Home Preservation

Warm Up To Decorative Radiators
Lakewood Heritage Advisory Board

Don’t paint it out! Highlight it.
Radiators and their pipes are often painted the same color as the wall so that they “disappear” into it. Many radiators, however, have ornamental detail— clawed feet, scroll work, scallops, and filigree—that have been lost under decades of paint. Consider highlighting the detail and making the radiator a decorative statement.

Bronze is beautiful.
Radiator covers did not become popular until the 1920's. From the late 1800's through about 1920, radiators were almost always out in the open, and the most popular radiator finish was metallic paint, applied as a decorative painting technique called “bronzing.”. The most popular color was gold, ranging from a pale color to a deep, rich tone. Other colors included copper and silver. Some bronzing color schemes used one color on the body of the radiator, with a second color for the ornament. Refinishing a decorative radiator in metallic tones makes a beautiful accent against natural woodwork.

Polychrome paint perhaps?
Two and three-color paint schemes for radiators were also popular in the early 1900's. Often the background color on the radiator matched the background color on the wallpaper behind the radiator, and the ornamental detail on the radiator was highlighted in one or two colors from the wallpaper. Another option was to paint the radiator in colors that contrasted with the paint color of the wall.

Purge the paint.
Removing the old paint is worth the effort. One method is to disconnect the radiators and send them to be sandblasted by a company specializing in abrasive cleaning.

Finish it off.

X Long-handled and offset-handled brushes are available for reaching all parts of a radiator with paint.

X For bronzing, there are suppliers of bronzing powders and liquids, as well as camel’s-hair brushes for applying it. Be sure to follow the instructions for priming and mixing the powder and liquid.

X For painting, do not use water-based paints (latex) over the bare cast iron. The resulting rust will bleed through the paint.

X Polychrome by painting the ornament color first. Once this is dry, paint the entire radiator the background color. Before the background color dries, use a sponge to gently wipe the paint from the raised ornament. Touch-ups and additional accents can be added with an artist’s brush.

Radiator covers.

Radiator covers became popular in the 1920's, ranging from plain metal designs to covers that had decorative accents or resembled pieces of furniture. Radiator covers are worth maintaining. New covers are available in a variety of designs to complement the architectural details of interior rooms.

Replacing radiators.

If a radiator must be replaced, old radiators are available through salvage dealers, and new models are available. Both of these choices are better than converting to baseboard units, which ruin the look of the baseboards.

For more information, see Old House Journal, September/October, 1988 and February, 2003. The 2003 article is also available at http://www.oldhousejournal.com/magazine/2003/february/bronze_beauties.shtml


The Lakewood Heritage Advisory Board was established to serve in an advisory capacity for the purpose of educating, informing and making recommendations to City officials, departments, boards and commissions, and the community on matters relating to historic preservation

The Lakewood Heritage Advisory Board may be contacted through the City of Lakewood Department of Planning and Development (216/529-6630). Information in this publication may be reprinted. Please credit the Lakewood Heritage Advisory Board, Lakewood, Ohio.

© 2005 Lakewood Heritage Advisory Board

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