A foyer should be a welcoming space that introduces visitors to the house and simplifies the logistics of entering, exiting, greeting visitors and receiving packages and mail.

To do all these tasks well, it takes practical surfaces, functional furniture and decoration in harmony with the rooms to which it connects.No foyer is complete without a mirror and surface for placing objects, and the next logical addition is a place to sit down, says Beverly Ellsley, a designer in Westport, Conn.

"It would definitely make sense to have also something welcoming like a vase of flowers," adds Ellsley.

If your house does not have a foyer and you want one, there are several possibilities, says Thomas Hills Cook, senior interior designer at Armstrong World Industries in Lancaster, Pa. You could build a small one-story vestibule onto the front of the house. The new space will conserve heat as well as provide a place to greet people.

Another way to get a foyer, without adding on, is to screen off the area around the door by building a full or half wall or by placing a piece of furniture - finished on both sides - between the door and the rest of the room. Faux or real architectural columns and tall bookcases are also useful as a means of screening off the entryway, while also providing storage.

It's hard to visualize how a free-standing wall or a large piece of furniture will affect the layout of the room. So try out your idea by making a craft paper or cardboard dummy in the projected size and shape, suggests Cook.

Paper carton material is usually available free from the supermarket and, for the relatively small trouble and expense, the dummy piece can reduce the risk of adding something permanent and expensive that you don't like.

If the small area you've created seems confining or claustrophobic, mirror one wall or hang a mirror on it. Use concealed cove lighting where ceiling meets wall to create the illusion of natural light. Another idea if there is room is to create a small niche for a piece of furniture or a decorative statue on a pedestal. Light this alcove from below or above.

Lighting for a foyer can be accomplished with recessed spotlights, track lighting, wall sconces, a ceiling fixture or a combination of these.

Since the area is usually merely a pass-through, you can often afford to be more extravagant and daring than in larger, more lived-in rooms.

"It's a lot less expensive to put marble down in a 6-by-8-foot foyer than in a 17-by-22-foot room," said Ellsley, who added that "above all else, foyers are places to use exuberant color or wallpaper with which you can get a bit of drama quickly."

Ellsley recently had a mural executed in the foyer of an 18th-century-style home. The painting reflected the surrounding countryside and among its motifs was a leafy tree that continued up the stairs to the second floor.

If you live in an apartment with a windowless foyer designated by the builder to serve as a dining area, forget it.

"Most people would prefer not to eat a meal in a tiny windowless room," said Ellsley. Instead, use the space as a foyer and find another place for dining.

It's typical in traditional homes for the foyer to be situated between the living room and dining room. In that case, emphasize a color in the foyer that is present in both of the other rooms, suggests Cook.

If the living room is mostly beige, add red accents in pillows, window treatment, upholstery fabric or floor covering. In the dining room choose a fabric or wall covering with red in it. Then create a red foyer. It's dramatic and the result will be a cohesive design that unites the three rooms.

"You may not be able to live with a red living room, but a red foyer is fine," said Ellsley.

For practicality, select a hard-wearing floor that can withstand tracked-in mud, snow and rain. A traditional idea for foyer floors that has withstood the test of time is white and black squares or diamonds in vinyl or ceramic tiles. You can also paint or stencil a hard-surface floor and cover the design with polyurethane for durability. A small rug that can be washed or cleaned is attractive and easy to maintain.

Foyers should be in character with the rest of the house. If you are decorating with an American country theme elsewhere, decorate the foyer with a mural in naive style, stencil the walls and ceiling, or put up a wallpaper in an American country theme. On a smaller scale, hang a picture that ties in with the rest of the house.

Some homes, such as the early 20th-century cottage, are meant to open directly onto the living room. In that case, don't try to disguise the absence of a foyer. Instead, hunt for an antique that can function as a complete foyer all by itself. An example is that common 19th-century item known as a hall tree. It combines a bench, mirror and hooks in a single piece.