Decorative recesses

Alcoves create brilliant focal points and serve to enhance the character of the room. Ruth Dsouza Prabhu shows us how to create the right look.

Uniqueness is the key to interior design and this can be very hard to achieve. There are, however, a few interior design elements that lend themselves to innovation in the way they are executed.

Alcoves are one such element. “Alcoves, sometimes called ‘bay windows’, are a lovely cross between a window and a balcony. They allow the luxury of space next to a source of light and fresh air, yet provide the comfort and privacy of the indoors,” says Juhi Santani, a city-based interior designer.

Alcoves create brilliant focal points and serve to enhance the character of a room. All that needs to be done is plan the space carefully and execute it right. Alcoves can appear in a range of sizes and depths, depending on which, you can choose their placement and what goes in them.

Shilpa S Srinivas Kumar, a Bangalore-based interior designer explains how, traditionally, alcoves were made for shelving purposes in homes or offices. They used to act as storage spaces in bedrooms or offices and as a showcase unit in the living room. They have evolved into decor elements that are used in homes, hotels, restaurants and even retail.

The thing about alcoves is that they cannot be done without some loss of space. Since the basic idea is to create a recess, it generally requires that a wall be brought up front. If you are lucky enough and the needed recesses naturally develop in the course of construction, then you are good to go.

Juhi suggests placing alcoves on the outer periphery of a building, preferably overlooking a garden or a pleasant view. They may also be used as dividers or used in taking advantage of an awkward column. She adds that it may be relatively rare for alcoves to be incorporated in an apartment, primarily because the building facade is governed by the builder or community rules.

However, some projects have seen the creation of alcoves by taking in tiny balconies or projecting out windows wherever the building rules so permit. Essentially, it is easier to pull off in an independent house. There are various ideal points in the house for an alcove. If you have a panelled room, then you can create an alcove with a warm look, perhaps a small one overlooking your garden with a simple cushioned seat.

Or, you can think of having a small bookshelf incorporated into the space. Staircases also make for some great places to introduce an alcove. The void beneath will be linear and you can create a brightly lit alcove to work as a show cupboard, a seating space and more.

Shilpa says that the entrance foyer can have decorative alcoves that can be built out from the wall to house a sculpture or a decorative element.

A youngster’s room can have a small alcove that contains a cosy bed or one which has been converted into a colourful, inviting study or seating space.

 In spacious master bedrooms, cornice-enhanced alcoves can be created behind a bed and on either of its side, making the bed the focal point of the room. It is important that your alcove completely blends into your interiors.

The lighting for it has to be appropriate and concealed, depending on what the alcoves house. You can achieve the classical architecture look with tall plaster alcoves that are curved and have been intricately carved.

A more linear approach would be with small boxes in squares or rectangles, giving you a contemporary feel. To add to the depth perception in the room, paint them a deeper shade of the overall colour on your walls or go in for something that contrasts completely. If you plan to use the alcove to showcase some expensive curios, then you can close the place with non-reflective glass.

The thing about alcoves is that it does not have to be a small space that you store things. With a larger space you can have a seating area, a mini-library or even a comfortable nook to retire to.

A drab window can be given a complete facelift when it has the features of an alcove built into it.

Juhi says that the theme for an alcove would essentially go with the room theme, and would extend it to this tiny, contained space. Depending on the alcove size, it could be used as a bench for a couple of persons to sit, or part of a breakfast corner within a kitchen, or even a library or a bar.

Shilpa adds that as far as dimensions go, an alcove with a single bed should be at least 3 feet in depth, 5.5 feet long and 5.5 to 6 feet in height, while the one for seating should be at least 2.5 feet wide. Sizes would vary depending on usage.

Here are a few ways to enhance the look of your alcove. The effect of natural daylight and artificial lighting can both be enhanced when you place a mirror in your alcove. If you have a great piece of furniture in the room and the alcove faces it, plaster the recess with floor-to-base mirrors on three sides and watch your room come to life.

Use drapes to make the space beautiful. Use long ones that you can draw back in the middle or just to one side. If you have a high ceiling, put in half columns on either side of the alcove. For a low ceiling, use moulding made of wood. If you can have an exposed brick wall as the background of your alcove, it will give your space a vintage look.

Make sure to match it to the rest of the décor in the room. The great thing about alcoves is that they can be designed to suit your unique requirements. So no matter how popular they may be as a design element, you can always get yourself something that stands out.

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