Finding Your Niche
View from the living room with niche as a focal point, allowing light to filter through. Photo by Maxim D. Nasab
It’s what’s inside that counts, we’re often told. And that’s as true of a wall in your home as it is your personality.
Because behind that drywall is a secret space that you can carve out and creatively adorn – the ideal spot for storing items on shelving, displaying décor or adding extra light to a living space. Welcome to the wonderful world of wall niches, where rigid design rules take a recess and hollowed space can be hallowed space.
“A wall niche is a wonderful way to display special items or create unexpected storage like a built-in bookcase or linen closet,” says Jessica Boudreaux, interior designer with Boudreaux Design Studio in Miami. “Whether they serve a practical or decorative function, they should be esthetically pleasing. Best of all, they don’t take up extra square footage in your home.”
Not only can a wall niche be a great space saver, “but it can also be a conversation piece envied by guests and a feature that could add resale value to your home when it’s time to sell,” says Michael Gottsacker, a homeowner in St. Paul, Minn. Spending less than $100 on materials, he self-built a wall niche in his kitchen that functions as a spatially efficient spice rack.
Chicago-based Leslie Markman-Stern, ASID, principal of Leslie M. Stern Design, Ltd., says a well-crafted wall niche can serve as the eye-catching focal point in nearly any room.
“For example, you can build a niche in a living room wall and place a sculpture or unique piece of art within it. It can then be highlighted by installing an LED light bulb at the top of the niche interior,” says Markman-Stern.
Drew Henry, principal designer with Design Dudes in San Antonio, believes the best spots for a wall niche are the bathroom, hallway, den or living room.
“In living rooms, it can serve as a great accent feature and add architectural interest to a large or flat area,” says Henry. “And bathrooms always need a little extra storage and are typically too small of a space to add shelving or a furniture piece.”
A wall niche can even replace your bathroom’s existing medicine cabinet, suggests Henry. Simply remove the old one and cut back the drywall all the way to the studs to expand the recessed space, and use the edges of the studs as your bottom shelf and side pieces. Finish out the space with shiplap and wood shelving, or install glass shelves and tile for a more modern spa look.
Creating a pass-through niche in a wall that adjoins two rooms can be a worthy improvement, too, “one that brings in more light to your spaces and makes the two rooms feel bigger and more inviting,” says Maxim Nasab, principal/architect with Tallahassee, Fla.-headquartered Apexx Architecture, LLC. “I designed such a niche between my kitchen and living room. It allows the light from all my windows to penetrate the spaces and flood it with illumination without the huge cost of tearing the wall down. We also use this niche to showcase treasures from our family’s travels around the world.”
The key to determining where a niche can be built is to use a stud finder and measuring tape to choose the right spot in the wall – ideally a cavity between vertical and horizontal studs that won’t require you to remove any studs, which you want to avoid in a load-bearing wall. The internet has plenty of tutorials for do-it-yourselfers to complete this project; but it’s probably best to hire an expert for the job to so that you don’t compromise your wall or its contents within, including pipes and electrical conduit, and to ensure quality craftsmanship.
“A contractor can best locate the studs, determine the proper strength of the horizontal surface on which you can store or display objects, and add the proper finish, from natural wood veneer to painted lacquer to stone,” Boudreaux adds.
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