Alcoves are a common feature in homes, used for decorative purposes such as the display of art objects, for religious purposes such as home shrines, and for utilitarian purposes such as placement of telephones (though this is a somewhat obsolete use today) and other small appliances and small infrequently used fold-out desks or tables. They will often feature their own lighting and sometimes electric outlets in their base.
The standard approach to shallow alcoves for Utilihab is the same as that used for shallow in-wall shelving and standard alcove kits derive from the shelving and supercabinet component series. It is set at a typical counter height and can be enclosed in back or open on both sides of a partition wall. Specialized wall panels are used with this to accommodate the alcove opening, unless the alcove it full floor-to-ceiling height. This makes the standard alcove rectangular and usually one meter wide. A glass cover can be accommodated by simple glass plate cover attached by a pair of horizontal slide-in channel or by bolt attachment to profile slots on two sides using polymer offset washers. Smaller or specially shaped alcoves require custom panels with the alcove fashioned by conventional woodworking on the panel back.
Larger deeper alcoves require enclosing a 1 meter or greater volume from the main room space. This may be based on an external extension of the structure, using perimeter deck space as standard floor space outside the volume of the Primary framing or in a partitioned division within the volume of the Primary framing. Such alcoves are often used for dinette spaces or for sun benches or ‘exedra’. The section on built-in benches describes such uses.
The tokonoma is a special form of large alcove that originated in traditional Japanese architecture but has uses in contemporary and Modernist design. The traditional tokonoma was a broad alcove with a low raised platform, sometimes in two levels, and with a light-colored interior paneling and a wood or special tatami base. One side of the traditional tokonoma featured a gnarled polished wood post made from a heavy tree branch, adding an organic element to the room decor. If not using the whole side wall of a room, they were often paired with a full floor-to-ceiling alcove hosting cabinets and shelves. The tokonoma was used to display decorative or important items such as wall hangings, flower arrangements, bonsai, sculptures and pottery on small bases or tables, ceremonial swords, and the like. These would commonly be changed seasonally with items reflecting the seasonal theme -spring, summer, fall winter.
In more contemporary Japanese homes with the traditional decor, the tokonoma may forego the use of the gnarled wood post (bust still often using a heavier finished wood post divider), be flanked by built-in cabinet and shelves with sliding panel ‘fusuma’ style doors, and may feature recessed lighting and discrete electrical outlets like other modern kinds of alcoves. There is generally a deliberate asymmetry in division -height and width- between tokonoma and any adjacent features. In some designs the adjacent shelf/cabinet space may take the form of a broad counter with smaller shelves and cabinets above it and serves as a kind of desk -designed for use by people kneeling on the floor and sometimes featuring window screens along its back wall or under the counter surface. Tokonomas themselves are not usually set next to windows unless translucent screened for decorative effect, but may feature side windows, again usually screened, as a way to illuminate them.
A novel recent variation in the traditional form is the corner tokonoma which is based on a raised platform set in a corner or set in a recessed alcove in a corner.
Utilihab supports a basic tokonoma kit deriving from its standard alcove kits in several widths and a standard meter depth that is designed to integrate with flush mount paneling using finished wood cover strips. The same kind of cover strips are employed as a wide plank as edging for a simple light-colored plank or panel platform supported on two long aluminum profile risers and spacers. Cement board subfloor floor panels cover the concealed floor space. A special top facing panel is supported by an upper alcove cross-beam covered in a wood plank matching the trim. Light colored panels in fabric covered board or light colored veneer board mount to enclose the back of the alcove, the back panel resting along bolt-on tabs or angles and held in place by the side panels which mount over the side wall framing members using snap-in strips. The upper inside panel mounts similarly and recessed from the edge of the front upper facing panel. Recessed lighting may be mounted in this panel while electric sockets are mounted in the edge of the base plank. Side cabinetry employs the standard cabinet and shelve fittings but with the special addition of 25x50mm concealed profiles supporting the use of thinner fusuma panel sliding doors and front panels matching the material of the tokonoma paneling.