Believe me, I completely understand why today’s homebuyers are so crazy about open floor plans. In fact, 20 years ago, we bought our own house largely because the den, breakfast area, sunroom, and kitchen are essentially one big space. As the only woman in the household, I liked the idea that I wouldn’t be cooking alone whenever there was a big game on TV. But there were flaws in my logic—not least of which is that my sons learned to cook and I learned to love baseball.
Now what I wish I had is an expansive hallway. The greatly overrated two-story foyer is no substitute. There are many features I love about Susan Hable’s home in Athens, but my favorite is that wide hallway that runs right through the heart of the house. Though Susan and Peter added on to the original structure, they extended the corridor all the way to the back door. You can see daylight from end to end.
Of course, their house is an early-20th-century Victorian cottage. Central hallways were mandatory in the South in the days before air-conditioning; they served the vital function of allowing air to circulate. And period architecture has a certain nostalgic appeal.
Best of all, the hall offers endless wall space. Susan and Peter have curated galleries of paintings, drawings, fine art, and family photography, plus exotic ephemera that hint at gypsies and tribal totems. With all that open territory, anything goes.
The other great thing about wide hallways is that they welcome children. I don’t really know why kids love them—whether it’s because they feel more connected to the grown-ups when they’re not isolated in a playroom, or whether it’s the opposite. Perhaps kids sense that adults would never think to stop in what’s supposed to be a transient space. Either way, hallways become a child’s domain, where kids feel free to play pretend and run unfettered by corners and doors.
I inherited this predilection from my mother. When all the grandchildren were born, my parents built a sprawling house in the North Carolina High Country. Inspired by architect Frank McCall’s classical houses at Sea Island, Mom told the architect she wanted two things: a screened-in porch and wide hallways. Though she admits the halls were never practical for adult guests, who had to traverse an awkward distance to reach the living room, she was right about the kids. The cousins spent many rainy—and sunny—summer afternoons dreaming up forts and castles and other magic kingdoms in those passageways. Perhaps imagination flourishes best in places that go between.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.