmhouses at least. At Turkey Hill, the decorating doyenne’s former Connecticut mansion, the mudroom was big enough to double as a dining room; it was also where she wrote all her homemaking books.
My 70sq m house isn’t big enough for even a minuscule mudroom – our foyer already doubles as our pantry, and I certainly couldn’t write a book in there! – but the sheltered entrance to the spare room in the shed offered plenty of potential for a makeover.
First, I bought a new door.
(Actually, an old one from the local demolition yard, complete with an ornate knob.) The door was cerulean blue, befitting a Greek taverna, but after sanding it back I repainted it like a woman possessed (coincidentally, ‘Possessed’ is the name of this shade of charcoal by Resene).
I built a gumboot rack, stacked my firewood neatly, and bought not one but two new doormats. They’re cheap as chips, and fun to swap around. Then I ordered my husband to don his chainsaw chaps to create some crazy paving from the branches of a stormfelled pine. These timber rounds make funky mud scrapers, leaf collectors and feline claw scratchers.
Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil: I don’t expect the trio of pottery dragons at my door to turn a blind eye to the ill winds blowing fallen liquidambar leaves everywhere, but I do expect to win Lotto sometime soon. Dragons – even kitsch ones from a Kaiaua Coast pottery – are symbols of prosperity.
A tidy threshold doesn’t just create a positive first impression, it’s also jolly good feng shui.
“I ORDERED MY HUSBAND TO DON HIS CHAINSAW CHAPS AND CREATE SOME CRAZY PAVING FROM A STORMFELLED PINE.”
Left: Timber ‘paving’ frames Lynda’s doormat. Above: A super-skinny hall table limits the opportunity for ditching, dumping and dropping. Vintage scales make a tidy receptacle for loose change and keys, while pottery dragons (top) add positive feng shui.