DEAR TIM: I would really like to have a window seat in my home. I think they are cozy and attractive. Are there different storage possibilities or configurations? What does it take to build a window seat? Is it possible to build one on a standard flat wall? Erika N., Seattle, WA
DEAR ERIKA: Why only one? I think that you should consider building several window seats in different parts of your house. They are excellent multi-purpose fixtures. Not only do they provide extra seating, but they also create lots of useful storage space. In fact, I just talked to my wife about building one in my son's room.
Window seats are one part of a home that can change with the seasons. Some people outfit the seat with vibrant upholstered cushions depicting the different seasons of the year or holiday periods. Some achieve the same effect by using decorative pillows. Because the eye is usually drawn to a window when entering a room, the decorated window seat tends to get immediate attention. Accessing the storage area beneath a window seat can be accomplished in a number of ways. The first house my wife and I owned had the traditional hinged seat. You flip up the seat and the entire storage area lies before you. This storage method has some limitations in my opinion. If you need an item that is on the floor or in the lowest part of the storage area, you need to pull everything out to get to it.
The front vertical surface of the seat can be built with swinging cabinet doors or even bi-pass sliding doors. This method of access is not much different than any standard wall or base cabinet. Because window seats are already so low to the ground, you usually only have room for one shelf level. If you decide to place audio or video tapes, disks, or compact disks below a window seat, you can have special shelving dividers built that maximize this type of storage.
I have installed window seats that have drawers beneath them. This configuration offers the least amount of storage space as the drawer body and suspension system use up space that would otherwise be available had cabinet doors or a flip-up lid been used.
Window seat construction can be simple or complex. The simplest window seat is just a bench with no access to the storage space beneath it. One simply needs to build a simple wall that forms the front face of the seat and then place a piece of plywood on the top of the short wall and the window wall. Complex window seats can be built using specialty hardwood lumbers, exquisite detailing and moldings, and accessories such as built-in indirect lighting and hidden sound system speakers. The possibilities are endless.
Window seats are easy to build if the window is in a small alcove or between two nearby side walls. If you have a plain long flat wall, you can still build a window seat. One option is to install a set of built-in base cabinets with bookshelves above them on either side of the window. Many kitchen cabinet companies make cabinets for this exact purpose. The window seat spans between the two sets of cabinets. The look is stunning.
There are some basic guidelines you should follow with respect to window seat dimensions. Find the most comfortable chair in your home. Model the height and depth of the window seat after this chair. I have found that a finished height of 19 inches off the finished floor is ideal for most window seats. The window seat depth from front to back is also important. Make it too shallow or deep and it can be uncomfortable. The preferred depth should fall somewhere between 17 and 22 inches. If you intend to take an occasional catnap on your window seat, then I suggest you make it 24 inches deep.
If a heating or cooling duct is currently under a window, then simply hire a professional heating or cooling contractor to extend the duct so that it blows the air out the front of the new window seat. You can purchase decorative metal or wood grill covers that will compliment the window seat instead of detracting from it.