A Victorian Entry Hall Makeover - Old House Journal Magazine

A Victorian Entry Hall Makeover

An anniversary present of hand-screened wallpaper led to a do-it-yourself adventure.
hand-screened wallpaper in entry hall

New wallpaper helped add a sense of grandeur to the entry hall.

Victorian houses have stately entries—a reception hall where visitors would wait to be greeted. Ours needed a makeover to make it worthy of this 1893 house. The handsome paneled wainscot had been added by the second owner, a Dr. Nicholson. I stripped a bit of it to find that it was Southern pine and painted from the beginning; we have kept it painted an off-white color in Colonial Revival fashion.

My wife, Sheri, found the hand-screened wallpaper online. A closeout sale, it was discounted but still quite expensive for our budget. Our anniversary was coming up, so I bought it for her after carefully measuring the space.

Next we had to deal with the lighting. The room had cheap home-improvement-store fixtures when we moved in. We needed a chandelier, a pair of sconces for the hall, and two more going up the staircase. We’d held off buying reproductions because we wanted to be sure all the lighting would go together.

One busy week, we arrived at an antiques show nearby just 30 minutes before closing. We split up to cover ground, and I immediately found the solid-brass candle sconces. It being the end of the show, the dealers were ready to bargain, and we had our first fixtures.

Antique Sconces, Modern Wiring

The antique sconces did not have canopies to cover today’s electrical boxes; wires would have run directly into the wall. So I bought some solid round box covers and drilled holes in them, pulling the wires through so each fixture was tight against the plate. Each sconce had a hanger on the back, which I hung from a screw in the wall.

Custom covers for the antique sconces

Before installation, I wallpapered the plates to exactly match the wall behind them. Afterwards, I installed the sconces just like modern fixtures. The cover plates are virtually invisible.

Just a week later, Sheri found the brass chandelier at a “junk store” in the same town. All of these worked well with a beautiful set of reproduction sconces we’d considered from House of Antique Hardware, so we ordered them. After five years of searching, we’d found all the reception-hall lighting in just a week.

Antique sconces above the settee now illuminate the hallway.

Antique sconces above the settee now illuminate the hallway.

By now, it had been four months since we’d ordered the wallpaper. After I’d painted all the trim, I went to work hanging paper. I started at 10 a.m. and found that every piece required some fussing and cutting and fitting. At 10 p.m., I rounded the last corner—and realized that we didn’t have enough paper. How could this be? We’d measured and re-measured! I realized then that our supplier had ordered the pattern in the wrong repeat, and we had excessive waste with the larger repeat.

The next morning, we called the store early and found that six single rolls—from the same dye lot—were in stock, unsold because it was too little for a project.

The project didn’t always go smoothly. When a paint can (three-quarters full) tipped over on the stairs, its lid popped off, and the paint went cascading down and across the hardwood. Unique electrical problems needed rewiring. And it took a long time for us to agree on a rug!

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