Today, the words foyer and vestibule are mostly interchangeable. Both describe entrances that are passage rooms to the central part of a building. However, while they do generally mean the same thing, there are small differences to each.
Vestibule is Latin in origin and stems from the word vestibulum, first appearing between 1615 and 1625. The definition of vestibule is "forecourt or entrance." Foyer stems from the Latin word focarium, which means "center of focus," and it first appeared between 1855 and 1860. The definition of foyer is "the lobby of a theater, hotel or apartment house or an entrance hall in a house or apartment."
Specific Characteristics of a Foyer
A foyer in a residence is usually a small area behind a front door that separates a home's main rooms from the outside of the house. Often, a foyer will contain a stairway to a home's second level and interior doorways to whatever rooms are attached to it on the ground level.
People sometimes store outerwear including jackets and umbrellas in foyers and sparsely decorate them with mirrors, side tables or hooks. A foyer can also contain a small closet for storage and a half bathroom to freshen up in before heading into the main part of a house.
More traditional or formal homes have larger foyers that generally share the same style as the rest of the house. Visitors and residents enter through the foyer, which is a more upscale, formal space than a mudroom or vestibule, and is generally used only by the residents of a home.
A foyer located in a larger building like an apartment building, a hotel, a concert venue or a theater is essentially a lobby. Much like a home's foyer, it's also a passageway to the outdoors. However, because of its size, it can double as a waiting or relaxation area. Some lobbies are large enough that they can accommodate restaurants, coffee shops, bars, large restrooms or a reception desk.
Specific Characteristics of a Vestibule
A vestibule is much like a foyer in that it's an entranceway to the main part of a building, but it's slightly different in that its primary purpose is to be a buffer between the inside and the outside in extreme weather. A vestibule keeps the interior of a building cool against the heat of summer and serves as a buffer from colder weather. In places like New York City, restaurants add temporary vestibules to their front door frames as cold weather approaches. Some of these can include vinyl windows or heating elements.
Vestibules are also prevalent in larger, more opulent buildings. They promote grandeur as they contrast a small space against a much larger one. They also keep the interior rooms to the building hidden from street view. A vestibule can serve as a storage space for a church, library or government building. In a bank, it may include an automatic teller machine that's accessible from the outside after business hours. This antechamber may have a secure entrance that requires a card to access.
A Mudroom is a Type of Vestibule
A mudroom is a landing room or vestibule between the inside and outside of a home. It's larger than a foyer and serves as a place where family members can remove soiled or wet outwear before entering the main part of the house. A mudroom's location is off to the back or side of a house and it often has storage for outerwear. It has easily cleanable floors and can also have a washer and dryer. A person who comes into a home wearing soiled clothes can remove them and clean them in a home's mudroom before entering.