All About Window Seats
Turn unused space around the house into extra seating and storage with a minimum of carpentry—and get a snug, homey haven for daydreaming, reading, even napping
It's no wonder window seats are often the most loved element in a home. They offer comfort—especially with a thick cushion on top—and views to the outdoors. They create a sense of coziness and security, thanks to the niche that defines a window seat. And they provide extra storage when fitted with drawers, cabinets, or a simply hinged bench top. But perhaps it's their ability to take an unused or awkward space and turn it into a charming focal point that warms our hearts most.
You can find window seats in homes representing just about every American architectural style, from colonial to contemporary, and the fact that they've endured this long speaks to their form and versatility. They also have a place in every room, whether as a banquette in the kitchen, a boot bench in an entry, or a hideaway for reading a book in the den, and can be trimmed to match existing moldings.
Shown: This inviting seat has drawers in the base for easily accessible storage. Up top, a deep window ledge on one side doubles as a place to set a coffee mug, and beadboard paneling on the opposite side forms a backrest.
Use these measurements to ensure a comfy seat.
16 to 20 inches to sit facing forward with feet on the floor
10 to 20 inches high to lean, either below the window or against a side wall
Minimum of 30 inches to face forward, 50 inches to sit sideways with legs extended
About 18 inches, including cushion (2 to 4 inches). This chair height makes it ideal for dining when a table is pulled up.
What's it Made of?
Depending on its look and function, a seat can be constructed of hardwood, plywood, MDF, or even kitchen cabinetry.
DIY or Hire a Pro?
Handy homeowners can use stock cabinets or construct a sturdy open or enclosed bench out of lumber and plywood. Consider calling in the pros for an exact match to a room's existing millwork or a challenging configuration, such as a curved bay window.
What's it Cost?
A 3-foot-long DIY window seat costs as little as $100 for one with open storage underneath or $350 for one made with stock cabinets. For custom, expect to pay from $1,000 to $3,000, depending on the size and design.
If you have a blank wall with a window, the simplest way is to flank the opening with ready-made shelving or wardrobe units and span the distance with a seat. The trick is getting the measurements right. Standard shelf depth is 12 or 16 inches; for comfort, the window seat should stand proud, for a total depth of about 18 inches. Wardrobe units for hanging clothes are about 2 feet deep, so here it's best to recess the seat by 6 inches or so. That way, you can sit facing into the room with your back supported and both feet on the floor.
A window seat made of a shelf-style bench outfitted with an upholstered cushion allows for open storage under the seat. This option, which you can make yourself or hire out, is great in utilitarian spaces such as mudrooms, entryways, or even a laundry area. Fasten the underside of the shelf to 24 cleats screwed to wall studs along the back and side walls. For added strength, install vertical supports, which can also act as cubby dividers.
An enclosed window seat can be made by adding wood paneling to the front and any exposed sides of a shelf-style seat (shown on the banquette at right) or by cladding it with drywall to create a seamless surface with the surrounding walls. Another option is to build a six-sided box set on 24 framing that's screwed to the floor. By hinging the top, the seat doubles as a storage bin.
Modular units with doors or drawers offer a pre-made base. Choose from thrifty stock cabinets sold at big-box stores, such as The Home Depot and IKEA, or made-to-order units from a local mill shop or a custom-cabinet company. Though pricey, custom lets you maximize every inch of storage beneath the seat while unifying the built-in with the rest of the room, from door style to trim to finish. Cabinets typically rest on 24 framing, but some stock and semi-custom models come with legs or a pedestal with an integral toekick.
Pro Advice: "In a kitchen or a family room, cover the window-seat cushion with outdoor fabric. It won't fade from the sun coming in and can handle people putting their feet up." —Arthur McLaughlin, Interior Designer, Arthur McLaughlin & Associates
Gain extra accommodations for overnight guests with a window seat sized for a standard twin mattress (39 by 75 inches). Popular additions to bedrooms, the oversized seats can also offer an inviting spot for a catnap in a home office or a den. A lowered or arched ceiling (shown above, covered with wood slats) adds to the snug effect. Install built-in bookcases and lighting to mimic the usual nightstand elements, or make the window-seat platform area longer than the mattress itself to give you extra surface area for placing books and other objects. If cabinets or drawers are included in the window-seat base, include a toekick so that it's easier to stand close to the bed when changing linens.
Complex arrangements, such as curved bays or windows with radiators tucked beneath, call for clever solutions. It all comes down to carpentry. For a bay window without right angles, that means following the curve. To do this with stock cabinets or DIY boxes, arrange units side by side so that just their faces meet at the corners, like a hinged toy snake. Cut a plywood top that matches the contour and covers the gaps between the units at the rear. Be sure to fully support the seat from below and behind. For a perfect fit and for a large bay, such as the turret-style one shown above, go the custom route. This will push the $3,000 envelope, but rest assured that the built-in will add value, especially if you integrate storage.
Start with two stock 15-inch-high by 12-inch-deep double-door cabinets designed for use above a fridge (the width depends on the size of your nook). Screw cabinets together through their sides and set on 2x4 framing to support and raise them to seat height. Use 1x4 baseboards to hide the framing, and top cabinets with ¾-inch plywood trimmed with edge molding to create the seat. For a window seat that turns a corner (shown at left), add single- or double-door cabinets on the ends, supporting them from below and finishing the tops the same way as the center cabinets. Use filler strips to bridge gaps in front, and extra doors as end panels.
Note: Most stock wall cabinets are 12 inches deep, less than the suggested 16 to 20 inches for comfort. Make up the difference by furring out and supporting the cabinets from behind with doubled-up 24 cleats secured to wall studs. Use a wider plywood top that will rest on the cleats and overhang the cabinets by an inch or so in front. Fasten the cabinets and the top to the cleats, as well as to each other.
To tie it in with the rest of the room, look to existing moldings. Baseboards, for example, should wrap around the seat where it meets the floor. Here are more ways to give your seat character.
A recessed-panel design creates an elegant look in keeping with traditional house styles, such as Georgian and Colonial Revival; design the panel to duplicate existing trim in the room for a unified effect.
A seat cushion should be as thick as a sofa's (2 to 4 inches). Additional 20-inch-square firm pillows lining the back offer more support, as do soft throw pillows that can be tucked behind the small of your back or your head.
Augment natural light with recessed cans in the ceiling, sconces on side walls, or a table lamp on a shelf (shown at left) so that it's easier to read or jot notes at your seat. Use dimmers for energy-efficiency and to create a soothing space for napping.
Not just for curling up with a paperback anymore, window seats increasingly are places where people plug in a laptop. Outlets also let you easily charge an e-reader or a tablet without leaving your cozy perch. Tuck them into the toekick or side walls.
To prevent glare or heat gain from the sun coming in through windows, add shades or blinds, which can be chosen in materials and fabrics to complement the room's furnishings. If the window seat is used for sleeping, consider installing drapes in front of the seat to conceal the entire alcove, creating a room within a room.