“A most captivating enfilade.”

by Patricia Cove

A room is composed of many things: floors made of wood, ceilings of plaster, walls of raised panels. Most people experience a space by visually absorbing what may be hung on those walls, the styles of the furnishings resting on those floors, or the lighting fixtures hung from the ceiling. There are also other elements that affect our experience within a space that few people even realize.

As we stand within a space, our senses take in the elements that are in close proximity, but there are other elements that consciously or unconsciously contribute greatly to a space without our explicit recognition. These features are very simply described as “views,” but what they contribute are as complex as psychology itself.

These “views” occur naturally within any space and become visible through architectural elements within the space. In their book “The Decoration of Houses,” Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman speak of the importance of doors and windows within a space.

“In the decorative treatment of a room, the importance of openings can hardly be overestimated,” the book notes. “In fact, it is chiefly because of the decorative value of openings, that rooms produce such a satisfactory and harmonious impression.”

What Wharton and Codman are saying is that it is the doors and windows that allow for the views to add to the experience of the space. One of the more specific view experiences comes from an architectural technique known as “enfilade.” An enfilade is an axial arrangement of doorways that allows the observer not only to experience the space in which they are standing, but also, to glimpse sections of several adjoining rooms. These sight lines serve to draw one’s eye to these new and expanding spaces, creating a curiosity and a desire to see and discover what is beyond.

The open floor plans of today cannot offer this experience fully, but more historic architecture often exhibits this architectural feature. In my profession, I am often asked how to treat these closely aligned spaces. You should, of course, consider each room individually, but it is also important to consider each room as part of a whole, maintaining the flow and being careful not to disrupt the visual impression. This can be accomplished by using complementary colors – the wall color of one room, becoming the trim color in the adjoining room.

A second method would be to incorporate colors within the same palette, using different shades of the same color family with a consistent trim color throughout. Although these methods are most successful, there are other techniques that could be equally as acceptable in emphasizing the experience of enfilade.

Probably the more common experience of a “view” is to simply look out a window. Much can be written about windows, but I am not referring to “treatments” in this regard. I am referring to the views that a window can provide as you peer through them.

My home is located within two blocks of the highest point in the city. When it was built in 1949, a very small, double-hung window was placed on the west facing wall of the master bedroom. On my first evening in the home, I was stunned to see through that small opening, one of the most glorious sunsets I had ever seen. I imagined the view to cover more than 50 miles, across a series of valleys, tree tops and mountains, church steeples and museum towers. I couldn’t believe that this home had been sited with this view, and such a small opening had been provided to see it.

One of the first projects that I took on was enlarging that window. Now whenever I enter that bedroom, I am greeted with a spectacular view that greatly enhances the entire feeling of the room. Even though your home may not sit at a city’s high point, windows can add even more than glorious sunsets. They provide views to flowers and gardens, red berries and brown bird nests, tall bushes and trailing branches, and in this season, the glories of fall – all becoming integral factors in how you experience the room in which you are standing.

So I leave you with some new thoughts. Next time you enter a room that you love, look through the doors, around the corners, up the stairs and through the windows, making sure you enjoy the view.

Patricia Cove is the principal of Architectural Interiors and Design, and can be reached through her website.