in praise of the niche: what’s yours?

by clé tile | published: Dec 11, 2021

design: isabelle patrick design / photo: kristen francis

the shower niche, that recessed inset shelving where lotions and potions await their daily squeeze, is nothing new. we’ve seen them in countless hotels, spas and gyms, but they’ve only become a common feature in american homes over the last two decades as bathrooms evolved from simple functional areas to temples of wellness and self-care.

A very textured monochrome cement tile by Antoni Gaudi.

design: gachot studios / photo: nicole franze

what began as a simple inset square box for stowing your bottles of aesop, apotheke, or archipelago has become a full-on opportunity for creative expression. bring on vertical and elongated shower-length niches, built-in shelving, and even lighting. even loofahs deserve a well-designed home.

whether your vibe is minimalist, maximalist, or something in between, tile gives you a unique opportunity to add personal character and architectural detail to your shower space.

need some shower shelf inspiration? check out our shower tile lookbook and find your perfect shower niche.

read on for shower niche tile tips and tricks from clé.

A very textured monochrome cement tile by Antoni Gaudi.

design: jenni kayne / photo: amanda and scott sanford

when it comes to shower niches, function comes first

before you consider design, answer a few key questions about how you will be using your shower niche or shelf. how large is your dream shower niche? how many people will be using the shower space? would you consider two niches? (if kids will be sharing the shower area, you may want to consider two niches at different heights). if you have a tub, do you want a niche that is low enough to be accessible for bathers?

once you’ve assessed the state of your needs, get to perfecting your alcove.

An apartment with an ornate ceiling, white plaster walls and a neutral cement tile floor.

design: project m plus for oh joy! / photo: bethany nauert

An apartment with an ornate ceiling, white plaster walls and a neutral cement tile floor.

design: brasstacks / photo: brandon bowens

designing with tile in the shower niche

your niche design begins where all good things do: with tile.

aesthetically speaking, your choice of main tile for the shower is a critical step in designing a niche, as they will proudly sit and soak together for years to come.

here are three looks to consider when designing with tile in your shower niche.

A very textured monochrome cement tile by Antoni Gaudi.

design: happy vesta interior / photo: lindsay lewin

look #1: keep it consistent

if you choose a strong main shower tile, such as patterned cement, an elaborate shower niche could be distracting. tile your shower alcove with the same tile as the rest of your shower, and have your niche fade seamlessly into the architecture.

look #2: draw some attention

if your main tile is a subdued standard, such as a basic white subway or a thin brick, you have the chance to create a small but bold visual statement with your niche, simply by using a patterned or brightly colored tile as the backdrop for your niche.

look #3: go for contrast

contrast can come in the form of color, texture, or pattern. if you are using a shower tile such as carrara rectangles, use the niche as an opportunity to use another tile from the same collection, like carrara hexagons or herringbone. similarly, you can use another tile of the same color for a similar effect; think black gloss modern farmhouse brick and black gloss penny rounds.

whether you make a statement or keep it minimal, your shower niche will bring architectural and design interest no matter which direction you choose.

A very textured monochrome cement tile by Antoni Gaudi.

design: the workroom and jennifer tidwell / photographer unknown

clé’s first choice for the shower niche: authentic zellige tile

our favorite shower niche design is the one that is as traditional as can be. zellige tile has been used in fountains and other wet installations in morocco for centuries. the handcrafted nature of zellige tile means its surface is beautifully textured, meaning it’s most at home in running water where droplets bring to life every dip and ridge.

installing tile in your shower niche

importantly, when installing the niche, there are several approaches for corners and edges: clad the niche with the same tile, mitering the edges, or use a piece of stone such as carrara to create an instant shelf and build around the corners.

make sure to read about our trim solutions to drench your niche in a seamless look.

A very textured monochrome cement tile by Antoni Gaudi.

even the most diminutive bathroom can benefit from a well thought-out niche design, and larger bathrooms almost beg for one (or more) as a way to introduce visual interest by changing up the rhythm of the walls.

so what’s your niche?