Niche. Recess. Cubby, if you will. Shampoo box, if you must. Regardless of what you call it, if you’re designing a shower, you're going to want one. Here's everything you need to consider!
What is a niche, anyway?
A niche is a recessed storage area, built into your shower or tub walls, in which you have space to store shampoo, soap, and other bathing accoutrement. Popular niche configurations include one, two, or three adjacent alcoves, and the size of each varies based on the amount & size of the products they need to hold.
We promote niches because they are both attractive and practical. Your alternative options for in-shower storage include shelves, benches, and over-the-faucet hanging caddies, each of which are quick to look cluttered. A niche, however, keeps products at arms reach without sacrificing shower space or drawing attention away from your beautiful tile. Niches also feel much more intentional, and we love that they can be customized to accommodate your storage needs as well as your personal style.
What size niche is right for you?
Everyone has different storage needs when it comes to the bathroom. Some people have enough products in the shower to open up their own store, while others are content with a 17-in-1 shampoo, conditioner, body wash, mouthwash, & tire shine. And often, these people marry each other. Like closets, niches are not one-size-fits-all, so take some time to really think about who will be using each shower and how many products they're liable to accumulate.
You might find it helpful to take a look at your current shower situations. Is the edge of the kids' tub littered with products? Does your spouse have a Sephora addiction? Sure, some shower items should live in the vanity, but do you really put things back when you're finished with them, or do you leave them in the corner of the shower floor? When it comes to storage, let your reality drive your design.
Niches: To buy or to build?
When considering which niche configuration you want, keep in mind that if you or your installer prefers to purchase a preformed niche, your options will be somewhat limited. Most preformed niches—including the ones we stock—are designed to fit between wall studs. This saves time & money during installation because your framing does not need to be altered. However, it poses a design limitation: The maximum width of usable space resulting from a prefabricated niche is typically no more than 12” wide.
If you or your installer is willing to custom frame your niche—that is, cut a few studs and throw in a header for support, much like framing a window—then your niche design options open up considerably. If you've spent any time at all on Pinterest, I am sure you noticed the trend of installing a single, wide, linear niche across an entire shower wall. These are beautiful & popular, giving you a storage ledge from one end of the shower to the other. To make this possible, however, one or more studs must be cut. So, to get this look, you will need to have a conversation with your installer &/or builder about what is possible in your space.
Where should I put my niche?
If you want your niche to double as a focal point to your shower, we highly recommend installing it on the wall that offers the best vantage point from the rest of the bathroom. Conversely, if you're hoping to hide your shower products, highlight an accent wall of tile, or simply achieve a clean, minimal shower aesthetic, then you'll want to put your niche in an inconspicuous place, such as on the inside of a knee wall, where it cannot be seen unless you're standing inside the shower.
For example, in a guest bathroom that sees only occasional use, a niche is a lovely accent. Install something fancy in the back to give your shower pizzazz. Stage it with a candle, a brand new loofah, and a few luxurious mini-poos swiped from hotel bathrooms, and voilà. It’s a beautiful thing.
However, in the bathrooms that get everyday use and abuse, like the master bathroom and the kid’s bathrooms, we feel it’s usually best to strategically place niches in an inconspicuous location. When you go to show off your gorgeous, newly remodeled shower, the last thing people want to see is your Head & Shoulders.
Are there any strict rules about niche placement?
There are a few hard-and-fast rules regarding niche placement that should always be followed, regardless of your aesthetic. For example, you should not install a niche on an exterior wall. This is because the depth of the niche takes away from space that should contain insulation. The stud cavity behind your niche can therefore quickly accumulate condensation & moisture due to the difference in interior & exterior temperatures, even in a mild climate.
Another rule? Your niche cannot intersect plumbing, electrical wiring, HVAC ducts, et cetera. Again, because a niche occupies almost all of the wall depth, there simply isn't room to install a niche in the path of these other systems. When in doubt, ask your installer! And remodelers, be aware that some questions cannot be answered until the existing shower is demolished.
Is it true that niches leak?
Officially, no. If installed properly, a niche does not pose any threat to the integrity of your waterproofing. Emphasis on if installed properly. Some builders & installers have had bad experiences with niches in the past due to improper installation &/or waterproofing. This is not to be brushed off or taken lightly. If your builder or installer is hesitant about installing niches, it might be in your best interest to select an alternative, such as a corner shelf. After all, if they say they can't do it, they're probably right!
What kind of tile should I put in my niche?
If you are designing a niche for a highly functional space, it might not be worth your while to put something too fancy in your niche, only to cover it up with a ton of bottles. Your wall tile in the niche will do just fine. However, in guest bathrooms, pool baths, & the master bathrooms of the tidy, a niche can be an excellent place to add a little flair. A decorative mosaic in the back of a niche creates a beautiful, personal touch without blowing the budget, so we highly recommend it!
The outside corners of your niche will also need some sort of finishing edge. The obvious answer is to use bullnose, but you have several other of options, especially if you're looking to make your niche a focal point. We love to see quartz saddles and material matching your countertops used as shelf surfaces in a niche, which we feel is a very intentional, elegant upgrade. Schluter adds a modern twist, while an ogee frame is perfect for traditional settings. Feel free to get creative!
Seeking inspiration? Check out these beautiful niches!
Did you find this helpful? Do you have lingering niche questions? Are there any other topics you would you like to see us cover? Let us know in the comments below!