You may not have thought too much about alcove ideas before you moved in, then grown frustrated as you tried to arrange furniture around awkward spaces.
Alcoves are usually associated with period properties, where they are created by a chimney breast jutting out in the centre of a room. Typically, these double recesses either side of the fireplace are reclaimed as storage space in bedrooms and living room ideas, with built-in shelving being a popular way to utilise the space.
But this isn’t the only way to use the nooks created by an alcove. Nor is it the only type of alcove you’ll find in a property. Under-stair areas, awkward corners in loft-extensions and odd spaces created by renovations and extensions can also create alcoves. But, rather than ignore them or hide them, you can make these tricky structural recesses work in your favour.
Inspirational alcove ideas
Discover opportunities to be smarter with space. From much-needed storage, to cool decorative features and even functional family areas, we have all sorts of clever ideas for alcoves that you’ll love.
1. Go low with a built-in bench
Create a relaxed, modern vibe by running low-level shelving in the alcoves either side of a chimney breast. Simple and unfussy, so perfect alongside a modern fireplace, one single long-line shelf can work as a TV bench or a display area for artwork. Fill the space underneath with a couple of chunky baskets for storing games kit and media or stashing logs and kindling.
2. Set up a reading nook for little ones
Create a quiet zone for reading away from the hustle and bustle of the living room or kitchen-diner. A low-level shelving unit can double up as a bench, topped off with a row of cushions or seat pads, and gives stowing space underneath for books, toys and games.
Make the space feel extra cosy by painting the bottom section of wall in a warm, tonal shade. Add a couple of book shelves above within easy grabbing distance.
3. Build diagonal cubbies for books
Make book storage a statement feature by creating a diagonal arrangement in an alcove. Use wooden cubes or box shelving, fixed to the wall diagonally instead of in a regular, straight line. Paint shelves dark to match the wall for a polished look, try dramatic emerald green, dark navy or dusky plum – book covers and spines will pop against darker tones.
4. Create pockets of colour
Create a breakout area by painting an alcove a contrast colour, creating a thoughtful bedroom or living room paint idea. Go just a couple of shades darker than your wall colour for a subtle, understated look or make maximum impact by choosing a dark, decadent tone for greater contrast.
An easy way of sectioning off a small area for a dressing table or work zone, just slot in a slimline desk or console table to fill the space and add a stool or chair to sit at.
5. Create ombre-effect shelves in an alcove
Make a feature of simple floating shelves by painting the walls behind in tonal shades. Take colours from the same family, starting with the darkest tone at the bottom and going lighter as you go upwards, to give an ombre effect. Soft shades of green, create a calm, tranquil feel, with a display of house plant ideas, greenery and ceramics in similar tones.
6. Set up a serving nook
Put a narrow dining room alcove to good use by slotting in a set of slimline shelves. Use short lengths of kitchen worktop or scaffolding planks, resting on simple wooden brackets fixed to the wall. Slot in a trolley underneath and fill shelves with tableware, serving kit and condiments to save a trek to the kitchen each time you need something.
7. Boost bedroom storage with neat built-ins
Ease the pressure on wardrobe space by making use of alcoves for an extra bedroom storage idea. Use a couple of Ikea Platsa freestanding cabinets (minus the feet) and repurpose as wall-hung storage – use hidden fixings inside to secure them to the walls. Kit out the interior, depending on what you want to store – add shelves for folded items or a short clothes rail to hang shirts and blouses.
8. Slot slimline shelves in at the end of a bath
Boxed-in pipework can leave awkward nooks for small bathroom ideas. Turn unused areas into a storage opportunity by adding narrow shelving and using the space to store soaps and toiletries. Paint shelves to match panelling or woodwork to give a bespoke, fully-fitted look.
9. Use picture ledges for a display area
Find a use for shallow alcoves by creating a display area for artwork. Narrow picture ledges require minimal depth and are ideally sized for holding picture frames, postcards and small decorative items. Match ledges to your wall colour so that they blend in and artwork stands out. Displays are easy to rearrange with an informal set-up like this, just slot in extra items like greetings cards, decorations and greenery as the seasons change.
10. Create an entertainment unit
If you have a deep recess in your alcove, why not make the most of it by using it to house your TV and do away with a traditional entertainment unit? Just ensure the bottom shelf has enough height/width to accommodate your existing set, or consider investing in a new one that does. Or if you’re looking for a ways to hide a tv you could add doors to conceal the TV, painting the doors the same colour as the surrounding alcove colour.
11. Create a cosy reading corner
An alcove is a natural spot for a reading corner idea, a little oasis away from the hustle and bustle of a busy family home. Add a chair, a table where you can rest a cup of tea or glass of wine, and shelves for books. Paint the walls a darker colour – and the shelves, too, so they don’t distract – that will draw you in to this cosy sanctuary. Make sure there are cushions and throws so you can cuddle up.
12. Choose a classic treatment with built-in bookcases
The go-to solution for living room alcoves is to fill them with built-in storage. It’s a no-brainer if you live in a period property, although there are better solutions if you prefer a contemporary look.
In this smart grey living room the owners have coordinated the look by painting the chimney breast in the same colour as the furniture.
13. Build in a space-saving bed
Attic spaces can be incredibly difficult to furnish – especially when you have to negotiate a sloping roof. But this attic bedroom idea proves that the task is far from impossible. This deep alcove is the perfect spot for a bed, and the narrower nook within it has been filled with shelves.
Extra bedding can be stashed in the large drawer under the mattress, and a simple wall-mounted light negates the need for a bedside table. As examples of maximising space go, this room is up there with the very best.
14. Measure up for a dresser
Building kitchen furniture around an alcove can be tricky. So why not make things easy for yourself and pop a dresser there instead. You might be lucky enough to find an off-the-peg design that fits perfectly into the gap. Failing that, you could contact a carpenter or bespoke kitchen company to build a made-to-measure piece for a smart kitchen storage idea.
15. Create a nook for bathroom essentials
The reality is, a little bit of storage next to your WC can be extremely practical. A simple shelf makes the most of an awkward bathroom alcove or recess, providing a savvy bathroom storage idea. Start with a basket or bucket of loo roll underneath so that you’re never caught short – then a few accessories on the shelf above. This might be a good spot to store nappies, extra hand towels and wet wipes.
16. Indulge in your favourite pastime
If you’re taking the traditional route and building furniture into your alcove, why not turn it into a dedicated space for your favourite hobby? You could create a craft corner for knitting and sewing, or keep your record collection here. Add a turntable, a decent pair of headphones and a comfy chair, and you’ve got the perfect easy listening spot!
17. Move your bed into the alcove
Make bedtime extra cosy by positioning your bed within an alcove. Painting the wall behind in a feature colour makes it appear almost as an extension of the headboard. Instantly, a simple divan becomes so much more with this thoughtful DIY headboard idea of sorts.
18. Be practical in a guest room
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.
19. Get creative with how you display within the space
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. Add interesting diagonal shelves to further the artistic impact.
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?
20. Create a grown-up work space
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.
21. Take cupboards from floor to ceiling
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?Becuaes you are working with a recessed alcove space the cupboards won’t eat into the bedroom floor plan – because the space is already set back from the wall for better alignment.
22. Pop in a mini bar
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. The cabinet above has plenty of space for wine and glasses, and frees up precious space in the fridge and kitchen cupboards?
23. Make space for pampering
The combination of a bay window and a fireplace alcove needn’t cause excess design difficulties. Work through it by creating a neat little beauty or 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.
24. Camouflage awkward recesses with pattern
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 idea, with a fireplace at the centre of the scheme.
Retro prints like this one work well – busy enough to distract you from the different depths of the wall, it also matches the fireplace tiles, and almost seems to pull the walls forward. Oh, and don’t go hanging pictures or shelving on it – this will just confuse things!
25. Opt for freestanding storage
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). That’s not to mention it can be costly to have bespoke built-in storage, making freestanding a great budget solution.
Use smart paint choices to recede your shelving into an alcove recess – visually, if not physically. For instance, here the grey tones of the wooden shelving blend with the dove grey shade on the chimney breast, keeping the focus on the rest of the decor, as opposed to the stacks in the alcoves.
26. Turn a recess into a dressing area
As good idea for little ladies as it is full-grown women, a dressing area will make picking outfits for the day ahead an organised and enjoyable occasion. Include a chair for ‘dumping’ in case you’re indecisive over fashion choices, and full-length mirror for taking it all in.
27. Use the space for a shower
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.
28. Build in a seat
In an old farmhouse kitchen, where the stove has been removed, turn a brick chimney into a casual seating area. This area is ideal for guests to sit and chat with you while you’re cooking. A wooden beach seat, a scattering of comfy cushions, and this dead space takes on a whole new lease of life.
What can you do with an alcove?
What you can do with an alcove depends on your needs and budget, also in which room you are looking to maximise an alcove. Using the awkward space for storage is one of the most obvious design solutions. If you have the budget, look to tailor the space to suit your exact requirements by seeking bespoke shelving or cupboards to use the space from floor to ceiling seamlessly. However there’s still huge potential to use the space smarter and keep costs low, by putting up floating shelves yourself and choosing freestanding furniture to fill the space.