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Published Feb. 15, 2008

It meets us coming and going and sometimes in between. Hardworking and multifunctional, the front foyer may be the most neglected area in our living spaces.

Yet it's the most important.

Grand or humble, defined or casual, the front foyer is a place that should open its arms in welcome, catching keys and backpacks and cell phones, as well as showing off that great-looking piece of artwork or storage bench you discovered in an antique shop.

It should also look great. A foyer decorated with panache stands to make a favorable first impression of a home: It can pique the interest of potential buyers or simply give guests a good feeling when they walk in.

"I call it 'the landing spot,'" says Megan Gregory of Welcome Home Re-Design and who is known to her Tampa Bay area clients as the "House M.D."

"There is one thing I always recommend to clients for that spot: a closed cabinet that has doors and drawers where you can keep things," Gregory says. "It doesn't have to be expensive, either. You can buy it at Pier 1 or go for a simple organizer at Lowe's or Home Depot and paint it to match."

Gregory suggests outfitting the foyer with baskets for balls (if you have kids), plenty of hooks for wayward keys and purses, and attractive all-weather boxes outside the front door for shoes. If you don't have room for a cabinet, choose another dual functioning piece of furniture instead like bench seating that lifts up for storage.

Monica Ricci, national organizing expert and book author, who is also an organizing adviser to Office Depot and a regular on HGTV's Mission Organization, suggests first thinking about the real purpose of your front foyer. Is it actually used on a regular basis or merely decorative?

"If you're like most people, the front door is used mainly for guests, whereas you and your family may enter through the garage or another entrance," Ricci says. "If this is the case, organizing the foyer is simple because its function is likely to be largely decorative, simply to create an inviting entrance way for guests and an attractive area for you as the homeowner. If, however, your front door is your main point of entry, you have a bit more work to do."

She advises first removing everything - books, clothing, backlogged mail - from the foyer and sorting it by family member.

If you use the front door every day, make room for things you take in and out of the house including jackets, purses, keys, wallets and small electronics.

"If there's no coat closet nearby, hang some decorative wall hooks to keep coats off the floor or purchase a free-standing coat rack. You can set up a mail processing station in the foyer as well by adding a small decorative wall sorter," she says.

She also recommends decorative hooks in a foyer for hanging purses and keys. But always make security a priority.

"If your front door has sidelight windows or there are other windows nearby where strangers could see these items, it's better to add a small storage table or credenza and keep these personal items in a drawer or cabinet instead," she says.

Judy Kincaid, a professional home stager from Wesley Chapel who owns Designed to Sell Home Staging, says she focuses on aesthetics more than anything else in the front foyer.

"It's the first impression of a home, so it has to look good," she says.

It's important to think about what type of foyer you have, whether it's a formal, dedicated space or a casual, open area, typical in many condos, she says.

"I recently helped a client who had a condo on Harbour Island," she says. "Instead of a foyer, you just walked right into the kitchen and living room. He really needed a little something there."

Kincaid solved the problem by adding an inexpensive chest of drawers, a lamp and a mirror, which defined the entryway as well as gave her client a place to drop his keys and mail.

If your entryway and budget are small, no need to scrimp on style: "You can go to Target and buy a small chest for $100," Kincaid says.

She also suggests including an attractive area rug, a mirror, plants, lighting and paint.

Choose a paint that cleans up well and in a color that's harmonious with your other decor.

"The color should flow well into the rest of the house," she says. "You don't want bright red leading in to neutral rooms. "

Being realistic about what kind of foyer you have does make a difference in what decorating choices are appropriate for your lifestyle.

"How a foyer is going to look if you have kids who are school age is different than how it's going to look if it's just you and your husband," says Standolyn Robertson, president of the National Association of Professional Organizers.

If you're lucky enough to have a closet in the entryway, over-the-door shoe bags are great storage tools for anything you're tempted to toss in plain sight.

Don't forget the pets, she adds. Think about how you can hang or stow leashes as well as towels for wiping muddy paws.

The front foyer may well be more important than it appears at first glance.

"This is the bottom-line place," Robertson says. "It's the last place everyone checks before they go out the door."

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at