Before and After: A Plain Gray Hallway Gets “English Dollhouse” Vibes for $200

published Oct 1, 2023
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There are certain paint shades that countless experts have recommended over the years for being pretty much universally appealing. There’s creamy white, of course, which can be used to revive a dark kitchen or create a spa-like bathroom. Blue and green have been recommended as calming shades for cabinets and bedrooms.

And gray? For a while there — at least between 2013 and 2020, if not longer — gray was the “it” neutral for everything from living rooms and basements to nurseries and entryways. Many homeowners loved how it looked! It’s just too bad that homeowner Guerin Piercy (@guerination) was not a fan of it in her own space.

Although gray is a go-to neutral, it’s not for everyone.

“I hired a painting company to do some repair work on the plaster and paint the hallway gray when I moved in,” Guerin says. “Turns out, gray is not my color. I despise it.”

She bought this North Carolina home to share with her fiancé, Brian, and their two dogs, knowing it needed a lot of work. This paint job was an improvement from the “dingy beige pink” it had been before. “It had an old, dusty light fixture, and the light switch plate was yellowed with age,” she adds. “The hallway had an ominous feel to it.”

But just because gray made the hallway less imposing didn’t mean that Guerin felt obligated to keep it. She also didn’t mind that she paid for the fresh coat. What mattered was that it simply wasn’t right for her. “I contemplated painting the hallway a black, evergreen color but couldn’t pull the trigger,” she says. “I wasn’t convinced that painting the hallway a dark color would alleviate that ominous feeling, either.” 

She did want this passageway to coordinate with the other spaces it opened to, while also honoring the property’s vintage roots. 

White paint and wallpaper add a vintage vibe. 

“I had already purchased three rolls of Better Homes and Gardens’ ‘Jacobean Bloom Black & White’ peel-and-stick wallpaper with the intention of using it in my kitchen,” she says. “But I decided that it was actually better suited to the hallway.”

Guerin and Brian painted the doors and trim in Snowbound by Sherwin Williams, illuminating those details in a shade that also appears in their kitchen. The wallpaper pattern has a white backdrop with recurring purple bouquets scattered throughout, and so they moved on to the installation phase by double-checking that the blooms were even on the first two strips. Guerin says that because they measured and pre-marked the paper before adhering the pieces to the wall, they achieved an even appearance. “My fiancé and I spent the first day turning the light on and off, ooo-ing and ahh-ing,” she says. “We loved the paper in either light, and I couldn’t wait to get each piece on as the hallway was transforming in front of me.”

Because Guerin originally bought the wallpaper for the kitchen, one hiccup of this project was that she didn’t have enough for the hallway. “Once I went through the three rolls I already owned, I had to press pause while I waited for new rolls to show up,” she says. But as soon as the additional rolls arrived, she ran into this transformation’s biggest hurdle. “The small strips between the door casing and corners around the bathroom door were extremely challenging,” she says. “I had to trash several pieces after I tried to put wider pieces on those areas and then trim them on the wall. I eventually figured out that pre-cutting them to size was the way to go.”

Gold touches bring the project to the finish line. 

While Guerin originally thought that the angled part of the ceiling would’ve given her the most headaches, she actually found that process fun. She picked up the $15 light fixture at Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore (Brian installed it), and then hung gold-framed artwork as a finishing touch. In the end, she’s glad that she invested around $200 in making the hallway feel more like her, and advises readers who want to do the same to order wallpaper to cover “115 percent to 130 percent of the total square footage.”

“I love that the hallway feels airy and light,” she continues. “There’s a whimsical characteristic to the Jacobean print that adds some fun to the hallway. When we hung the light fixture up, I felt like I was in a little English dollhouse.”