Whether it's a living room corner, a kitchen recess or even a tricky nook in a bathroom, there are clever designs for alcoves that will make a huge difference to the way you use your available living space
Alcoves are most frequently associated with period properties, where they are created by an original fireplace and chimney breast jutting out in the centre of a room. Typically, these double recesses are reclaimed to become storage space in living rooms and bedrooms, with built-in shelving being a popular way to utilise the available space. However, this is not the only way to use the nooks created by an alcove – nor is it the only type of tricky structural recess you’ll find in a property.
Under-stair areas, awkward corners in loft-extensions and odd spaces created by renovations and additions to a house or flat can also create alcoves. But, rather than ignore them or hide them, you can make these empty living spaces work in your favour. After all in contemporary homes, every inch of space is an opportunity to be clever with your interior decorating, whether it’s designing smart alcove storage, creating a cool decorative feature or a functional family area.
Built-in alcove storage can look quite traditional in a period property, which is great if that’s the look your after but if you want a more modern finish, freestanding storage might be a better fit for you (excuse the pun). Use smart paint choices to recede your shelving into an alcove recess – visually, if not physically. For instance, here a dark grey paint on the shelving contrasts with the lighter dove grey shade on the chimney breast; the lighter area comes to the forefront, keeping the focus on the rest of the decor, as opposed to the stacks in the alcoves.
The combination of a bay window and a fireplace alcove needn’t cause excess design difficulties. Work through it by creating a neat little work area like this, which benefits from the natural light filtering through the adjacent window. A pale wood desk and metal tolix chair combine for a smart country-style feel, while a single large art print on the wall behind the desk enhances the sense of this being a separate space.
Attic spaces are always a bit awkward, but you can turn these odd angles and alcoves created by boxed-in pipework to your advantage. Here, they make up a natural room divider between a cosy guest bed situated under the eaves and a handy bedroom basin and dressing area. Painting the alcoves in different colours enhances the zoned feeling still further.
Don’t leave your alcove walls empty – they’re practically begging for statement artworks to be hung on them. Whether you create a personal gallery with multiple pictures, or go bold with a single piece that continues your colour scheme – as here – your living room will benefit.
If you don’t have space for a cellar, but do have a penchant for wine, why not make way for your bottles in the most sociable of spaces – the living room. This alcove housing a tall stack of bottle racks is far better than a floor-standing drinks cabinet – mostly because, well, look how many bottles you can slot in between the floor and ceiling! Plus the seals make a colourful Damien Hirst-like polka dot feature…?
Get the look
Buy now: Dark Oak 90 Bottle Wine Rack, £120, John Lewis
Don’t need extra storage, and want to pretend your alcoves don’t actually exist? Use a wallpaper to camouflage them into a feature wall, with a fireplace at the centre of the scheme. Retro prints like this one work well – light enough in tone to keep the energy up but busy enough to distract you from the different depths of the wall, pair it with block colours elsewhere for a crisp, smart finish. Oh, and don’t go hanging pictures or shelving on it – this will just confuse things!
Take a leaf out of the book of early 20th-century houses, which often featured built-in bedroom storage like this. Floor-to-ceiling, flat-fronted wardrobes streamline the space, look crisp and clean and keep clutter hidden away. What more can you ask for?
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Buy now: Cotswold Fitted Wardrobes, John Lewis
Shabby chic design comes to kitchen alcoves with a simple dresser/ shelving upcycling project. Line the back of each shelf level with a different wallpaper – ideally with a similar style of pattern, for the best effect – and screw in some cup hooks. Not only do your shelves hold more AND look more interesting, you’ve maximised the otherwise dead space, too!
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Buy now: Bergen Wallpaper, £39 a roll, Wallpaper Direct
Use a bathroom recess to your advantage and install a streamlined shower enclosure (in an ideal world, it’s in addition to a beautiful freestanding bath!). Simple metro tiles and a classic glass shower screen make for a neat unit that adds to the overall feel in this luxurious bathroom.
Take a non-traditional approach to your alcoves, by keeping them free of storage – as this deep-coloured relaxing reading room does. The alcove itself is fitted with the same sophisticated black panelling as the rest of the adjacent wall, which in turn complements the gridwork of the bookshelves located on the back wall of the room. That’s what we call turning the space to your advantage.
In an old farmhouse kitchen, where the stove has been removed, turn a brick chimney into a casual seating area – ideal for guests to sit and chat with you when you’re cooking. A wooden beach seat, a scattering of comfy cushions, and this dead space takes on a whole new lease of life.
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Buy now: Appliquéd Character Cushions, £39, Graham & Green
It might seem counter-intuitive, but this pretty little girl’s room uses furniture to increase the sense of the alcoves’ size. While a large pastel-pink wardrobe draws attention to the space by the door, a dresser ‘widens’ the wall behind the bed frame, making the recessed sleeping space seem even more cosy and cocooned.
If you’re building or renovating an extension, why not make space in the plans for a grown-up work area. This little nook takes up barely any space, features storage for books and files, and feels like a private space in an open-plan area. Subtle and chic – one of our favourite design combinations.
Back in the day, an arched alcove could well have held a romantic loveseat, but nowadays the impact of a period feature like this can be multiplied with some smart spatial design. In an all-white room an unusual alcove papered in a pretty, decorative wallpaper makes a striking backdrop to a centred sofa. A console table behind holds mood lighting and a statement artwork, just to add the finishing touches to this glam space.
Get the look
Buy now: Caprifoglio Wallpaper, Designers Guild at Wallpaper Direct
When space is at a premium, utilise an in-between wall space like this to create additional storage. A neat wall-hung coat rack will keep coats, scarves and bags handy, and free up space in a wardrobe – a pretty fab solution for an otherwise empty nook.
Get the look
Buy now: Hornbeam Wallpaper, £97, Farrow & Ball
See? Those alcoves do have a design benefit, beyond your standard storage solutions. It’s time to get creative and update your space… Question is, which room of the house are you going to tackle first?