During the Arts & Crafts movement, built-ins and nooks served the purpose of adding extra space to small homes, and they satisfied an early 20th century quest for hygiene: It was believed that bugs, dust, and microbes couldn't hide under or behind the legless pieces built into the walls.
What most likely grew out of the old inglenook concept (a small area with bookcases or shelving covered by glass surrounding a hearth), nooks can be created in “unused” spaces such as those at the top or bottom of a stairwell or under attic eaves.
In her book The Not So Big House, architect and author Sarah Susanka talks about favoring “the quality of space over the quantity.” A nook can be a sheltered, private retreat that has space enough for one. Susanka likens it to the grown-up version of a large cardboard box in which a child delights in setting up a “home.”
“We like to introduce details that most homeowners are craving, things that they don't have in newer homes,” says Bruce Bowers of Bowers Design Build, in McLean, Va.
Built as part of a whole-house remodel, Bowers designed this space (top photo) as a library, gathering place, seating and storage area, entryway to a newly created master suite, and as part of the laundry area. “Clients like the feeling of going to grandma's house, the niches and built-ins and nooks. We like to repeat that level of detail or character to create that charm of things that felt like they were built a long time ago,” Bowers says.
Other small spaces, such as this built by Michael Menn and Andy Poticha of Design Construction Concepts, Northbrook, Ill., can be used for a home office. “We converted the attic in this home to two bedrooms and several nooks,” says Menn, “including a kid's playhouse and this office equipped with a desk, computer, fax, and a flat-screen TV. The nook allows the husband to work from home, enabling him to spend more time with his children.”