The Telegraph - Property advice: The room planner

30 October 2007

This week: Finding a niche for that recess.

Paula Robinson offers space-saving solutions, architectural advice and style tips.
Pause for a moment before you turn a recessed space into something practical like bookshelves or additional storage. Instead, take a long, lateral look and consider how the recess could creatively and aesthetically enhance the room. While much will depend on how wide and deep it is, and where it is located, a recess can add dimension and character to any room, and can easily become an eye-catching focal point.

In a living room, if the recessed space has sufficient depth, consider turning it into a built-in day bed: this offers valuable additional seating space, a cosy relaxation spot, or even an emergency guest bed. To add a sense of seclusion, consider full length curtains in a heavy or sheer fabric (held open with tie backs or hold backs). You can then shut out the world at will - but be sure to include appropriate task lighting in the day bed area.

Alternatively, use the recessed space to solve a dining area dilemma: create a dining booth for two (or four at a squeeze). Use an interesting piece of reclaimed wood as the dining surface, mount it perpendicular to the back wall of the recess, and flank it on both sides with built-in banquette seating in a style to suit. Don't worry if the ensemble juts into the room slightly beyond the confines of the recess. Consider painting the back wall of the recess in a contrast colour, and suffuse it with concealed lighting from below: this will distract the eye and add depth and intrigue.

For a contemporary look in a larger recess, try salvaged cinema seating (seats must flip up for ease of access) with a recycled plastic table top made from intriguing items such as discarded mobile phones, bright children's wellies, banknotes etc.

In a small room with a small recess, play with optical illusion: fool the eye into believing that there is a space beyond. Create the impression of a garden: pave the recess with pebbles or another type of outdoor flooring; mirror the entire back wall of the recess from floor to ceiling; fix a pair of tall, delicate wrought iron gates on either side of the recess and leave them ajar into the room; strategically place tall, leafy plants in decorative pots in the recess to add to the impression of an extended outdoor space beyond the gates. Consider a small water feature, if space allows.

If an outdoor theme doesn't appeal, the recess can still conjure the impression of leading to another room: mirror the back wall of the recess from floor to ceiling, but use the same floor covering as the rest of the room. Add a pair of louvred shutters, or a pair of glazed panelled doors left ajar into the room. Any doors or screens (including sliding Shoji screens) that allow the passage of light into the recess will work. The aim is to draw the eye and intrigue the onlooker as to what lies beyond.

When it comes to a large bathroom, a recessed space may seem ideal for housing the bath, but be wary: you could end up with a lot of open floor space and a bathroom that feels cavernous and austere. Consider turning the recessed space into a large walk-in shower, wet area, sauna or steam room, and placing the bath in the centre of the room or perpendicular to a window to take in a view.

To make a room feel larger, you can always create a recessed space - provided there is a fitted cupboard that can be adapted. In a claustrophobic hallway, remove the cupboard's door and dress the opening with a pair of fabric panels; replace the existing length of hanging rail with two rails mounted on either side to span the depth of the cupboard; mirror the back wall of the new recess and place a small bench in front of the mirror. This adds dimension to the hall, and also gives you somewhere to sit to put outdoor footwear on.

Style tips

# The shape and finish of a recessed space are vital: gently curved tops work well, especially to disguise what was once a door
# Add mood and task lighting to any recessed area to ensure that it's user-friendly
# To create a sense of continuity, use the same floor covering in the recess as the rest of the room. To highlight a clear separation of the two areas, opt for a contrast floor covering
# To avoid a botched look when turning a cupboard into a recessed space, all fittings (hanging rails, brackets, shelves) must be attractive. Lit glass shelves work particularly well to display shoes and other items

Useful contacts

Recycled plastic sheets made from kids' wellies, mobile phones, crushed CDs, water bottles: Smile Plastics,, 01743 850267

Old cinema seating: Lassco,, 020 7394 2100

Pebble flooring: De Ferranti,, 020 7384 4424

Natural flooring: Crucial Trading, 01562 825656

Showers & saunas: Nordic Saunas,, 01883 732400

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