TALENTED HOME DECORATORS HELP! New ugly circuit breaker box mounted!
December 31, 2015 1:35 PM   Subscribe

In a week's time I may have to face a metal circuit breaker box, and floor-to-ceiling electrical piping, sticking out from a wall in my already small studio. I'm seeking decorator-style help. What can I do to make this even marginally less hideous?

Apartment is light blue in color.

The geniuses at my Chicago landlord's office have decided that they're going to install a circuit breaker box and electrical piping in every single unit in all of their buildings, regardless of how a tenant feels about it.

I've lived here for 10 years. If I'm unable to stop them, I'll be living with it for at least six months. I am not quite yet giving in, but I'm also trying to plan for alternate scenarios in which I have to live with it, or choose to live with it over the pain of paying movers.

Your decorating help would be appreciated.

VERY VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: This is not a situation where the panel will be flush with the wall. (They're building out the drywall when people leave, but can't do it during a tenancy.) I'm gonna have a big honkin' circuit breaker box sticking out of my wall.
posted by WCityMike to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Cover it with a curtain?
Or a room divider (just a tall, narrow, two-panel thing you could have manufactured to order).
posted by beagle at 1:40 PM on December 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

You can do what Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Don Sahlin and Jerry Juhl did in 1964.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:46 PM on December 31, 2015 [12 favorites]

Use command strips to stick a piece of artwork on it. Ask that they paint the conduit to match the current wall color.
posted by metasarah at 1:50 PM on December 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Our circuit breaker box is covered by a wooden frame and door. It looks like it might be a cabinet or a window just hanging on the wall.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 2:12 PM on December 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

(They're building out the drywall when people leave, but can't do it during a tenancy.)

This was not the case when something similar happened to me (not in Chicago, though). Push back hard and get them to put that box flush inside the wall, re-drywall or re-plaster, and re-paint.

For an actual answer to your question, consider printing fun 4x6 snapshots of good times with friends onto magnetic backing paper and sticking them on the conduit, and print a big beautiful photo at 16x20 and attach that with smaller fridge-style magnets to the panel door. Yeah, it's very college-studenty, but it's also a way to turn landlord bullshit into something meaningful to you.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:27 PM on December 31, 2015

How about a folding screen?
posted by floweredfish at 2:40 PM on December 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Aww, you don't have an eyesore. You have a blank canvas! (Maybe reframing in your mind may help to lower your consternation level to the point you are no longer considering moving over this...)

Cover it in buttons. Campaign buttons (Nixon's the one! I like Ike! Yes we can!), or real buttons, or electronic push buttons and switches that don't do anything. Use double-sided tape so it's all removable. Or pave it over with junk jewelry. Paint a tiny elevator onto it. Or an old-timey camera. Or make it into a robot.
posted by sageleaf at 2:55 PM on December 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

Ikea has panel curtains that hang from rails...this would be like the thinnest possible room divider or false wall, and they come in lots of cool colors/patterns.
posted by Sublimity at 3:31 PM on December 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sublimity: Not sure that would work with a box jutting out from the wall.
posted by WCityMike at 3:42 PM on December 31, 2015

The tracks can be mounted on the ceiling.
posted by Sublimity at 3:53 PM on December 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Get a towel rack that sticks out the depth of the circuit breaker. Hang a beautiful textile or art work from the rack.
posted by Elsie at 5:02 PM on December 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

European curtain rod holders telescope as much as five inches out, so it is possible to hang in front and wrap the side. Or hit Ikea for a standing closet or a corner closet.
posted by Oyéah at 7:34 PM on December 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

What are the dimensions of a 'big honkin' circuit breaker", and how many electric 'pipes' aka conduits will be run?

Some conduit could be only a couple inches diameter and serve an entire apartment, if its run form an old panel someplace else. If floor to ceiling, as recommended above, have the workers paint the conduit to match the existing wall color. Some circuit breaker boxes can be barely bigger than a couple shoe boxes. It could be made to look like a picture frame, or with a mirror, a medicine cabinet.

Do you have specs from the landlord?
posted by TDIpod at 8:36 PM on December 31, 2015

How crafty DIY ish are you? I'd build a simple box around it & stick a mirror on the front that opened like a door. Hell as it's just sitting there & not structural you could make it by screwing 3 pieces of MDF you get cut at a hardware store together, paint it to match the wall colors and add a handle to help pull it out the way when you need to reach the box. Or get some canvases from a craft store & screw them together to make a screen. Paint it the wall color or make your own abstract art.

You can get curtain rods that bend around corners, or make your own with a pipe bender & some pipe. Paint it & hang a pretty curtain around it. Depending on how far it comes out of the wall one of those curtain panels from Ikea just in front might help hide it too.

Buy an old cabinet/wallunit/bookcase. Take the back off & cut out slot in the shelves so it will sit flat against the wall and slide it over the front of the unit so it, old kitchen cupboards would be get for this as they have no backs already. Check out your local Habitat store for all sorts of secondhand/factory seconds if you need to do this on the cheap. The thin cabinets designed to go on walls would take up less room You can then just open the cabinet for access.
posted by wwax at 10:34 AM on January 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

a metal circuit breaker box, and floor-to-ceiling electrical piping, sticking out from a wall in my already small studio.

Just box it in floor to ceiling, with a cabinet door or hole with a mirror over it for access to the box.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:13 AM on January 1, 2016

A lot depends on how much space you have - and you say you have only a small studio - and the style you have decorated your home. Your strong feelings about this suggest to me that you are very attached to your own style so you won't be happy to slap any old thing on the front of it.

For example, you might hide the pipes above and below the circuit box by covering them with artificial vines - but this would be a chore to clean and you might not feel that artificial ivy goes with your apartment at all. Another thing you might do is decorate it like the Muppet pipes with paint and googly eyes - but again, to your eyes that might look worse than the breaker box unadorned. Or you might look at several interior-of-death-star still shots in the latest Star Wars movie and try to convert it into a back drop for your collection of model ti-fighters.

Your problem is a common one. I did a quick search: Apartment Therapy has a couple of suggestions.

Your best bet is to wait until it is done and then size up how big the problem is. You can then decide if it is sticks out too far or if it would look strange with a picture in the front.

What is the circuit breaker box going to displace? Will it be on a previously blank wall?

The biggest problem may be that your local fire code requires the box to remain visible. In some areas they require 48" of clearance in front of the box. Even if you are allowed to cover it, you may wish to use materials that cannot catch fire or conduct electricity.... at which point perhaps mounting an entry way mirror over it might solve your problem.

The other suggestion I have for you is paint - not just slap some blue on it to make it match your walls, but use some fairly dark colours in order to make the seams in the box stand out less and paint it to look like something else. I am thinking for example, rather than covering with a custom made wooden cabinet, paint it to look like the custom made cabinet using an on line tutorial so that you can simulate a wood grain effect. It could be painted to look like a wooden cabinet with a painted front panel so that it could, for example again, be a dark wooden cabinet with a white front panel on which is a decoupage of a rose.

The trick is decide what would look good in that spot that is roughly that size and shape and make it look like something you want.

I have some bodhrans hanging on my wall. You could hang something like that on it, if you felt it would be safe enough. The big ones could easily fit over an apartment sized breaker box.

My point is that there are lots of creative solutions available, and lots of attractive solutions available. It's only a problem if that is the place in your apartment where you always store something, and now there is no room for the something because your studio apartment is just too small.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:04 PM on January 3, 2016

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