Few places in a house are more inviting than a window seat, tucked in an alcove or maybe between bookshelves flanking a window: a perfect spot to read or linger over a cup of tea while the sun slants in.
And as if that weren't enough, a window seat can offer more than a cozy place to sit. It can provide extra storage space, conceal plumbing or duct work, or even integrate a sound system into the surrounding room.
''Window seats fit just about anywhere. They're one of a designer's most versatile tricks,'' says Mathilda Cox of Mathilda Cox Interiors in Washington.
For comfort's sake, says Cox, a window seat should be about 18 to 20 inches high -- exclusive of cushion -- so your feet won't dangle. And it should be at least 18 inches deep if you want a scattering of pillows to lean back on. If it's a bit wider and six to eight feet long, it can even function as a spare bed.
The seat cushion should be dense and thick enough so you won't feel the wood underneath -- a minimum of an inch and a half. A down-filled cushion has a cushy, inviting look, but you'll have to fluff it up to keep it looking lofty, unless you tuft it. Polydacron fill is more practical. Foam rubber is the answer for firmer seating.
After planning for comfort, consider how the unit can do double duty.
Cox made the most of twin niches flanking a fireplace by building small window seats in otherwise wasted space. ''They're in a formal dining room and provide extra party seating,'' she says. ''If you remove the cushions, you'll see they're designed with lift-up tops,'' she adds, as handy storage for table linens or tableware.
As part of an attic conversion, Susan Matus, a designer at Case Design/Remodeling in Bethesda, Md., brightened the space with a large, arched window at the gable end. A window seat, between a pair of built-in bookcases, was the perfect solution for concealing a heating and cooling duct below the window. ''It was a practical way to deal with duct work that spanned the entire width of the room,'' she says. ''We had to address it.''
David Herchik of JDS Designs in Washington has designed a curved window seat for a breakfast nook, a seat beneath a staircase window as a telephone niche, and a seat in an alcove with curtains that can be drawn to provide sleeping quarters for a guest. One of his most inventive designs enclosed a sound system under a picture window in a sunroom.
''I put a stereo and speakers in the base unit,'' he says. ''The grillework is a fabric mesh -- you can't see through it, but it's fine enough not to muffle the sound.''
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