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Owners of classic old brick homes in the DC area know too well the challenge of decorating historic homes. When it comes to older home heating systems - many complete with unattractive old radiator covers - the desire for authenticity often conflicts with the need for style. Here are some classy and affordable alternatives recommended by Old House Journal

Period-Friendly Products for Old Houses

There’s no need to put up with flimsy vent covers, or radiators with flaking paint. Period-friendly products let you gussy-up the less-than-attractive evidence of your HVAC system, and many choices are quite affordable. That’s especially true for grilles, the wood or metal faceplates that cover heat registers and cold-air returns. Most affordable is a quality cast-metal version with a perforated design; oak or another hardwood will cost more.

Cast-metal grilles are available in an ever-expanding range of period-inspired styles and in steel, aluminum, bronze, even copper. Most of these grilles feature perforated designs descriptively called basket-weave, honeycomb, or teardrop.  Classical designs include

  • Scroll—any design with figural, openwork curves
  • Grecian, an openwork radial pattern found in Greek architecture.

Styles in wood tend to be basic, such as the straight-slotted, directionally louvered pattern sometimes called “Rickenbacker”, and the classic egg-crate grid.

The circular vent covers associated with high-velocity HVAC systems can pop up anywhere, even in the midst of deep cove molding.  The choice of outlet covers includes decorative medallion-like models.

Radiators - Upright and Baseboard

What to do about those behemoths of yore, the upright radiator? Various companies today offer radiator covers in the now-classic cloverleaf, cane, and Grecian patterns of the 1920s and ’30s.

As for those ugly baseboard units that invariably have lost, bent, or rusty covers, give them the slipcover treatment with a decorative baseboard cover. Styles are available in parquet, trellis, and an alternating dashed “cobble stone.”  A more expensive tack is to conceal the radiator as part of a built in bookcase or wall unit. 

Did you know you can replace a balky or missing upright radiator with a baseboard unit? Less noticeable and quieter than many vintage radiators, they’re also easier to keep clean. Other options include close-to-the-wall radiators with traditional styling and a host of flat fin, hoop, and even corkscrew styles. The unit can blend in with the décor or make a clean, updated statement.

First published in: Old-House Interiors September/October 2010

Renaissance Development, a leader in brick restoration and historic preservation, specializes in the restoration of an old brick building’s mortar joints using traditional methods (tuckpointing) and materials. Contact us for a free site visit and project quote.


Post by Christina Wilson
Feb 16, 2016 3:12:49 PM