A staple of Victorian architecture, the bay window—an often-cantilevered series of windows that form an alcove—deserves far better than its common, uninspired fate as a home for an oversize flatscreen TV or that college dorm-era halogen torch lamp you refuse to donate.
As you spend more time at home now due to the shelter-in-place orders, you might find yourself wondering about the potential of your own bay window, perhaps how to turn it from a convenient storage facility to the cozy nook with a view it was always intended to be.
To prevent any continued disrespect of this beloved symbol of San Francisco, we’ve rounded up our favorite bay window vignettes (velvet curtains, anyone?) for inspiration.
A happier home office
Some folks, like the master of horror himself, argue that a desk at home should be in a corner facing the walls. Pshaw. Get out of the corner and set up a vintage desk with a lamp and chair facing the center in the nook of your bay window. “You’ll love looking out at the desolate streetscape,” says San Francisco-based designer Jon De La Cruz, “and it gives you flattering lighting for Zoom calls.”
After stay-at-home order went into effect, I moved my desk into the alcove of my five-sided bay window to dramatic effect. With my face pointed out the window for the majority of the day, this set up helps trick my brain into dividing my work life from my home life.
Rip out aluminum Levolor blinds, burn them at midnight, and bury the ashes at dawn
Aside from wicker furniture, few things terrify me more than the default aluminum horizontal blinds that come with most apartments. Destroy them—or better yet, in order to get your deposit back, gently remove them from the windows, roll them up, and store in the attic or closet. If you need your bay windows shielded from sunlight or the gazes of passersby, blackout curtains, found at any home design store or megastore like Target, are the way to go.
A credenza or console is ideal for bay windows since they’re usually low enough not to protrude into precious window real estate. The midcentury credenza, as seen above in a Hayes Valley studio, works perfectly here.
Be careful when selecting curtains: Length is as important as pattern or color. Curtains that touch—or just barely touch—the floor, like the ones inside this Brooklyn apartment, will give your room height while making it look a bit more luxe. Too often people pick curtains that only over the window, which, makes sense is there’s a console or a bad (more on that later) under the window. But if there’s nothing sitting under the bay window, short curtains can result in a stunted, awkward look.
Sofa city, sweetheart
In addition to her looping Helix light fixtures, Mission District-based artist Windy Chien places a long, white couch in her bay window, highlighted with some greenery and a small lamp. Even through the couch doesn’t entirely fit inside the space, it can still work if you pull it further out, like Chien does, and place a small table behind it to showcase art or a plant.
Somewhere that’s green
Living in a top-floor Victorian apartment that receives a healthy amount of sunlight—a rarity for this type of home due to the narrow architecture and asymmetry—I use one of my bay windows as place for plants to spread their roots and take to the skies. I’ve found that even succulents, which aren’t finicky in the Bay Area due to our chilly climate, seem happy when placed in the alcove of bay windows. Whether direct or diffused, plants will get more sunlight that just a regular window.
The owners of this historic Victorian in Hayes Valley didn’t hold back when it came time to doll up the bay windows. This one features two sets of window dressings: violet-hued curtains with orange fringe trim and diaphanous lace curtains peeking out behind them. A 19th-century love seat, decked out in detailed woodwork and cantaloupe upholstery, punctuates the center of the window. And for good measure, a circular marble table and cut crystal vase sits nearby. Phew.
Have a seat
The bay window inside this Castro apartment use two tiny chairs for an intimate conversation area (the only thing that’s minimal inside the unabashedly maximalist home).
But don’t limit yourself to small seating. “Two big wing chairs with an end table works as nicely as a lounge chair, ottoman, and tray,” says de la Cruz, noting that if the bay window is wide enough, a daybed or settee would also look lovely.
And If you’re the crafty type, you can build yourself a built-in window/storage seat—just add some cushions and a throw blanket, he says. Half-height stretch curtains in the windows will also give you privacy while still letting in light and views.
Have a snooze
In what is the most controversial use of a bay window, a sleeping nook isn’t the worst thing you could do with this space. The famed Westerfeld house in Alamo Square, for example, uses one of the alcoves of a bay window for the head of a bed. It’s a lot, to say the least. But sometimes there’s no other choice, especially if your Victorian room is tiny. Just be sure to install blackout curtains, which filter out both sunlight and noise from the street.
Let it be
Not every surface of your home needs to be filled. Same goes for windows. Negative space, as Marie Kondo brought to the forefront of everyday design, helps enhance your pad’s look and, in turn, your mood. Naked fenestration can offer 24/7 views of a power-line emblazoned skyline or the jewel-blue waters of the bay.
After all, bay windows, by nature of their protrusion, provide an opportunity to give passersby a voyeuristic glimpse of life inside the house. That voyeurism goes both ways and is truly an unsung feature.