Whether a house is on a busy urban street or on a coastal mountaintop, the room with the best view is usually the most prized. It's especially true if the space incorporates gorgeous picture windows that frame the landscape beyond. You can, of course, align the sofas, dining-room tables or arm chairs to incorporate the panorama, but one of the best (and most versatile) ways of taking full advantage of the scenery is to build a window bench right beside the glass.
It's an idea that architect Betsy Williamson sometimes incorporates in her work. A weekend retreat that her firm, Williamson Chong Architects, designed in Ontario's Georgian Bay, for example, has a deep, solid-maple seat nestled against a window-filled corner. The perch is ideal for absorbing the rugged Niagara Escarpment that surrounds the property. But it's not just about the looks – it's also practical. In Williamson's design, the depth and height of the seat allow for a series of alcoves underneath, providing storage for firewood and stereo equipment. It also helps fill the kind of awkward, unusable gap common in many homes – the leftover area between the bottom of the window frame and the floor, and the fireplace and the adjacent wall.
David Shone took a similar, Swiss Army-knife approach with a bench that his firm, Vancouver-based Patkau Architects, designed for its Governor General award-winning Agosta House. Not only does it work aesthetically – the understated material (Douglas Fir veneered plywood) blends in with the window frame, which helps keep the focus on the view (not on the structure itself) – it has a number of other functions. The seat doglegs from the home's foyer into its living room, providing both a place to display decorative objects as well as put on and take off shoes. It also has built-in drawers for storage and a hidden passage to run some of the home's electrical wiring.
Ultimately, of course, the best use for any window bench is indulging. In their Green-Blais residence, Toronto-based Architects Alliance added a particularly luxurious window seat. It is just off the home's living room, but because of a few notable details, the nook feels like a cozy, intimate den unto itself. A day bed rests beside both a window and a ceiling-height bookcase, and a curtain can be drawn to allow for complete seclusion. It's the perfect spot for lounging, reading, snuggling, napping or staring off into the distance – everything that makes a window bench a pleasure to have.