in praise of the niche: what’s yours?

by clé tile | published: Dec 10, 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.

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(left) design: Shelter Collective / photo: Emily Johnston; (right) design: Gachot Studios / photo: Nicole Franzen


What began as a simple inset square box for stowing your bottles of AesopApotheke, 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.

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(left) Hotel Joaquin / design: Studio Robert McKinley / photo: Jen Lee; (right) design: Jenna Lyons / photo: Nicole Franzen


Whether you call them niches, alcoves or cubbyholes, with the right design, this inset can be the ultimate marriage of form and function, and something that gives you a small thrill of pleasure whenever you soap up or wind down. 


As always, start with function. How many of there are you using the space? Are you a minimalist when it comes to unguents, or a maximalist? Do you curate your shelves with the rigor of an uber-stylist, or are you a little more (ahem) laissez faire in style? Would you consider two niches? (And if kids will be sharing the shower area, those niches may need to be at different heights.)


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

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(left) design: Project M Plus for Oh Joy! / photo: Bethany Nauert; (right) design: Brasstacks / photo: Brandon Bowens


Your niche design begins where all good things do, at least in our eyes: 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.

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We’ve been seeing three significant trends in shower design as of late. 

Masterfully Minimal: If you choose a strong main tile, such as patterned cement, you might not want to draw focus with an elaborate niche by covering the box in a contrasting tile. Instead, stick with the same tile, and have your niche fade seamlessly into the architecture.

The Colorful Contrast. 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 bright color tile as the backdrop for your niche.

The Subtle Surprise. Go for subtle contrast. If you are covering a shower in a 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.


< design: Happy Vesta Interior / photo: Lindsay Lewin

Our favorite shower niche design is the one that is as traditional as can be. Zellige has been used in water features and other wet installations in Morocco for centuries. Its increased popularity in showers stateside has extended to niches, allowing for a seamless look that’s ubiquitous on the social feeds. Clad in the same zellige, the depth of the recessed area only adds to the tonal varieties and shading that make the tile so desirable.


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.

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(above) design / photo: kaemingk design

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?