The season’s hottest trend: How radiators went from utilitarian afterthoughts to the height of interior design sophistication

Steve Irish
A Castrads radiator collaboration with Little Greene

Radiators are not renowned for their good looks. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, it can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression ‘As pretty as a radiator’.

Utilitarian would be a charitable way to describe them. They’re fine. But it doesn’t have to be this way. In the age of Instagram and Pinterest and Houzz, every detail of our homes can – nay, must – be carefully (and expensively) curated. Enter the designer radiator.

As befits the interior design ethos of the last decade, the most popular ones look backward for inspiration. Industrial-looking cast-iron radiators, which I vividly remember from my primary school, are in particularly high demand.

Luxury plumbing and interiors companies have reported a spike in sales, with customers pimping out their window bays with this season’s hottest home accessory. This type of radiator has changed little since the end of the 19th century, when they were known as “hot boxes”, a nickname bestowed by the man credited for inventing the steam-based home heating system, Franz Sans Galli.

Most London terraces and townhouses will have been built before central heating was installed as standard, so whatever you have now is unlikely to be ‘original’. The vast majority will be kitted out with the 70s-style steel-panel radiators, which have become ubiquitous over the last fifty years.

Even if cast iron ones had once been present, they were often torn out and replaced with less conspicuous steel panel units, just as wooden sash windows – now considered the height of sophistication – were replaced with plastic double-glazing.

Left: The Zero Otto figure-eight radiator by designer Francesco Lucchese; Right: The Blade radiator by Peter Rankin

“People are looking at radiators as a design choice,” says Jayson Branch, creative director at radiator company Castrads. “It’s like choosing a piece of furniture, only this is something that makes a real, permanent difference to the value of a property.”

Castrads produces a vast range of cast iron radiators, which customers build up one ‘column’ – each vertical section – at a time, picking out style, height, depth and finish, including a range of Farrow & Ball colours to match your wallpaper. Branch says he’s even created ‘rainbow’ radiators for a corporate buyer who wanted to brighten up their office.

“Demand for ‘feature radiators’ has steadily increased over the past 15 years,” agrees Feature Radiators’ Helena Gerwitz. “The ‘Grand Designs’ effect and the availability of credit has led to UK homeowners investing heavily in interior design products, while high house prices encourage customers to improve rather than move.

“Consequently the range of designs available is ever increasing; options include every size, shape and finish imaginable, from chrome spirals to walnut panels, from purple vertical designs to long and low traditional cast iron radiators. This type of product is becomming the norm, considered alongside wallpaper and carpets, and no bathroom is fitted without a heated towel rail.”

More unusual radiators include a figure-eight concept from Italian designer Francesco Lucchese, a walnut-covered version from super-high-end manufacturer Eskimo, and a bizarre, cigar-shaped creation that comes in gold, silver or black by Peter Rankin (prices for these out-there designs start at ‘how much?’ and go all the way up to ‘please stop’).

When choosing a designer radiator you should go for a company willing to look at your home layout and calculate heat-loss hot-spots, which is helpful given that the science of heat isn’t always intuitive; putting a radiator beneath a window, for instance, insulates a room, keeping it warmer for longer, rather than losing heat as you might imagine (bonus fact: radiators don’t actually radiate much heat, they convect it).

So there you have it: radiators are officially hot right now. Time for an upgrade.

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