I didn’t put a niche in our previous master bathroom and while I didn’t regret it (because we had a shelf at one end of the tub) I knew that functionally, most people would wish there were waist-high access to their hair potions, instead of turning around, bending down and grabbing their shampoo. While I did put them in our current master and don’t mind them there, in general, I don’t love niches, mostly because they break up fields of beautiful tile with labels and gross scum (literally, soap scum). This isn’t something where if I go to a friend’s house or stay at an Airbnb and see a shower niche, I’m like “ugh, get some taste.” They can absolutely be FINE and often are even beautiful.
But designing what has felt like dozens of bathrooms between Portland and mountain house (honestly, I think I’ve designed a bathroom for every Duggar offspring this year), I’ve had a lot of opportunities to contemplate the niche and what other things can be done instead. The possibility of designing a good version of the thing I didn’t love was an attractive challenge. What could we do to create storage but not have a box break up a field of beautiful tile or if it is going to break up the tile, can we do it in the most modern way possible?
First, let’s revisit the niche. This grid of four that follows shows a handful of niches that feel rather dated. I want to preface this by saying that if your bathroom looks like this, there’s no need to hide out in your closet forever, never admitting to the world that you have a “dated” bathroom niche (how dare you), but I do feel like I have to establish what a “traditional” niche is before launching into how I’m seeing people rethink the whole inset box.
When you do a Google search for “shower niche,” 92% of the results come back with contrasting tile, and I think this is the ticket to feeling a bit “dated.” As a loose rule, I’d say to stay away from alternative tiles or “accent” tiles. Yes, this can totally be done well, but like a wet pair of jeans, it’s just harder to pull off.
In some of the ones above, it basically sucks in your eyes/attention. Call it the excessive cleavage of the bathroom. It’s hard to look away, for better or for worse.
Instead, I recommend going for a shower niche that is almost invisible to the eye. Built with the exact same tile as the rest of the shower surround, so it almost disappears when empty. Or keep the background of the shelf super neutral. I get it, having a shelf right in the shower is almost a necessity, but it doesn’t have to announce itself.
Here are some great niches that I think are simple and pretty and well done, mine included.
These are the niches in my master bath. Yes, they were styled simply and pretty for this shoot because we’re not heathens, but they’re functional and don’t really pop out at you.
This appears to be a hotel (or a very fancy home) where each showerhead gets its own designated niche. These are pretty big for a niche, but something I wanted to point out is that sometimes, niches are made so small and you can’t even store your taller or larger-sized products. You can FORGET going from shopping bag to shower niche if you’re all about that Costco bulk-sized life. Yes, you can decant things into bottles that fit in a smaller nook (which would be better, if you like to keep things pretty and ready for the lifestyle mafia to come by at any moment), but it’s just an extra step. SO, if you’re remodeling and dead set on a niche, remember to allow yourself at least 12 inches in height to maneuver your bath goods.
The lower niche is also a subtle option, but if you’re not into bending down or sudsing up while seated, this might not be the best path to go down.
Technically, this image has a niche, yes, which is why it’s here, but mostly I just wanted to show you a WALK-IN TUB SHOWER THAT LOOKED LIKE THIS.
The way the tile pattern falls in these niches is a little trippy, so even if you aren’t going with a contrasting accent tile, be careful with how your tiles will fall within the shapes you are creating. The nice thing here though is that there are different levels of niches—one for when you’re in the bath, and two for when you’re showering.
Somewhere between the traditional niche and what I’m about to talk about (spoiler alert: it’s a ledge) is the linear niche, like this:
So, it’s just what it sounds like…a niche, but longer (i.e. linear). To keep the look nice and clean, make sure that the inset lines up with your tile line so nothing is cut off strangely or awkwardly.
This is a large linear niche. I mean, some people don’t even have that length in their bathrooms, let alone enough room for the ledge and a walk-in shower BUT, the installation of the tile is spot on here. If it weren’t for the black edging, from afar, the depth might not be very perceptible, which = a barely noticeable break in the tile field and less visual clutter.
Hot tip: if you have the space while renovating a bathroom, putting the handle trim in the entrance to your shower (instead of on the further wall where the showerhead is) IS SO SMART. DO IT. Long gone will be the days of subjecting your limbs to either scalding or freezing waters before your shower gets to temp. But back to linear, updated niche talk…the wall-to-wall look is even closer to the ledge idea, but again, make sure you have enough room to store the bottles you know realistically you will be using.
It’s a particularly sexy look in a marble bath surround, plus it’s far easier to wipe clean scum because there is no grout or tile texture to get stuck in (because let’s face it, NO space looks good messy/grungey, but a modern minimal room looks ESPECIALLY bad because there’s nothing to distract from the filth; you cannot create a dirt diversion in a room with fewer elements than you have fingers on one hand).
Now to the new ideas—what is the “new niche”? America must know! Well, I’m here to tell you today that I DO NOT KNOW because likely, the niche will never go away, BUT the ledge is a serious contender in my design playbook, and something we’ve been seeing a lot in magazines and in high-end hotels.
In fact, that’s where I first started contemplating this. I was in Portland staying at a hotel while working on the project up there and mid-shower, I was like… “why aren’t we doing a ledge like this more?” It looked so sleek, so modern (and by modern, I mean more “fresh” and less “contemporary”), didn’t break up any lines and, frankly, just looked cool. So I ask…
Is the ledge the new niche?
At first glance, I thought this was a ledge, but studying it again…it might be a nook? A ledge-niche? The change in materials makes it look a bit like a pony wall (which we considered doing in the mountain house upstairs guest bath), but it still just feels simpler and fresher.
Oh, this is a different perspective on that bathroom and I have to imagine there was a reason they needed that vertical break in the ledge (likely to attach the shower door/glass wall), but I do like how it continues around the vanity area.
It’s not common to get a ton of surface area for storage around a free-standing tub, mostly because they’re not exactly a shower stall and more of a luxury design moment, which says “don’t you dare besmirch me with your bottle of Garnier Fructise Sleek & Shine.” While a ledge doesn’t automatically rebrand your drugstore shampoo (no shame), it does provide a place to put whatever bottles you need (pretty or not) in a way that’s less obvious (like a nook or niche would be) since it’s a continuous line across your wall.
Yes, you’ve seen this bathroom from Decus Interiors time and again here on this blog, but it just keeps proving its worth in terms of style. It’s basically all the bathroom trends we’ve been talking about for the past few months (stacked tile, bubble sconces, wall-mount faucets, vanity mirrors) in one bangin’ package.
Here’s another angle of that bathroom that shows how the ledge stretches from the shower to the sink area, which is a really nice touch. This plays out especially well if you’re installing a killer material (like this stone they have here) and just makes everything look so seamless. If you’re working with a space limitation and it works best for you to have your vanity on the same wall as your shower, something like this would seriously elevate the style of your smaller space.
Keeping the ledge lower like in this bathroom serves two purposes: it’s at a height that would work well for easily doing real-life things like shaving legs and having your products in easy reach when you’re bent over. Have you ever been shaving your legs and need to reach for more shaving cream/soap/conditioner (yes, I know some people who use conditioner to shave their legs and swear by it) but it’s so high and far away that it feels like a nightmare game of Twister? Something like this is a solution that also happens to look really sleek.
Another little tip: if your ledge is on the same wall as your showerhead, make sure the showerhead extends out far enough past the shelf (which is typically four to six inches) to make sure you don’t end up with a soggy, soppy wet shelf always and forever.
Okay, SO…what do you guys think? EHD really loves the simplicity and clean lines of a ledge vs. a niche, but are you team niche 4eva or totally on board? As always, chime in in the comments below with all your thoughts, concerns, advice…all the goodness that lives in your brilliant brains.