Retro Design Dilemma — Kate’s entry way and built-in corner planter

mid-century-entryway-with-slate-floorReader Kate — who has a 1961 ranch and a darn nice name, te-he — also has a Retro Design Dilemma. Her entry way has a beautiful random multi-color slate floor, a tall window that lets in loads of light, and an original built-in corner planter. Her problem — how to put the planter area to good use in an area that’s kind of a tight squeeze. So, she is asking for our ideas to decorate this this space — which is small, but still so important, because it’s where “welcome” happens.


How to decorate a foyer with a built-in planter?

Here’s the full backstory. Kate writes:

Hello Pam and Kate!

I am looking for ideas on how to decorate my entry way planter. We recently purchased our 1961 ranch and have been working very hard on getting it cleaned up and fresh. We bought it for the amazing woodwork, built-in china cabinet, shadow box, and original kitchen and bathrooms.

mid-century-planter-buil-in-triangelIt has a great retro feel that we searched hard and long for. It has been a lot of fun to start collecting mid century furniture and décor. However, we have not been able to find the right thing to fill the space of the entryway planter.

mid-century-built-in-corner-planter-entrywayWe are open to taking the planter back to its somewhat original state, but we were not fans of the fake, dirty palm-like tree that was in there when we moved in. We are also open to covering it with a nice piece of wood to be able to set whatever we fill the space with on. Another thing we were thinking of was covering it with the wood and then just showcasing art on the wall above it. There is nice natural light that comes in the window and a recessed light in the ceiling above.

mid-century-entryway-planterThe entryway opens to the basement stairs, main level hallway and living room. We would love to have the area make a statement when people walk in the door but we need your help!



Thanks, Kate, for sending in your question. This is a good one — we haven’t talked about foyers much. Fun!

Kate’s idea to decorate this entry way with built in planter:


In order to make Kate’s entryway more inviting, add mid century style and make it feel more put together — I made a few key changes that focus on highlighting the planter — helping make it feel more unified in the space:

  • Remove the shelf on the wall opposite the stairway — the shape was chunky and it sticks out into the space, obstructing the clear path and view to the front door.
  • To break up the beige and add more interest, I’d paint the wall with the entry door one color (I chose a burnt orange) and the planter wall another (like the deep teal I chose). When selecting colors for the entryway, it is important to make sure they complement the colorful slate flooring.
  • As an improvement on the dirty, plastic palm tree that was in the planter when Kate moved in, an easy to care for snake plant is a period appropriate plant choice that is slow growing and compact to fit the space well. Covering the remaining exposed soil in the planter with river rocks makes for a finished look.
  • Kate has a recessed light fixture above the planter — so it would be relatively easy to swap out the recessed light for a pendant light fixture like this great mid century pottery pendant lamp from Etsy seller lovintagefinds — which coordinates nicely with the chosen accent wall colors.
  • To finish off the space — a mid century starburst clock like this model from Ebay seller katsajie would be the perfect finishing touch.

Pam’s idea to decorate this entry way:


Well, you didn’t quite ask for this, Kate, but after staring at your entry way a long time, over several days, I thought that this situation might be one where, if it were my house, I might decided to rework the architecture.

So why?

  • I think that Retro Renovation Kate’s solution is quite nice, if you want to keep the planter as is. Of course, you could choose different pendant lights, different plants, different wall art. 
  • Moreover, after staring and thinking… I came to the conclusion that the entire entry way looks kind of… scrunched. Like, too much jam-packed by that front door: a front door, the sidelight (name for tall skinny windows next to doors), the planter, the closet, and then Boom the staircase to the lower level. Interestingly, before RRKate and I posted our ideas (a few hours after we posted the question) — numerous readers commented that they thought the planter did not look original. I tend to agree – it may have been added later.
  • In addition, that planter… it’s not big enough to hold much. In fact — I think RR Kate’s plants look… scrunched.
  • And NOTE: I don’t really like what appears to be a sharp edge on the planter. In particular, if you have a weebit (a child) in the house, you need to consult with a properly licensed professional to look at that edge to decide whether/how to protect someone from accidentally falling on that edge and hurting themselves. Story: When I was in junior high, we lived in a house with a fireplace hearth made of sharp-edged Bedford stone. Sure enough, one day my toddler sister tripped and teetered and fell face-first onto that edge. She came within a mere inch of slicing her right eye open. I still remember holding her in my lap — I could see bone through the gash! — while my mother rushed us all to the hospital. My sister still has the scar.
  • So back to the design dilemma… I thought: What would it look like to remove the planter… to restore that portion of the floor with slate to match (okay, this will be tricky to tray and match, but random multi color slate is still available, and a skilled craftsman could match the grout, I bet… Then, center the front door… and add sidelights to both sides. I think that the Photoshop mockup that RR Kate made looks quite nice.
  • Also note, I believe there are door installations with sidelights that are more integrated. For this mock up, we just replicated the sidelight you already had.

And reader Charles makes this entry way design:

mid-century-entryway-with-slate-floor-CSThere have been tons of great reader comments on this story — including one from reader Charles — who even took the time to create a mock up for his solution (above). Charles writes:

Kind of a Kate/Pam combo here, but I would lose the shelf and mirror, remove the planter, and make both the entry-wall and (ex)planter-wall the same color. Toss in a Crestview entry door and sidelights, and you’re good!

Homeowner also contacted us after all these comments started coming in, and says that in response, her husband peeked under the planter and found that there is slate flooring underneath. Now it is up to them to decide the degree of time, money and change they’d like to use in their retro entry way.

Readers, what would you do
to dress up Kate’s planter and entry way?

Categoriesliving room
  1. mark says:

    make the planter into a bench for taking off shoes-
    under would be storage.
    above a vintage wall hung coat rack
    and a hanging plant in front of that narrow window.

  2. Karen says:

    At the least, I would switch the way the door opens so one is not immediately confronted with, or backed into, the stairway. While that would hide the planter (which I would remove), it would be safer.

  3. Scott says:

    I’d call a built-in planter more of a godsend than a dilemma. 🙂

    One little tweak I think would make a big difference is if you could stain or darken the grout between the stones. Right now there’s so much contrast between the floor and the planter that both are fighting for your attention. Let the floor be the star and the base of the planter be more of a supporting player.

    I think dark instead of bright around the stones will make the stones look richer too and allow your eye to travel around the space better, from floor, to the base of the planter, then upwards along whatever interesting things you end up putting in the planter.

    An colored uplight (or lights) in the planter would really give it some drama at night too.

  4. Mary Elizabeth says:

    Too bad none of the readers on this site have any opinions! 🙂

    After seeing the pictures, I did think the stone on the planter was a suspicious attempt to match the floor but didn’t quite do it. Now that we are hearing that the planter was an add-on, with original slate floor underneath, I agree with those who say to take it out and clean off the tile. Not sure what Entryway Kate’s budget is, but relocating the door can be very expensive in an old house. Think about what is going to have to happen on the outside also, with reinstalling window trim, replacing and matching siding, etc. Also, what is it going to do to the balance of the outdoor entry to move the door over a couple of feet? You have to think about that.

    I do agree that Charles’ idea of having a different door with ’60s style horizontal door lights would be great, whether or not you can afford to move the door. But in midcentury homes, especially the modest ones like mine, the entryway is already cramped, and removing anything that is or looks like furniture or built-ins would be a plus visually and would prevent your guests from swooping in with their capes and what not and knocking over whatever you stow in that corner.

    How about just a vintage umbrella stand in place of the planter?

    On the formerly-planter wall, go with a hanging piece of artwork that won’t fade, has some physical or visual texture and goes with your furnishings, like a Marimekko fabric on a canvas stretcher (only if you have UV protected glass), an old metal Bovano’s or Sirocco piece or some lovely brass dragons. Or you could paint a geometric wall design with some really popping colors on off-white. (Remember the pristine house on this site we all liked but decided none of us could live in? those elongated diamonds would be perfect for this wall, either painted flat or made out of plywood and hung up.)

    What I have always done, though, and what works for many of us who have recently moved into a new mid-century gem, is to wait and see. The perfect wall art for that entry will fall in your lap some Saturday while you are at a tag sale.

  5. Ann says:

    I love the planter, whether it’s original or not. Put a live plant in it! It will thrive in the natural light, freshen your air, and be period appropriate. If it’s a south-facing window, you might be able to grow a blossoming plant or even a citrus tree!

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