Entertainment niches have built-in decorating dilemmas

I’m often called upon by homeowners and designers alike to help with a problem inherent in numerous homes across the Las Vegas Valley and beyond. It’s then that I put on my “cabinetry hat,” take a deep breath and do my very best to solve the dilemma of what to do with those nasty entertainment niches left behind by well-meaning architects and builders.

No doubt they feel they know best when it comes to positioning the TV, storage and/or display areas in a room. But, judging by what I’ve consistently found in any number of homes, it’s my considered opinion as a designer that they generally exercise very little discretion nor do they attach very much importance to the placement of these basic elements and the consequences of their cavalier design.

Hopefully, with the proliferation of the flat-screen TV that no longer requires any more depth than a few inches, this madness will finally stop.

I’m haunted by the look of dismay on the faces of so many clients who have absolutely no idea of how to design around those big, ugly recesses in their long, beautiful walls, how to stop the fireplaces from looking so alienated from the entertainment areas, or, for that matter, where the focal point of those rooms are or should be. They are just so confused by the permanent drywall “solutions” they inherited with the purchase of their homes.

Recently, I was contacted by local designer Sherri Hendley of Decorating Den, who asked me to take a look at a project she was working on that would require an entertainment unit in the family room. And sure enough, what greeted me upon entering the space was one of the largest “suggested” entertainment areas I’ve ever come across.

The room was quite big and wonderful, but was definitely fighting an uphill battle against a 131/2-foot-wide gaping hole that reached almost to the ceiling. And, as if to add insult to injury, it featured a divider, which in all likelihood was a supporting beam of some kind and definitely not to be fooled with.

Immediately, I saw the potential for fixing the problem and explained my idea to Jennifer, the homeowner, who, thank goodness, understood my vision.

As I’d done so many times before with other clients, I explained to her that the best way — if not the only way — to make her room really work would be to incorporate both areas as one, tying everything together in a giant, sweeping gesture from one end of the niche to the far end of the other and from floor to ceiling. The space, being as large as it was, demanded a unit on a grand scale featuring clean, simple lines that would complement her transitional décor. And in so doing, no one would ever imagine that this unit wasn’t part and parcel of the original design.

She listened intently as I went on with my plan, quickly answering the questions I put to her. I rightly assumed that she’d be using the very large TV and audio components already sitting so forlornly in the bigger niche. Naturally, these components would determine, to a large extent, what else could be included in the unit since custom cabinets must be built “from the inside out.” What this means is that the size of the contents to be stored must first be considered if the unit is meet its goal upon completion, and then, whatever remaining space there is, can be dedicated to additional storage and/or display areas. Since the recess was far deeper than necessary, the unit would feature a false back wall in the same wood finish allowing plenty of room for airflow and the numerous wires that connect the TV to the audio components.

She also wanted a display area with lighting at the top of the unit that would highlight colorful vases and other objets d’art that she hoped to collect in the future, as well as speakers hidden behind doors and a storage cabinet at one end which she might, on occasion, utilize as a bar or serving area.

And since the unit was custom and being built just for her, she suggested a hidden, pull-out shelf just below the TV for the man of the house who sometimes liked sitting there with his laptop. It was an unusual request, but certainly doable, as were the requested pull-out shelves with a 4-inch lip for easy access to games and the like.

The unattractive drywall on the support beam was to become a handsome wood-clad column with matching ones at either end and she agreed to extend the unit up to the ceiling and have it finished with crown molding at the top.

If Jennifer’s fireplace had been located on the same wall, I would have suggested it too be incorporated into the larger unit, no doubt with a wood mantle as well.

From a design point of view, these drywall niches will never work in their “natural” state. They need to be unified and dressed up in a new and upgraded veneer of some kind if they are to ever enhance your home. For those of you living with plain, simple walls devoid of these “clever,” bothersome black holes, you are among the lucky ones with the freedom to display whatever and wherever you choose.

Stephen Leon is a licensed interior designer and president of Soleil Design International; he has been designing and manufacturing custom furniture and cabinetry for more than 25 years. He has served on the board of directors of the Central California/Nevada Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers. Questions can be sent to stephen@soleil designinternational.com.

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