Just because hiring a carpenter is out of the budget, doesn't mean custom shelves have to be. Using simple hardware store brackets and planks of hardware lumber (or reclaimed planks if you can find them, check ebay and craiglist religiously!) you can make a custom shelving system fairly painlessly. Anne-Claire Rohe's home, featured on Design*Sponge, showcases beautiful and simple shelves made up of both run-of-mill lumber and some with aged patina.
You can use pre-made floating shelves and bookcases to achieve a similar function, without the hassle of a saw. Using a variety (picture 4) of shelf types and colors can create an interesting look while also providing a variety of storage.
If you're living room is a multi-tasker, fireplace nooks can be the perfect place for a simple work desk (like the talented Jenny of Little Green Notebook did for her client, Joanna Goddard, picture 7) or shallow console table that can double as a buffet or bar during parties.
You can play up the architectural bump-out by wallpapering or painting the nooks on either side or just the bumpout itself. While I'm not a huge fan of accent walls in general, this look always wins me over.
How do you use the area around your fireplace?