Monday, December 10, 2012

New idea for an art niche

It has become the emblematic add-on to any recently-minted tract house: the art niche, seemingly installed as a last-ditch effort to give buyers an opportunity to distinguish their own cookie-cutter gem from the identical plan that was built across the street from them. 
A diamond in the rough?  Screengrabbed from this Shirley Homes website.
Many folks seem to take these things literally, as in, they stick a single piece of art in there and call it a done deal, design-wise: 
Or perhaps a single piece of art plus potpourri.  Screengrabbed from this Royal Crest Homes website.
Also popular is the phenomenon of using these things to store dead dried vegetation: 
Methinks it underachieves, artistically-speaking.  Screengrabbed from this Merchant Circle site featuring Ramey Custom Builders
Still other folks use these things to showcase children as statuary:
This is our art niche as it appeared during the final stages of house construction.  We tried this display option for awhile, but the child kept escaping, so it proved to be an unacceptably high-maintenance option.  We had even more intense problems trying to achieve the same look with our dog.  Sit, Rover, sit!!  Stay!!  STAY!!!  Um, Rover...
There is, however, another art niche idea that I don't see anywhere else on the internet.  Let me say it again just so that those all-important search engines make no mistake:  I went through the first umpteen pages of Google images and did not see our art niche idea represented even one time, despite the fact that it should be pretty obvious. This is apparently a brand new art niche idea:
Instant wow-factor:  We converted ours into a museum-style built-in display case for collectibles, with a mirrored back and four "floating" glass shelves. 

I use mine for collectibles that have sentimental rather than monetary value, but I decided to show it as empty in these internet photos, just in case some yahoo were to see these pics and get the mistaken idea that my stuff is worth stealing. 
Let me explain how we achieved this, because this is the type of design info for which so many folks search frantically on the internet.
The very first step in this process is to measure the back wall of the niche and cut a mirror to fit it (remembering to leave enough gap on each side for the clip installation).  I had this mirror professionally cut at Admiral Glass in League City (audio warning on that URL - pause the embedded vid if you don't want to hear it) because I've always gotten excellent service from them and I shop locally whenever possible.  I also ordered it in a quarter-inch thickness, and it's a large mirror, so it ate the majority of the budget for this project. 

If someone wanted a less expensive solution, eighth-inch sheet mirror could potentially be used instead, depending on the size of the niche.  Additionally, sheet mirror sections are often sold for very low prices at yard sales following bathroom renos.  I've picked up huge sheet mirror remnants for ten or twenty dollars apiece at yard sales.  It would not cost much to get an existing sheet cut down to size. 

The mirror installs with the same type of clips as you'd use for any mirror mounted directly to sheetrock.  Because this mirror is so tall, we used side clips (one shown in this photo above) as well as top and bottom clips. 

I should mention that, because we commissioned the building of our own house, we did order an "eyeball" light at the top of the niche.  It was an extra $100 to specify this in our contract.  If a person had to instead retro-wire a niche for a light post-construction, I'm not sure what it would cost. 

We chose a powerful LED spotlight that would throw light downward preferentially, rather than radiating in all directions.

If you had an art niche without a light in it, you'd have to evaluate whether this idea would work well given your available light.  In a brightly-lit area of a home, I imagine it could still achieve the desired effect because the mirror really helps to amplify the available light. 

These inset shelf tracks are available in big box hardware store at an extremely low price - a few dollars per strip.  They are installed by simply screwing them into the wall at regular intervals.  Usually art niches are extensively framed by the builder, so it's not difficult to bite into the wood behind the drywall for a secure installation. 
Obviously four hanging strips needed - two for each side.  They are very easy to cut with a hacksaw to the desired length. 

The main thing you have to be careful about is this: make sure you cut each one at the same place in the hole/slot pattern, because otherwise, when you install them, the clip holes won't line up horizontally and your shelves won't end up being level. 

There are fancier ways to do this kind of thing, but I like the simple exposed metal tracks because they give a bit of artistic-industrial feel that is consistent with the rest of our contemporary home. 

Note how this pic above shows the bottom glass shelf and yet there's still a lot of light reaching the sill below it. 
I took this shot aiming upward at the eyeball light, so the camera exposed it differently.  These shelf clips are also available at the hardware store and are intended to mate with these tracks.  The shelves can be adjusted to any desired separation by moving the clips.  And I used a square of sticky-backed cork on each clip to ensure no slippage. 

Here's a must:  Install the side tracks and the clips at the desired heights BEFORE you measure for the glass shelves that are to sit on them.  That way you know exactly how wide each shelf must be.  And measure each one individually because art niches may not be perfectly plumb or square as built.  The glass shelf that goes at the top of your niche might not turn out to be exactly the same width as the one that goes closer to the bottom.

We had ours cut to width minus one half inch, thus allowing for a quarter inch of play on each side. 

Obviously this is quarter-inch glass.  I may have ordered it as shatterproof as well (it's been three years since we did this project, so memory is a bit foggy).  I had these shelves cut at Admiral Glass as well. 
Let's see that final result one more time:
If I'm remembering correctly, the cost of the project was about $180 (we did the labor ourselves).  This result is so distinctive that I believe it adds many times that investment to the resale value of this house.

Now, regarding the display of collectibles in a niche like this, here are the main things to keep in mind:
(1) Don't cram it chock full.  You'll want to space the collectibles out so that light can pass all the way to the bottom.
(2) Space the collectibles cleverly so that nothing sits within the shadow of anything else above it.  If you do this, you should find that lighting and visibility are still very good on the lower-most shelves.
My collectibles are opaque, but can you imagine if someone were to use this for the display of crystal?  Between the intense spotlight and the mirror and the glass shelves, the effect would be just stunning. 

Anyway, there's another in our endless series of value-added DIY projects.  Happy niching, but I'll encourage you to avoid the common dead dried vegetation default.  There are so many better options! 

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