When it comes to your home's interior, few things are as aesthetically offensive as radiators. (Unless you have a big stinky dog crate in the middle of your dining room . . . but we digress.) Radiators clash with decor schemes and, if they're old enough, they hiss and clang to boot, especially these days when it's frigid out. Moving them is rarely an option (try heaving hundreds of pounds of cast iron or steel or, on second thought, please don't), and some radiator covers do little to help the problem, seeming only to emphasize what's underneath. What is a design-conscious, radiator-hating Bostonian to do? We have some ideas for you.
Just as there's no standard-size radiator, there's no standard-size radiator cover. At the low end, a small, 24-inch-by-24-inch cover in the contemporary style costs $116; at the higher end, a 60-inch-by-36-inch in the vintage style goes for $626. (Pricey cherry wood is 50 percent extra.) To prevent warping, veneered plywood is used for the sides and top, and solid wood for the frame and slats.
The finished covers are not only aesthetically pleasing, but can make a room safer for curious toddlers. "A lot of people are buying covers because they have kids," says Barry Rothman, Bookcase Factory Outlet owner.
Bostonwood (1117 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-783-1536, www.bostonwood.com) and its Watertown sister store Evergreen Unfinished Furniture (57 Mt. Auburn St., Watertown, 617-924-7412) also build custom wooden covers with slatted, cane mesh, or metal grill facades. Though any wood can be used for the covers, pine is by far the least expensive, with an average cost of around $200. The covers can be easily stained (a polyurethane should be applied to seal it), or the store can have them finished for an extra charge.
Some of the best wooden radiator covers are practically unnoticeable. When he was planning the library of a show house in Lincoln in 2003, interior designer Gregory Van Boven had a carpenter build a cover for a "hideous radiator" in the room, so that it could blend in seamlessly with a wrapping bookcase he'd designed. "The idea was to make the ugly cast iron piece totally disappear without affecting heat output," Van Boven says.
"What I try to do with people is tell them, 'If you were going to add a piece of furniture to the room, what would you like it to look like?' " Castleman says. "Then they get it."
Customers might want the cover to match something specific, like a picture frame, or to just fit in with the color scheme of a room. Castleman and Gilbey, who have also designed custom displays for pushcarts, kiosks, and stores, use birch, maple, mahogany, cherry, ash, and oak. If they use fabric or string, they stretch it on a wooden frame inside of the front of the cover, "so people can get rid of it if they want."
The covers start at around $250 or $275 and are guaranteed for life.
The simpler models start at $40.95 (for a 14-inch-by-22-inch enclosure), though the average price for Waltham Wallpaper and Paint's metal covers is roughly $175-$250, says store owner Alan Rice. The store can paint the covers any color, though anything other than white or off-white is an extra charge.
If you choose to paint a metal (or wooden) cover on your own, first use a primer, and then let your imagination take over. India Halcrombe, creator of the home design blog Apt. 528 (blog.apt528.com), chose a citron green for a metal cover that came with her Roslindale apartment.
"It's next to a green accent wall, so I painted [the cover] to match," she says. "I didn't see any reason to hide it."
Halcrombe keeps a favorite 1950s radio on top of the radiator, and says besides looking good, the radiator cover helps spread heat more efficiently - a definite plus in Boston winters.
Much of what you need you can find at
If you don't have a workshop in your basement or a saw, don't fret: The folks at Home Depot, Lowe's, or most lumber stores can cut it for you. The most important thing to remember, besides keeping your fingers intact, is to allow extra space in your measurements for ventilation.
Oil paint has its drawbacks - it will discolor slightly, especially if it's white. You could use a heat-resistant spray paint for the job, Gatie says, though color choices tend to be more limited.
Before painting a radiator, you'll need to remove any old paint or grime, and if the radiator is heavily rusted, apply a rust-inhibitive primer.
If your decor allows, you could achieve a more antique look by bronzing the radiator using a metallic powder mixed with bronzing liquid or varnish. The mixture produces a rich, decorative finish that recalls the era when radiators were considered stylish. (The technique works best on radiators that have not been painted, Gatie says.) Johnson carries metallic powder for $38.99 a pound and varnish for around $15 a quart, and a premade metallic product for $26.99 a quart.
One downside to painting a radiator is that getting the paint into all the nooks and crannies takes time and patience. Another is that it's probably best to wait a few months to do it.
"Paint it in the summer," Gatie recommends. "Don't do it when the heat is on and off. You want a cure time."