Reading may seem outmoded as a way to while away an afternoon, but there just might be more interest than ever in carving out a reading nook at home.
Nestled into an alcove or tucked alongside a window, a snug spot in which to retreat with the latest page-turner—or just unplug for a while—has an irresistible pull, often evoking times (and homes) gone by. “These kinds of built-ins trigger so many memories and emotions,” says New York–based architect Gil Schafer, author most recently of A Place to Call Home. “It might be the bunk bed you had as a child, or feelings of other places you remember, like being belowdecks in a boat.” Whatever the memory, the appeal is universal. Here and below, some of Schafer’s signature nooks.
A World Away
A bunk niche offers separate-but-together seclusion in this lower-level game room in an upstate New York lake house. Sea-blue grasscloth and crisply painted millwork brighten the surrounding walls, while white-washed wood planks give the alcove its own identity. Framed prints are hung at one end, and bookshelves fill the other; plush cushions and an articulating sconce make it a comfortable destination for delving into a new novel—or simply daydreaming.
A living room’s expansive bay window with a built-in seat was a locus of activity in the childhood home of one of the owners of this house. Her family pulled up tables to eat meals or play games there, or just perched to pore over the newspaper. To call up fond memories and be a spot that would foster new ones, Schafer added a similar feature in this home for the owners to use the same way.
In a family room with a fireplace, floor-to-ceiling bookcases, and French doors to the outside, this reading nook’s robin’s-egg-blue paneling settles it snugly into its surroundings. A perfect retreat on a rainy day, it’s also deep enough for overnight guests—a frequent need where lots of kids come and go. Another thoughtful detail: As he usually does, Schafer specified a panel below the open shelves to allow for comfortably propping up head pillows when it’s time to recline.
Two custom mattresses run toe to toe along the length of the living room wall in a casual California home that’s lined in mismatched, reclaimed wood boards. Long enough for two to stretch out with a good read—the heat register doesn’t hurt—this daybed is sufficiently deep for extra overnight guests, too. Storage drawers are a practical feature that also give the bench more graceful proportions, as does the skirt detail.
How it’s made: double daybed
This custom built-in is basically a three-cubby bench with inset drawers that travel on undermount slides. It sits on a raised platform, and is finished with a beaded face frame and a cut-out skirt.
In the top-floor guest room of Schafer’s own house in Maine, the architecture presented a natural niche for an extra-deep window seat in a new dormer. The large casement windows offer fresh air and water views. The seat is also big enough to rest a suitcase on while unpacking. Drawers store extra comforters—a welcome addition in a climate that has big temperature swings day to night, even in summer.
To add a nook “for livability and comfort” in this girl’s bedroom, Schafer annexed space from an adjacent room. Wrapped on three sides and the ceiling with fabric that matches the curtains and the upholstered headboard, it’s a cheery architectural feature that helps to brighten the whole room. Having the built-in bench stand slightly proud of the recess means less depth is needed, but doesn’t diminish the feeling of a protected alcove.
Chimneys on either side of a window form a ready-made alcove for this built-in bedroom bench. Framing it with trim painted the same blue as the bench seat—and adding more blue on the window sashes—give the nook special prominence. A collection of plush pillows, plus a good seat cushion, provide comfort and support in a spot made for enjoying the breeze and views of the treetops.
Built-ins aren’t the only route to creating a quiet spot that inspires the imagination. Schafer designed this under-the-stairs alcove just outside a lower-level family room to be finished with furniture. To transform it into a special hangout space, interior designer Rita Konig hung generations of family photos, installed old-school lighting, and added a curvy settee that literally gives its occupants a hug. What could be cozier than that?
Thanks to: architect Gil Schafer, author of A Place to Call Home: Tradition, Style, and Memory in the New American House (Rizzoli)