In a bedroom, one of the few places you can really get creative with your design is with the headboard. Sure, bed frames, linens, paint, and other furniture are important, but almost always the headboard is the focal point and centerpiece for the space. This has been especially true lately, with headboards trending larger and larger – not just tall and wide, but even taking up the full wall behind the bed. Maybe the most interesting variation on this look, though, is getting rid of the headboard entirely and recessing the bed into a large, rectangular alcove instead.
At a first glance, this might seem like a strange thing to do, but even a relatively shallow nook can play the part of an oversized headboard as well or better than an actual board. The biggest headboards can take up the majority of a wall, which looks great, but can be difficult to get up a flight of stairs and into an actual bedroom. Replacing a headboard with an accent wall can work well on the small end of a modest sized room, but is less practical for a larger master suite. Simply bumping in the wall around the bed, though – just to the depth of the wall – lets you get a “headboard” that’s the exact size and shape you want without having to install anything on your bed frame at all.
Detached headboards – like panels of wood or leather that are installed directly to the wall – achieve a similar effect, but again, they can be unwieldy to install. Bumping in a wall obviously requires a bit more effort, but not as much more as you might think, and the finished look is a lot more flexible. In a literal sense, putting your bed in a recessed alcove gives you more space to work with; even if it’s only a few inches, it can open up a surprising number of possibilities. In the room above, the wall is only recessed a few inches, but the depth contrast makes the grasscloth wallpaper stand out sharply, and serve as a rather nice frame for the painting above the bed.
There are two ways to pull of this look. The first is to actually recess the wall – remove a section of your drywall and build into the space between your walls. The other is to build out from the wall – that is, to leave the wall as-is, but incorporate floor-to-ceiling storage on either side of the bed. The first option is fairly straightforward, but is limited by the depth of your walls, and usually makes for a more shallow recession. The latter can make for a much more deeply recessed bed (reminiscent of pull-down Murphy beds, in fact), and also provides a whole lot of built in storage, replacing your traditional nightstands with shelves and cabinets – perfect for people with a large book collection.
Bumping in your wall also makes it much, much easier to install useful lighting around your bed. Since you’ll either be cutting into or building out from the wall anyway, it isn’t a big leap to add in new lighting fixtures while you’re at it. With this type of faux headboard setup, you usually see two types of lights: overhead spotlights that bring out the texture of the wall above the bed, and wall sconces built to either side. I’m particularly fond of the latter, because they provide perfect bedside lighting but won’t take up any space on your nightstand the way a table lamp would. Wall sconces also sit closer to you while you’re reading in bed, so they don’t need to be quite as bright to get the job done – which can really help keep the peace if your partner is trying to sleep while you’re up late reading!
Those overhead spotlights, though, are part of the reason this look works so well. Offsetting the wall and then shining lights down on it, right above the head of your bed, is an amazingly effective way to draw attention to the space. If there’s anything remotely interesting in that recessed area – a painting, a textured surface, a different color or material, or so on – a few small ambient lights can really make them stand out in a way that a standard headboard really can’t – no matter how large or grand.
Maybe the best thing about recessing your bed, though, is that that little bit of indentation opens up a lot of room for experimentation. The cubby your bed is in doesn’t have to serve as the headboard all by itself; while you can certainly leave it as such, or fit a stylized headboard into the space, you can also mix and match, layering an actual headboard, the recessed space, and the surrounding wall. The bedroom above is a perfect example, pairing a large, padded headboard with textured wallpaper in the recessed space and a polished wood surround that sets off the whole wall dramatically from the rest of the room.
So if you want to go big and bold with your bedroom design, don’t just think of your headboard in terms of size, but also in terms of depth, contrast, texture, and light.