The ESSENTIAL Shower Niche Design Guide (2018)

by | Last updated Jul 2, 2018 | Bathroom Design, Shower Niche

Create your perfect shower niche with this complete guide

Since shower niche installations are getting more popular every year, more people are wondering about shower niche design. A shower niche can be a beautiful focal point of your shower design or it can have a mostly utility purpose. Most homeowners prefer a shower niche design that achieves a balance between both of these objectives. Here we will explore the aesthetics and utility of the five main types of shower niches. Enjoy!



Large Storage area

Perhaps the greatest advantage of the custom built vertical tiled shower niche is its large storage area. If you are planning to have a custom built tiled shower niche installed by your contractor anyways, it often makes sense to extend it vertically. Because of the way the shower wall is structured, the space between the studs presents a great opportunity to create a long, tall shower niche. Because there is no extra structure required to extend the niche space upwards between the studs, this is a very compelling custom shower niche design option.


Because these shower niches extend vertically, the number and styles of shelves you choose can alter it’s functionality and visual impact. Glass shelves are often used in this type of shower niche design because they are almost invisible. This reduces their visual impact and allows the tiles on the back of the niche to be a focal point of your design. There is a downside to using glass as a shelving material if you are a bar soap user. It’s difficult to keep the soap from slipping off the very smooth glass surface.

Feature tiling

Most modern vertical tiled shower niche designs include the same tile inside the niche that is installed on the surrounding shower wall. This provides a very unified look and allows the niche to blend with surroundings instead of standing out. Others that are interested in a more bold design statement use a contrasting tile on the back wall of the niche, highlighting the niche interior and making your shower niche into a statement piece in your bathroom (see photo).

More subtle design statement

Another distinct advantage of this shower niche design is that it’s narrow. A narrow wall recess creates less of a visual impact in your shower even if it does extend far up the shower wall. Alternatively, a niche that extends horizontal, creates a very different feel as it tends to visually dominate your shower space. This can be bad thing if you are looking to create a useful shower storage area that is more subtle in appearance.


Too Narrow?

Cladding & Tiling the interior surfaces of thid type of shower niche reduces the usable space between the wall studs making it too narrow for some people. This is considered the main disadvantage of this type of shower niche design, especially when the shower wall contains wall studs that are closer than the standard 16” on center (14 1/2” space between).

Necessary tile edge trim

Another disadvantage is that a custom tile border piece or tile edge trim must be installed around the opening of the niche to present a clean and finished tile edge. Failure to do this exposes the edge of the tile at the opening of the niche. A very unattractive look to be sure. Tile edge trim is difficult to install for the DIY installer and adds labour costs if you are hiring a contractor to construct your shower niche. It must also be mentioned that this issue can be entirely avoided if a solid material like natural stone or quartz is used to cover the niche interior. The outer edges of this material can be polished to create a beautiful outer edge to frame your niche.

Interior waterproofing required

Installation of a waterproofing membrane is also required during construction of all custom built tiled shower niche designs. This meticulous step is one of the most important of all the construction steps. This step takes time, increasing your total installation costs. It also has to be completed with almost perfect technique, thus not well suited as a DIY installation project. It must also be mentioned that this step can never be considered as optional. The consequences can be dire if you decide not to install a waterproofing membrane. Water penetration through the tile assembly and into the wall cavity, can result in structural problems, mold growth and health problems for the homeowners. It also inevitably results in a total restoration of the shower surround and a total loss of that part of your investment. Definitely not a risk worth taking.


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Statement of Luxury

The custom horizontal tiled shower niche is considered to be the grandest statement of luxury in modern shower niche design. It is incorporated into a shower when the homeowner wants to create a dominant design feature. If you are simply looking for efficient storage for your shower accessories, this is definitely not the niche design for you.

Largest storage area

These niches are quite often the largest of all the shower niche designs, with the main shelf surface often spanning the entire shower wall. Because of their construction, the shelf can also be deeper than the standard depth of the stud wall, allowing for storage of personal care items that would not normally fit in a standard depth niche. However, some would say that because this shelf is such a dominant feature in your shower and your bathroom in general, that you do not want to clutter it with your messy personal care items. This is definitely a conflict that one must come to terms with if contemplating this shower niche design option.


Waterproofing & trim installation! Again?

The disadvantages of this style of shower niche are some of those mentioned earlier in the vertical tiled shower niche design section. Included is the requirement to apply a waterproofing membrane to the shower wall before tiling, and the need to install tile edge trim around the perimeter of the niche opening.

Structure is King!

There is also one particularly unique disadvantage to the custom horizontal shower niche design option. This requirement would not normally be associated with any of the other shower niche options. This is the requirement to build a parallel non-structural wall directly adjacent to the existing shower wall in which the niche was to be installed. Because the structure of the niche wall would be sacrificed to accommodate the horizontal niche, this is a critically important step. Attempting to install this type of niche in the existing wall may seem minor but it can have serious consequences. These include grout cracking, tile de-lamination and total failure of the tile assembly (see post: 4 BIG shower niche install mistakes).

Sacrificing Floor space

A consequence of the construction of a parallel wall in this shower niche design, is a reduction in the floor area of your shower. Considering the importance of every square inch of floor space in most modern bathrooms, this additional step might eliminate the horizontal niche from your consideration. Even if there is adequate space in your bathroom, the shower footprint would likely have to increase which effects the usable space in your bathroom as a whole. This can destroy a carefully conceived bathroom remodel plan in one fell swoop.

Only one shelf

Although the custom horizontal tiled shower niche has a large deep shelf, it generally has only one. Significant additional structure (and addition cost) has to be applied to every new shelf in a horizontal niche design, so it is not common to see more than one. It also defeats the aesthetic drama of the one single shelf that is part of the appeal of this shower niche design. The lack of multiple shelves (compared with a vertical niche) also forces the homeowner to spread their shower products from one side of the shower to the other. This is not very efficient in terms of access or very attractive.

Highest Cost shower niche design

Even with only a single shelf, the horizontal tiled shower niche is the most costly of all the shower niche designs. The requirement of the extra wall construction and finishing of a much larger recessed area, can easily double or triple the cost compared to other shower niche options. This extra cost and the extra shower space needed to accommodate the custom horizontal niche, explains why this is considered the most luxurious of the shower niche types.


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Easier to install

One of the main advantages of the preformed shower niche insert, is that it is the easiest to install compared to a custom tiled shower niche designs. The most popular of this niche type is factory preformed out of high density foam (see image). This particular niche from Schluter Systems comes in various sizes that are smaller than 14 1/2” wide, which allows them to readily mount between standard wall studs. The perimeter mounting flange allows it to be easily attached to the framing as well.

Waterproof interior

The pre-formed niche components are glued together to create a sealed waterproof box. This eliminates the need for the application of a waterproofing membrane within the niches interior. It’s mounting flange also bonds to the surrounding shower wall waterproofing membrane, creating a completely waterproof assembly beneath the shower wall tiles. It’s entire surface is also coated with a material that allows tile mortar to adhere to its surface. These features make the preformed tilable shower niche insert the most economical tiled shower niche design options.


Limited sizes available

A primary disadvantage of this type of tiled shower niche is that it only comes in a limited range of sizes, and all are designed to mount between standard stud framing. This makes it quite easy to install, but may limit the aesthetic you want to achieve with your shower niche design. As well, the range of available sizes may not be diverse enough to meet your family’s shower storage needs.

Too small for some?

The largest of these prefabricated tiling shower niches can still appear to be smaller than one might expect, especially after tiling is complete. A 3/8” thick porcelain tile applied to its walls and top surface can result in almost a 1”loss of width and height within the niche. If one of the supplied foam shelves are used, this can reduce the usable interior space even further. These are important practical considerations with this shower niche design type.

Necessity of tile edge trim

The installation of tile edge trim may also be necessary around the outside perimeter of this type of niche. If a finished edge tile (or bullnose) tile is not used around the outside perimeter of the shower niche, some kind of tile edge trim must be installed to create a pleasing finished edge to the tile work around the niche opening.



Easy Install

The main advantage of this type of shower niche design is that it is much easier to install than any of the tiled shower niche options. It is a pre-finished solid waterproof fixture that is simply inserted into a hole in the tile backer board and attached to the framing during a remodel or new construction. The installation method is similar for the very few manufacturers creating this type of membrane bonding shower niche product. The procedure is slightly different for the finished shower niches that do not bond to the shower wall waterproofing membrane (discussed in the next section). See post: How Important is Shower Membrane Waterproofing?

Less Costly

The membrane bonding shower niche can be significantly less costly than a tiled shower niche. If you have ever attempted to tile a pre-formed Shower Niche, let alone construct a custom shower niche with waterproofing, you will certainly realize the time and skill required to do this job properly. Alternatively, a finished shower niche fixture like the one pictured can be installed quickly, and professionally by a DIY’er with little skill. One of the two brands requires a little extra time (and cost) because it comes with two components that are installed separately; a plastic waterproofing niche and the finished stainless steel insert. Both brands are however, very quick and easy to install. See post: Modern Bathroom Fixtures – 5 Exciting Innovations

No Tiling Required

A key part of its installation ease is its finished surface. It comes from the manufacturer with an attractive finished surface that is entirely waterproof. No need to apply tile to its surface to finish it off. Just insert, attach to the shower wall, and apply the waterproofing membrane to the mounting flange. The surface is a brushed stainless steel so it’s zinc coating makes it naturally resistant to bacteria growth and easy to wipe clean. A stark contrast to the variable, and often porous surface of tile and grout in a tiled shower niche. A truly impressive shower niche design.

Quick and easy attachment to waterproofing membrane

Although the attachment of the waterproofing membrane to the shower wall does require some skill, it’s attachment to the mounting flange of these finished shower niches is actually very straightforward. For the particular type shown, a hole is cut in the membrane just big enough to expose the entire niche opening and the tile border flange. This way it can overlap the mounting flange by 3/4 – 1”. A thin bead of polyurethane sealant bonds it to the mounting flange.

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Attractive & practical shelving

Some of these shower niche designs include attractive built-in shelving (one brand only). The one shown in the image has a perforated shelf to allow everything on the shelf to dry after showering. It also provides the added advantage of keeping your soap in place. Nobody likes their soap skidding off the shelf and getting underfoot. It’s surprising how this simple feature can enhance this shower niche design, both practically and aesthetically.

Shower Niche Design - soap-shelf2to1

No need for tile edge trim with this shower niche design

This niche design can also help you avoid the meticulous and time consuming task of installing tile edge trim around the niche opening (only one brand has this feature). Tiled niches all require some kind of finishing tile or tile edge trim to make the niche opening aesthetically pleasing. The niche shown in the image includes a stainless steel ridge around it’s outside perimeter that serves as an attractive trim to nicely finish the edge of the shower wall tiles surrounding the niche.

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Vertical shower niche design options available

Although they are difficult to find, there are also some taller finished shower niche fixtures available. The most popular of these is the somewhat dated looking ceramic shower niches. If you do plan to install one of these niche products, you should be careful to choose one that bonds to the shower wall waterproofing membrane (most do not). Most of the more modern looking finished shower niche options are not designed to mount vertically and contain no shelves. As far as we know this soon to be available vertical shower niche fixture is the only one that has that particular feature (see image).

shower niche design - N828-cropped-blk-80

Completely waterproof construction

I don’t think anyone would disagree the the most compelling advantage of this type of shower niche is that it is constructed in such a way that makes it impossible to leak. The box and shelves are welded into a totally sealed unibody structure. Even if it is installed quite sloppily by an inexperienced homeowner, it is still extremely difficult for this fixture to ever cause water to leak into the stud wall. Although the installation procedure is not completely foolproof, this niche installation (pictured) comes as close as you can get.


Limited size options available

There are only a few disadvantages of this kind of niche compared to tiled niches in general. The biggest one is that there is a limited number of sizes available. A homeowner buying a finished shower niche has to be happy the sizes and finishes that the manufacturers offer.

Some have no shelving

Some of the stainless steel finished niche brands offer no shelving options in their niche designs. Shelving options are common in both ceramic and porcelain niche designs, but not the modern, low profile shelving options that most homeowners currently prefer. As far as we know, only one manufacturer offers an attractive low-profile shelf that is built into their shower niche fixture (see image at head of this section).


The last Shower Niche Design we will cover is the finished shower niche that does not have a membrane bonding feature. Although this type of niche is sometimes called a “retrofit” shower niche, it still must be installed during a full remodel of your shower wall. See post: 4 BIG Shower Niche Install Mistakes


Simplest installation

The biggest advantage of this type of shower niche is its simplicity of installation. It mounts into a hole created in the tile backer board during a full remodel of the shower wall. The niche is simply placed into the hole after the shower wall tile has been installed and grouted. It’s only structural attachment is a bead of silicon that glues it to the tile surface.

Least costly niche design

Another compelling advantage of this type of finished shower niche is its price. There are several companies selling these niches online for less than $200. This includes the porcelain, ceramic or stainless steel versions of this finished shower niche design.

Finished surface means no tiling required

The main reason many people purchase these niches is because of their finished surface. That means no tiling or finishing of any sort is required. If you choose the stainless steel version, it offers a shiny finish that suits the modern aesthetic many people are looking for today. The ceramic or porcelain “no membrane bonding” shower niches are also purchased for their no-fuss finished surface. They are easy to wipe clean and fairly abrasion resistant because of the baked on glazing on their surface.


No bonding to waterproofing membrane

The most important disadvantage of this shower niche design is that a large majority of the bands do not have the ability to bond to the shower wall waterproofing membrane. Although their interior surface and corners are protected from leaks, the point where it attaches to the shower wall is not. This is a significant issue if you are concerned about water leaking into your stud walls. The only protection that these niches provide against water leaks around their perimeter is a thin bead of silicon that attaches them to the face of the tile.

No shelves

None of the no-membrane bonding stainless steel shower niches include a shelf in their design. This is a distinct disadvantage of this type compared with the ceramic and porcelain no-membrane bonding shower niches. But even without a shelf, the stainless niches are much more popular in recent years because of their modern styling.

Unpopular styling

Although most of the ceramic and porcelain shower niche designs have a shelf feature, their styling is their most distinct disadvantage. They tend to have gently rounded edges and corners (high radius) which gives them a more dated look. This has significantly reduced their popularity in recent years.

Limited sizes, finishes and styles

Since these shower niches belong in the category of “finished” shower niches, they also carry the same disadvantage of limited sizes, finishes and styles.

This article provided a detailed breakdown of some aesthetic and practical advantages and disadvantages of the five main types of shower niche designs. Whether your goal is to create a beautiful showpiece of modern shower niche design, or you just want a little more storage in your shower, hopefully this post has provided you with some clarity to make a more informed decision. Good luck with your designing your PERFECT shower niche!

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