The hallway is the first place that your visitors see, and, as such, it is arguably one of the most important rooms in the house as it sets the tone for what is to come. But the hall has to work hard as it's also, usually, the second smallest room in the house and has to find room for a lot of stuff. In small city homes, it's perfectly normal to find bikes and scooters cluttering up hallways. Not to mention the coats, boots and school bags. And that's before you bought a little table to collect the post and rest the keys.
In the 18th century, it was considered appropriate to make hallways as restful and tranquil as possible to soothe travellers after their long journeys – hence the cool restraint of black-and-white floor tiles.
But, says the interior designer Nina Campbell, there's always a case to be made for a bold and dramatic welcome. "This is where you can stamp your personality or reflect the history of the house with a flourish. It's a well-used room – people walk through it every hour of the day – but no one actually spends much time there, so you can afford to be daring.
If your hall is long, narrow and dark – Victorian, in other words – then don't despair. You can inject some drama with clever lighting, says Sally Storey, design director of John Cullen and author of Lighting by Design.
"Try breaking up the symmetry by creating some contrast, by using recessed downlights to create a wall wash on one side and put some recessed floor washers on the other side. You should avoid central downlights as they won't break up the space at all. If you have space, then a table light will also provide a soft glow that introduces another layer of light," she says.
"Another trick is to light the far end of the hall, or the landing above, which will draw the eye into the house, making it feel bigger. Using mirrors on one side will also do this, and reflect the lights at the same time.
"I always advise the use of dimmers in a hall. It creates drama for evenings; but also, if you have rooms on either side that have been dimmed for a relaxing atmosphere, a glaringly bright hall can be a real shock."
The temptation is to try and keep it light and bright, particularly if it's a small space – but Campbell says you can be more daring.
"The main thing to remember is that it has other rooms leading off it, so you must have a colour that will go with many others."
But you don't have to be neutral. You can have a darker, more dramatic, shade than that of the sitting room which will give a hint of what is to come.
A large mirror will bounce light around the hall, and the long walls can be a great place to hang a series of pictures, which will add personality without taking up space.
Interior designer Sara Bonfield (www.sarabonfield.com; 020-7619 3544) suggests using subtle blocks of colour for a clean, contemporary look.
"Colour plays a big part in creating mood. Try using neutrals with flashes of strong, bright citrus colours on doorknobs or the edge of shelves," she says.
"You could also paint the banisters different shades of the same colour, or, if monochrome is your thing, bring in some details in the textures and materials."
Carpet is hard to keep clean, given the amount of wear and tear it will get, advises Campbell. She suggests looking at wooden floors or choosing stone, which is much easier to maintain, and perhaps starting a carpet at the bottom of the stairs.
Again, you might be tempted for pale floors to lighten a traditionally dark space, but think of the muddy boots and bikes and restrain yourself. You don't want to be constantly cleaning it. Go for a darker, more practical colour and use clever lighting instead.
There probably isn't much room for furniture in the average hall. A pew for sitting on while you are putting on shoes, and for storing things, is great if you can fit it in. Otherwise, it's probably going to be no more than a narrow console table or a ledge.
"Try to keep the space as clear as possible," says Campbell. "If you can find a cupboard for coats that isn't right by the front door, that will stop everything looking a mess. A cupboard will also hide all manner of sins. But if you haven't go room, then think about some beautiful Victorian brass or china hooks and mount them on a board on the wall."
For a quirky coat hanger that won't take up much space, Bonfield suggests buying a coat stand wall sticker and screwing hooks on in the right place for a trompe l'oeil effect.
Hugo Tugman, an architectural expert and founder of Architect Your Home, suggests building clever storage to maximise the space. "You can be really creative in a small space, and getting the storage right can make all the difference," he says.
"Think about framing doorways with shelving. This can look really attractive and give you lots more storage space. And try to find multi-purpose furniture – a sturdy box can double up as a seat with the addition of a cushion."
But the main areas to work on are the cupboard under the stairs and even the stairs themselves, says Tugman. "That cupboard is often underused. You can install a downstairs toilet or create a home office.
"These days, there are all sorts of clever staircases that use the space under the steps. We had one client who had pull-out stairs to store all the shoes and was a really neat way not to clutter up the house."
This is an expensive option at up to £5,000 – but, then again, when each member of the family has his own drawer for shoes, gloves, hats and scarves, you might think it was money well spent.
* For clever coat hooks, the Hidden Artshop is fantastic. Its shoe storage is well worth a look, and its ranges ideal if you haven't got much space but want to inject a little personality (www.hiddenartshop.com)
* Graham and Green offers a huge selection of stylish mirrors as well as some great lighting solutions (www.grahamandgreen.co.uk)
* The Holding Company has a good range of consoles, umbrella stands and storage boxes (www.theholdingcompany.co.uk)
* A Place For Everything is ideal for shoe and post racks (www.aplaceforeverything.co.uk).