How to Decorate Around Your Ugly Old Heater

How to Decorate Around Your Ugly Old Heater
Photo: archideaphoto, Shutterstock

Living in an older home presents all sorts of challenges. The layouts may be more closed in, the wiring could need updating, the closet space is lacking — and the heating systems might be outdated. Older homes will often use a boiler and radiator system to heat the home, which involves steam rising through the pipe system to transport heat to the room through a heater. Cast iron radiators are common in older homes, they’re usually placed under windows, and they take up quite a bit of wall space. But, since these 40-kg heaters can’t be moved, why not try blending them into your decor?

How to update your old heaters

Old heaters can become an eyesore. After the original finish has worn off, they can become rusty or discolored — but you can give it a facelift by restoring it to its original silver colour or paint it to match your walls and room tone. According to Best Heating Advice Centre, painting your heater is easy enough to do yourself and takes about two hours to complete.

You’ll need a few cleaning supplies, a sander, and some radiator primer, in addition to the paint you’d like to use. It’s a good idea to get an official painter’s drop cloth and some cardboard to protect the heater’s surroundings from any paint drips. First, you’ll need to clean the heater thoroughly (see Lifehacker’s guide to cleaning your radiator), then sand down any rough or bumpy areas. You’re now ready for primer. If you’re dealing with a rusty heater, make sure you get a rust-inhibiting primer for your undercoat paint. After the primer dries completely, you can apply your first coat of colour paint. Best Heating Advice suggests that, “for the best results, you should paint a heater in stages — painting the edges first, before moving on to the face of the appliance.”

How to make your heater into a shelf

To make the heater functional, you can put a marble, stone, or quartz slab on top to create a shelf. This is a better idea in the warmer months when your heater is not being used. Apartment Therapy suggests a marble saddle, which is a thinner slab and fairly inexpensive, costing as low as $28. Remove the slab entirely in the colder months or remove decorative items and leave it to warm up gloves and socks in the winter. You could also install (and anchor) a year-round shelf a couple of inches above the heater.

Blend your heater into the room as furniture

One of the most appealing ways to decorate your heater is to hide it behind a functional piece of furniture. Easy-to-assemble heater covers come in various shapes and sizes with front slats or metal grates to hide the coils but allow heat to bleed through. They often look like cabinets and have a shelf on top for picture frames or plants (especially high heat and humidity-loving plants). Depending on the size, look, and retailer, a heater cover can cost anywhere from $90 to $321.

You can also try building one yourself — all you need is the wood, trim, metal grate, legs, nails, and appropriate tools. That sounds like a lot, but essentially, you’re constructing a glorified box around the heater. Construction and design site This Old House has detailed instructions on building your own radiator cover for $US50 ($64)-$US100 ($128). They recommend using a circular saw, but if you know the dimensions, your local hardware store should be able to cut the wood for you, so all you need to do is assemble the pieces.

Although these covers are an easy option, you can get even more creative. Designer Marie Proeller Hueston with Bob Vila’s home improvement site offers other suggestions for transforming your heater into useful furniture. For heaters that are low to the ground but take up a significant amount of wall space, Hueston suggests a low bench constructed of treated wood boards and slats. Tall heaters in the kitchen can be converted into extended counter space — in addition to a regular radiator cover, place matching countertops over the heater for more prep space. Apartment Therapy does warn against using wood over heater as it can crack and warp with the change in temperature, so you should make sure sure the wood is treated and able to handle the heat.

DIY site Shelterness uses an antique table cut in half over the heater for a vintage look — secure it to the wall above the heater, and you’ve got additional seating for dining when the heater isn’t in use (and an additional shelf for when it is).

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