These inviting fireside-seating areas can be physically enclosed and private or they can open wide to form integral components of larger rooms. Either way, they tend to be focal points that architects or builders situate in key positions to be admired from multiple sight lines. Materials usually match those in other parts of the house so that the niche becomes part of the architecture.

“Inglenooks are especially nice in larger family rooms because they offer intimate seating within a larger context,” submits architect Barbara Brown. “It's a great place for two or three people to have a cup of tea or glass of wine.”

Spruce It Up

In order to minimize the impact on the coastal island where this Maine waterfront home lies, architect Winton Scott designed up rather than out. “The client didn't even want to clear the land facing the water, preferring to keep the site as natural as possible,” says Scott. Such restrictions led Scott to produce a vertical plan that features an expanse of two- and three-story spaces within the 3,000-square-foot house. Several niches, such as this 11-foot-wide by 41/2-foot-deep inglenook, provide snug sanctuaries within the airy footprint. The tall birch-and-fir wainscoting also helps to mitigate ceiling height and draw the eye toward the stone fireplace. Deer Isle granite around the firebox opening follows the slightly flared shape of the columns that frame the alcove. Bookshelves enclose the fireside benches to generate a slightly obscured sitting area that still allows those in the living and dining rooms to enjoy the fire. Builder: Michael Hewes, Blue Hill, Maine; Architect: Winton Scott, Portland, Maine; Structural engineer: Swift Engineering, Norway, Maine; Photographer: Brian Vanden Brink.

Cradle of Stone

Coarsely split granite forms the fireplace surround and two perpendicular benches that embrace this massive inglenook. “You clearly feel the armature of the stone cradling you,” says architect Mark Hutker. The seats extend 6 feet 5 inches beyond the firebox opening, so that just about anyone can fully stretch out next to a fire. The granite's random ashlar pattern is countered by smooth polished fir that lines the stone seats, while ample cushions add comfort and coziness. Exposed fir beams outline the 8-foot ceiling just above the alcove, which soars to a peaked vault in the living room beyond. The chimney wall and sides of the inglenook also serve as dividers in an otherwise open sequence of public spaces. Builder: Martha's Vineyard Construction, West Tisbury, Mass.; Architect: Mark Hutker Associates Architects, Vineyard Haven, Mass.; Stonemason: Kenneth Lane Stone and Fine Masonry, Aquinnah, Mass.; Photographer: Brian Vanden Brink.

Beach Scene

“The clients didn't want a great room,” says architect Mark Hutker, “but they did want a kitchen with a highly social function to it.” His solution: a 10-foot-7-inch-wide inglenook open to the kitchen of this Martha's Vineyard vacation home. The fireplace pops nearly 2 feet beyond the exterior wall and is flanked by casement and clerestory windows that make the nook an ideal spot for watching the fire and the water view. To further strengthen the indoor/outdoor relationship, cedar shingles wrapping the wall continue the exterior siding, while the travertine hearth and mantel mimic the hue and texture of the beach. Builder: Martha's Vineyard Construction, West Tisbury, Mass.; Architect: Mark Hutker Associates Architects, Vineyard Haven, Mass.; Stonemason: Cumar, Everett, Mass.; Photographer: Brian Vanden Brink.

Hearth and Heart

“The inglenook really became the heart of the house,” says architect Barbara Brown. “Everything circulates around this area.” Brown placed the nook in the approximate center of the footprint and organized the entry, stairwell, living room, and kitchen around it. The 7-foot-long benches are constructed of solid cherry to match other cabinetry and millwork in the house. Rough-sawn cedar planks, also used as exterior siding, demarcate the ceiling just above the nook to give the area distinction without closing it in. Detailing in the terra-cotta floor tile pattern also helps to define the recess while allowing it to integrate freely with adjacent rooms. The fireplace surround of sage green ceramic tiles interspersed with real copper accents enlivens Brown's understated design. Builder: Doyle Construction, Larkspur, Calif.; Architect: Barbara Brown Architects, Sausalito, Calif.; Photographer: Mark Trousdale.