10 Aug Enfilades
Enfilade spatial arrangments have always been one of my favourite types of interior layouts. Much used in the past, particularly in France, it’s not as common in modern homes, which in North America tend to favour the traditional British arrangement of a centre (or side) hall with separate rooms opening off it. I think that’s a pity, since enfilade plans create a sense of mystery, surprise and intimacy. There’s a subtle, intuitive quality to them; they seem to speak to something in the human soul. The effect is magical.
The architectural term enfilade refers to an arrangement of interconnected rooms in a row, with one room opening directly into the next. In its simplest form, “enfilade” describes spaces arranged in sequence along an axis. In reality, it becomes a sequential revelation of architectural features that stirs curiosity and forces our movement forward. As a design idiom, it’s both ancient and compelling.
The idea of rooms opening in sequence is a very ancient form. Hallways waste a lot of space and building material; and as humble “shotgun” homes in the old American west can demonstrate, building rooms on to the back of a house one by one as required is a convenience born of necessity. A hallway, is by its very shape and purpose, a transient space, and the rooms it leads to are dead ends. There is no sense, practical or figurative, of a journey, no mystery.
But the enfilade layout of grand European houses served another purpose as well. Traditionally, the further back in the home you went, the more private it became; the front entrance opened on to a grand salon for entertaining, then perhaps a drawing room for more intimate conversing, a dining room, and so on, till at last one reached the private apartments of those living there, far from the public eye.
Even if you are not blessed with this beautiful, graceful layout, one can imitate the enfilade’s mood of discovery, or momentum towards a “reward,” if the home has sightlines that allow rooms to be seen from one another. From a front entrance, the view through to a wall of windows along the back of the house can be enhanced by the placement of a central vignette in the final room, such as a table with a beautiful vase of flowers, “pulling” you towards a room overlooking a garden. Or perhaps a sequence of rooms where the colours play on the development of public to private, growing deeper and more intimate in tone as you move towards the back, or the reverse – darkness to light, from small to grand, the enfilade arrangement can be enhanced in many ways creating a journey which piques our curiosity and rewards the senses.