Center Hall

Victorian houses were traditionally designed to stage a grand entrance or exit.  Owners demanded large and impressive center halls and often decorated them lavishly, for the room was the one private space that all social classes were guaranteed to see. 

John Ashbery’s center hall, which he sometimes also called the front hall, both aspires to and parodies this model.  The beautiful architecturally designed interior—rich wooden beams, high ceilings, elaborate fireplace, dim overhead lights and a mirror—creates a dark, gloomy and enveloping mood. 

Ashbery added small touches to enhance this feeling, including a regal umbrella stand and an open sewing table used to display a plate by the door, elaborate candelabras flanking a clock on the mantel (recalling exactly the mantelpiece display his grandparents created in the entrance to their Rochester home), handsome Chinese Chippendale furniture with a Moorish coffee table, two Chinese ginger jar lamps, and a collection of Hiroshige and Hokusai images on the walls.  This worldly compendium of things in the small space produces an immediate impression; a visitor feels a little overwhelmed and impressed to be in the presence of this clearly well-traveled home owner. 

There is a sense of mystery too, for even before taking in the hall, the visitor has seen something truly unexpected.  The very first sight inside the house as the inner door opens—because of the angle of entry—is actually the bright, violent painting of an assassination scene above the couch in the music room.  This brief and shocking spectacle, which contrasts sharply with the warmth and cozy darkness of the center hall, leaves a lingering sensation.