Exposed! 10 Tips for Showing Off Ducts, Pipes, Beams and More

Pipes. Beams. Ductwork. These things are generally hidden in our homes behind walls, in ceilings, and within soffits. Sometimes, however, it pays to leave some of these tubes, conduits, and structural elements exposed to serve as edgy decorative statements. Done right, this approach can lend an industrial flair to any space, but the key here is “done right.” If you don’t take special care in showing off what's usually concealed, you’ll end up with spaces that look unfinished rather than thoughtfully conceived. Here are 10 ways to use pipes, beams, and ductwork to maximum effect in fulfilling your design aspirations.

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  1. Disappearing Act


    If you don't want to go through the hassle of covering up your exposed pipes and ducts, but you also don't want them to draw too much attention, simply paint them the same color as the ceiling or walls that surround them. Painted in a unifying hue, they will blend in and become part of a cohesive background palette.

  2. Curvaceous


    If you have exposed pipes in a room, they don't have to be strictly linear. You can install joints along the pipes’ path to make interesting patterns on the wall, or have a length of pipe custom-bent for you by a professional pipe fitter or metalworker, as was the case here.

    Related: 10 Top DIY Pipe Fitting Projects

  3. Don’t Hide the Pipes


    Keeping the hot and cold water pipes exposed in a shower creates an appealing industrial design. It also makes it easier to add a shower to an area that doesn't already have one, because you don't need to break into a wall to install the pipes out of sight. This is an especially good idea for outside showers.

    Related: Outdoor Showers—The New Accessible Luxury

  4. Fun and Functional


    If you’re renovating a space, consider incorporating your plumbing into the design. Here, the pipes were routed around a loft space to form a unique railing. Because of the risk of getting burned, we’re not sure you’d want to do this with your hot water pipes, but for the cold water we think the idea “flows” really well.

    Related: How To Decorate a Loft

  5. Space Gainer


    Leaving your beams exposed can be a great way to get more room in tight spaces. Just imagine how much more cramped this attic conversion would have felt if drywall had been placed over the beams.

    Related: 10 A-Frame Homes That Deserve A+

  6. Decorative Ducts


    The temptation here would have been to enclose the ductwork in a soffit. But had the designers done so, they would have lost much of the open and airy feel of the project. Instead, they used galvanized steel ducts that contrast nicely with the exposed wood posts and beams. If you choose this approach, just make sure your ducts are shiny and rust-free.

    Related: What Would Bob Do? Cleaning Air Ducts

  7. Make It Modern


    Although leaving wood beams exposed on the ceiling of a room often creates a rustic feel, in this instance the resulting look is decidedly modern, achieved by keeping the beams close together and lighting them in a dramatic, eye-catching way.

    Related: Track Lighting 101

  8. Book Smart


    More than just a design element, exposed beams in a room can be transformed into functional storage space as well. By running wood planking at a 90-degree angle along the bottom of existing beams, you can create a shelf that you can fill with books or other attractive objects of your choosing.

    Related: Lost in the Library—11 Epic Reading Rooms

  9. Clean Copper


    If you do choose to keep your ductwork exposed, consider springing for copper. While more expensive than galvanized steel, it creates an elegant, warm look. Copper is also reported to have antifungal and antimicrobial properties, so it could help make the air that comes through a forced-air system healthier for you and your family.

  10. Pretty in Paint


    On the other hand, if you are left with a pipe or a beam that stands no chance of “disappearing” no matter what visual tricks you use, why not make it a focal point in the room by painting it a bright, bold color instead?

    Related: 12 Fresh Ideas for Your Kids' Room

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