Fill niches with art, accessories

DEAR GAIL: I have two large niches in my entryway and I’m just stumped on what to do with them. They are about 42 inches wide by 55 inches high, 12 inches deep and 10 inches apart. I have a very open floor plan and they’re directly across from the dining room. I want to do something nice, but what and where do I start? — Darlene G.

DEAR DARLENE: You do have a large area to address; with the two niches together you are working with an area almost 8 feet long. Since they are right next to each other you should treat them as one space. What you place in them needs to be similar and somewhat symmetrical.

Symmetrical design is where you decorate in a mirror image style. An example would be a fireplace mantel. You would have a piece of artwork in the middle. Then, on each side of the artwork you place a pair of candlesticks, with a decorative vase next to each of the candlesticks and a trailing green next to each vase. So, what you place on one side, you place an identical item on the other, resulting in a mirror image.

Asymmetrical arrangements are a grouping of items together. For example, on the mantel you would place just a pair of candlesticks to the right of the artwork and then maybe the vase with the greenery to the left. The items on one side are different from the other, but still visually balanced. I always strive for asymmetrical arrangements since they are more interesting.

There are a couple of ways you can achieve this with your artwork and accessories.

My first idea is to purchase a pair of artwork, i.e., matching images in the same size and type of frame. Using the same size will give you a symmetrical, balanced design.

You also can go for an asymmetrical design with one large piece and two coordinating smaller pieces. But, you’d have to be very careful to make sure it feels balanced once you’re done. If you have the eye for asymmetry, go for it. If you don’t, you can’t fail with two pieces the same size.

The art should be no smaller then 24 inches wide by 36 inches high and no larger then 36 inches wide by 42 inches high. You don’t want to completely fill the space so that you take away from the niches’ architectural feature. But you also don’t want them so small that they look like postage stamps.

Next, paint the back of the niches an accent color that brings your artwork out and makes it pop. This is a great place to be bold with your paint, because in the end, how much will really show any way. The color should enhance your art and not overtake it.

Since the niches are 12 inches deep, you will need to add accessories. To achieve asymmetrical balance, place your accessories toward the outside edges of each niche so that you’ll only have accessories on one side. When looking at both of them together, you will have a mirror image with artwork in the middle and accessories on each side. You don’t want a lot of accessories, just a few key pieces, with one that is substantial in size.

Since your niches are 55 inches high, you need height to balance the grouping, but be careful not to overpower your art. Use nothing less then 36 inches in overall height and nothing taller than your artwork.

I like to use vases and then add twigs for height. I like the twigs because they bring texture and height without being heavy; they have an open airy feel and I will let them go higher then my art.

Something else that you can do for your images is to use a diptych. A diptych is one image that has been broken up into two pieces. Think of a poster that has been cut in half. You would continue the image from one niche to the other.

If you can’t find a diptych, you can take any poster and have it enlarged so that it is oversized and then cut it in half. You also could do this with a custom mural painted on the back of the niches or on canvas.

Another option would be to make the back of the niches the backdrop for your accessories in front. Do something more than just paint it one color. Try a faux finish, a harlequin design, large blocks of color or even wallpaper to get a great look for very little money. If you didn’t know, wallpaper has come a very long way during the last few years. So, start with your accessories and then decide on how you’re going to treat the back of the niche.

Want dramatic? Mirror the backs and place fabulous sculptures in front. But always remember with mirrors you have to ask, “What are they reflecting?” Since the niches are so large, you wouldn’t want to be reflecting blank walls.

One last thought is to upholster the back of the niches. Cut a piece of plywood, pad it like a cornice box, cover it with fabric, crisscross ribbon and use upholstery tacks where they cross.

This could be dressed up or down depending upon your style. If you have a more glamorous theme, use silk, satin ribbons and small mirrors or pearls. For something more rustic, cover with burlap, leather strings and hammered tacks.

Gail Mayhugh, owner of GMJ Interiors, is a professional interior designer and author of a book on the subject. Questions may be sent by e-mail to: Or, mail to: 7380 S. Eastern Ave., No. 124-272, Las Vegas, NV 89123. Her Web address is:


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