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Nooks & Crannies in the Arts & Crafts Home

by Mary Ellen Polson on March 9, 2015

in Floors, Walls and Ceilings

Original millwork in a 1908 Prairie-style house includes this window seat in a bay. Photo: Scott Van Dyke

Original millwork in a 1908 Prairie-style house includes this window seat in a bay. Photo: Scott Van Dyke

Space-efficient bungalows and other modern homes of the period are stuffed with built-ins, nooks, and corners that lend useful space for seating, storage—even sleeping.

Victorian houses come to mind when we think of nooks and crannies: the stair landing, the turret room, the old pantry. But it is really the next generation of smaller, suburban-lot homes of the Arts & Crafts era which make the most of odd or tiny spaces. Take the concept of the nook, for instance. In most houses the term might refer to an empty corner. In a bungalow, though, a 4×6 breakfast nook is a dining area complete with a table and seating for four. An inglenook creates cozy banquette seating on either side of a hearth. Nooks are rooms within rooms.

Here’s an original: In what may have been the maid’s room in this 1909 chalet–bungalow, a built-in, drop-front writing desk disguises the twin hideaway bed that rolls out beneath. Photo: Jaimee Itagaki

Here’s an original: In what may have been the maid’s room in this 1909 chalet–bungalow, a built-in, drop-front writing desk disguises the twin hideaway bed that rolls out beneath. Photo: Jaimee Itagaki

Gustav Stickley himself talked about furnishings as “structural,” counseling that a house should be livable as soon as the builder leaves. Even a modest house in the Arts & Crafts genre will be loaded with clever built-ins. The perfect example is the window seat, an intimate spot to showcase hand-embroidered cushions or a collection of vintage toys. Equipped as they often are with a lift-up top or built-in drawers, a window seat stores anything from sports equipment to linens.

Benches and banquette seating may appear anywhere in the house—even outside at the entry door. A classic treatment is a bench in the foyer; even a small one can serve as an impromptu spot to take off boots or put down packages. Space in a window dormer might accommodate ingenious uses, from a desk to a step-up reading nook. Period millworks catalogs sold pre-assembled phone niches.

Built into the wainscoting, a U-shaped settle with exposed joinery makes a mini room out of a window dormer in a 1908 Arts & Crafts Tudor. Photo: William Wright

Built into the wainscoting, a U-shaped settle with exposed joinery makes a mini room out of a window dormer in a 1908 Arts & Crafts Tudor. Photo: William Wright

With its columns or piers resting on built-in bookshelves or china cabinets, the era’s colonnade separating main rooms is a built-in that creates its own cozy corners. Less stylish but as common are the ironing board cupboards, laundry chutes, and hidden safes once ubiquitous in bungalows.

The spandrel area under stairs is often put to good use as a display nook or hobbit-size closet. In the dining room, a cutout niche topped with a structural header accommodates a built-in sideboard or buffet, perfect for displaying serving ware in a space as little as a foot deep.

A breakfast nook is already a space saver; this one has flat storage built into tip-out backs on the benches.

A breakfast nook is already a space saver; this one has flat storage built into tip-out backs on the benches.

Shelving or recessed drawers are often tucked into the passage between a bedroom and bathroom, a dresser often built into the master bedroom closet. For shallow storage, don’t forget the between-stud space in walls. In the bath, niches hold soap and shampoo. If the niche is deep enough, there may be room to stack a few folded towels or an in-wall laundry bin, like the ones found in early-20th-century apartments.

Following vintage examples, shelves recessed into the wall between studs provide handy storage.

Following vintage examples, shelves recessed into the wall between studs provide handy storage.

In a bungalow as on a boat, every inch counts. Shallow shelves on the front of the access door conceal the location of a furnace or water heater. You can eke more capacity out of kitchen cabinets by making creative use of “wasted” space: Outfit narrow voids to hold cutting boards or pull-out towel rods. And a drawer with a custom cut-out for the under-sink P-trap will hide a surprising amount of clutter.

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