Mid Century Modern Salon Wall
Light Switches and HVAC registers can make a Mid Century Modern room.

This month we tackle two projects in our ongoing adventure to refresh our Sacramento Carter Sparks designed, Streng Bros. built home. These two projects didn’t cost a lot of money but have a big design impact: HVAC registers and light switches. These items can blend into your decor or spoil the look of even the most modern decor if they are the wrong color or style.

Replacing switches and vents isn’t as exciting or as fun as buying vintage furniture or finding just the right paint color for the interior, but as designer Charles Eames said, “The details are not the details, they make the design.”

In other words, the small details make a big difference. And switches and vents definitely fall into what we have been calling “the smalls”—those items that are affordable and give a big design impact immediately.

Grilles, Vents, Registers and Grates oh my!

Perhaps because ours were primarily white metal vents, they stood out like a sore thumb once we had painted the interior of the house. Your eye naturally goes to the brightest item, and this was certainly true. It didn’t help that the vents were standard issue white metal with the exception of one vent that was black and in an elaborate design.

So the search began for a more Mid Century Modern design option.

First, we had to figure out the right terminology so we could start our search. Just exactly what are these things called— vents, registers, grilles, grates? I used all those terms when scouring the Internet for ideas.

Much to my surprise, my search resulted in numerous companies specializing in the humble register. And the choices! Louvers, dampers, levers, custom, metal wood, and more! And did we want a scroll design, square design or perhaps we should go with our own custom design. And what color should we pick?

It made our heads spin.

So, we took a step back and looked at the patterns and colors in our house so far. Many of our hard surfaces like appliances and finishes on lamps were a brushed nickel. We naturally had a lot of square patterns that repeated such as in pillows and in furniture items.

With this information, we decided to order from Reggio Registers. We liked their designs, and we also liked that they manufactured their products in the USA. They offer a metal register in a square pattern in gray aluminum that we thought would be perfect.

The next step was to figure out how to measure our current registers correctly so we knew what size to order. Not as easy as it sounds. We thought the correct way was to measure the current register, but that is not the case. You actually have to measure the opening without the register in it. Reggio has a handy guide to help you.

Tip—don’t think that all the registers in your home are the same size. Our home is more than 60 years old, so each room was a bit different. We only ordered three registers to make certain they fit and to see if we liked the design.

It took a bit of tugging and pulling on the old duct work, but we think they look great.

Mid Century Modern HVAC Registers after and inset before.
Mid Century Modern HVAC Registers after with the inset showing before.

Making the Switch

Our next challenge was to replace the light switches and electrical outlets. Most were a standard toggle switch and standard outlet with a beige plate.  But we also had a few that were huge wood switch plate covers in an Arts and Crafts design. One even had a ceramic bee on it!

And just like the HVAC registers, the existing beige plates also stood out against our more vibrant wall color.

You could trace the technology updates throughout the years as we had round outlets for telephone land lines and cable TV, outdated alarm systems and some in shapes that we had no idea what they were originally for. We replaced those nonfunctional outlets with blank switch plates.

What we thought would be an easy and quick project turned out to be time consuming and fraught with delays. We decided we wanted at simple brushed aluminum switch plate with white nonstandard outlets and rocker switches. But just like with the HVAC registers, there were numerous styles and choices to select from. Our local hardware store had a few styles but limited stock.

Our Internet search yielded a lot of choices but also a wide range of prices. Since we were replacing every switch in the house, paying $30 per outlet was not an option. Ultimately we found a company online called Leviton that offered the style and color we wanted in the price range we needed. They also manufacture in the USA.

After we placed our order, part of it arrived quickly and some of the order did not. When it did arrive, it was the wrong order. Customer service was pretty good about helping us get the order correct, but it was disappointing to wait more than a month for a non-custom product.

We didn’t hire an electrician for the installation, so our biggest tip—which is an obvious one—is to make certain you turn the power off before you attempt to install!

We are very happy with how these blend into the wall and keep the focus on the artwork.

Salon Wall with Mid Century Modern Switches and Registers
We added Mid Century Modern HVAC registers, light switches and outlets that blend with the wall instead of detracting from the wall color and artworks’ effects. Before image on the left. After on the right.

Stay tuned for more on our progress of our Sacramento Modern Makeover and pick up tips to apply to your own home projects. You can access past posts on our SacMod makeover such as our most recent post as well as at patriciakline.com.

There you will also find profiles of other Mid Century Modern enthusiasts written for Atomic Ranch magazine as well as articles on Mid Century Modern finds such as where to shop, eat, drink and stay in Palm Springs. You can follow me on Instagram @patkline.

Of course, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramFacebook and Pinterest for more Mid Century Modern inspiration!