APT: Washington Heights + Scavenging

Gigantic plugs and dangly cords make me tense.

cross box 1

This is a sad, sad situation here, right? This mess of cords in the apartment makes me so upset. I know it’s only three plugs, but between the protruding timer on the lamp and the big black monster that powers our radio, there’s really no way to hide the whole thing with a carefully positioned pile of books or a cord channel. For a while I’ve been hiding it behind the giant ampersand, but I want to hang that thing on the wall, not leave it leaning precariously in a corner.

cross box 5

Over Christmas, we received a gift from an author of some baked goods in a large, round wooden box. It’s nothing fancy (a notch above balsa wood, really), but I snatched it because I was sure I’d be able to use it for something.

Unable to look at that cord mess for one day longer, I devoted an unreasonable amount of time yesterday afternoon to figuring out how to get it out of my sight. I abandoned my plans of preparing and freezing meals, cleaning out the kitchen cabinets, giving myself a pedicure, doing photo research, and pretty much everything else that would have made my week easier, and set about turning this round box into a…um…what? An electric outlet cozy?

cross box 4

cross box 3

Since everything looks better with a cross on it (case in point) I used tape to mask one out (sort of the reverse of what I did on my medicine cabinet), then used some leftover wall paint to fill in the negative space. The trick to preventing bleed-under when painting over tape on bare wood—especially when it’s very porous and rough, like this box—is to use a really dry brush. Always paint away from the center so you’re not brushing toward the edge of the tape. The paint will dry very quickly, so you can easily do three very thin coats.

cross box 2

Cute, right? I decided to leave the edges of the box bare wood. I didn’t take a photo, but I cut a little notch out of the bottom edge to allow cords to pass through.

cross box 6

The last step was to corral the cords into a little bundle so they’d pass through the notch easily (all of the excess cord length got wrapped up to be hidden by the box, too), then I put a nail in the wall to hang the box from. It’s not attached to the wall, so if I need to access the outlet it’s not a problem at all. Then I smooshed some books underneath to further distract from the extending cords.

I doubt this is a project that anyone else will be replicating in their own homes, but I figured I’d share it anyway! I know I could have made a very simple box to hide the outlet and painted it to blend with the wall more (or bought something prefab made of plastic, I imagine), but I thought it would be more fun to make something that looks intentional. Intentionally weird, maybe, but at least I can’t see that stupid outlet or the plugs anymore!

EDIT: There has been some concern from a couple of commenters over whether this box poses a fire hazard. The answer is no. First of all, the outlet and electrical box/wiring inside (which are all new) are NOT overloaded. I realize it looks like there are a lot of things plugged in, but that’s an illusion caused by the color, size, and shape of the three plugs and the lamp timer. Second, the box (which is quite large—it’s about 5″ deep and 14″ wide) is NOT airtight by any means. There is plenty of airflow, even more than inside of a TV cabinet, kitchen cabinet, or other places where you might have an enclosed outlet. This is no more hazardous than putting a piece of furniture, a refrigerator, or curtains in front of an electrical outlet—or having an outlet inside of a kitchen cabinet to power undercabinet lights, etc. I am a big fan of electrical safety, and I would never do something like this if it posed a risk.

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  • Reply ModFruGal January 24, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Great idea..outta sight, outta mind.

  • Reply Lori E. January 24, 2011 at 10:57 am

    That just makes me chuckle. In a good way. So creative!! :)

  • Reply Jane January 24, 2011 at 10:58 am

    I really love the look of this — and the function!. I knew that there was something better out there than ‘the squid’ for wire organizing. Great repurposing. :D

  • Reply Carol January 24, 2011 at 11:00 am

    I love that!
    The contrast between the rectangle of the desk and the circle of the cover is very graphically pleasing and doesn’t look weird at all!

  • Reply Molly January 24, 2011 at 11:05 am

    I feel the same way, I hate seeing cords! Great idea; I’ll have to be on the look-out for any boxes that happen my way, so I can cover my messy cords too.

  • Reply michelle January 24, 2011 at 11:23 am

    it is comforting to know that others also obsess about such details. a very clever and attractive solution.

  • Reply lizzie January 24, 2011 at 11:33 am

    you are brilllliiiant. excellent work.

  • Reply Heather January 24, 2011 at 11:33 am

    I love this! What an awesome idea. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Heather January 24, 2011 at 11:36 am

    what a great idea! love it!

  • Reply Ashley January 24, 2011 at 11:37 am

    Anna, you’re a woman after my own heart–I can’t stand the sight of a cord! When I couldn’t stand looking at the cord monstrosity connected to our tv/x-box/cable box, I simple faked a cord-free wall by placing the cords behind a piece of white foamcore. Funny how are neuroses inspire projects!

  • Reply Melanie January 24, 2011 at 11:52 am

    This is a really cool idea, I wouldn’t be surprised if other people did replicate it! I’d love to see variants on this based on what other people have available to scavenge.

  • Reply Nikko Moy January 24, 2011 at 11:56 am

    You don’t even know how much I have a hatred of wires and outlets. This is a great solution to hide them! I can’t wait for the day when everything runs on wireless!!!!!!

  • Reply kay* January 24, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    YOU are a genius. Period.

  • Reply Becky January 24, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Looks great. Cords don’t bother me as much as a lot of other people – we have two enormous computers with a billion cords and a ton of other electronics, so it’d be very difficult and expensive to avoid them. This looks fantastic and easy though, and much less expensive than buying those cable rigs (I can’t believe how expensive those can get!). Awesome!

  • Reply seesaw January 24, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    chords are the worst.

  • Reply victoria January 24, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    freakin’ brilliant!!

  • Reply Marilyn January 24, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Brilliant idea! When there’s a will…there’s a way.

  • Reply Laura January 24, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    I love you Anna, and kale chips are my new most favorite food, but I do miss the ampersand. I liked the way its casual leaning there contrasted with the white box on the wall beside it and the general cleanliness of line that predominates in your spaces. I never imagined it had a secret function!

    • Reply Anna @ D16 January 24, 2011 at 2:24 pm

      Laura, I think the angle of the photo in the “fauxdenza” post made it look better than it did in real life. I promise it’s still in the apartment, though! I’ll take a picture of its new spot soon. :)

  • Reply Kate {DomestiKatedLife} January 24, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    so smart!! I love this idea, i’m always growling at exposed cords, they ruin everything.

  • Reply beatriz January 24, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    fantastic. and i agree…everything does look better with a cross.

  • Reply fiona January 24, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    It looks awesome! I am planning something similar to hide a series of ridiculous boxes on a great wall – the alarm (which we never use), the doorbell and the thermostat. They’re all right in the middle of this nice wall, grrr! For the thermostat, I’ll have to cut out holes on the top and bottom of the box, so that air can circulate and it can get a proper reading.

    For anyone out there who wants a similar solution but can’t make one at the moment, the CableBox are actually really nice. They hold a decent-sized power strip and take care of the huge jumble of cords. It is a bit expensive for a piece of plastic, but they work well. I like that it becomes a solid mass of color (black or white) as well as a little ledge for things. They’d be easy to re-create with wood, and it has given me the idea to cut out holes in a vintage crate or box to do the same thing!

    But your little circle box is way cuter!

  • Reply Lisa January 24, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    Loving it!
    And I will be inspired by the cross, I’m thinking of painting it on all sorts of random storage boxes.

    You would have a breakdown if you saw my house. We never installed the prewired alarm, so all the 15 inch long cords for the intended alarm box were protruding out of the kitchen ceiling. For 2 years. TWO. YEARS. Then I had a ghetto moment and pushed them into a white cardboard box that I stuck onto the wall with double sided tape.
    I don’t think even a cross would make that more sophisticated…

    • Reply Anna @ D16 January 24, 2011 at 4:20 pm

      Oh Lisa, there are PLENTY of things like that going on in my house and in my apartment. I just don’t take pictures of them! ;)

  • Reply Mary-Ellen January 24, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    I, too, love the Blue Lounge Cable box. Could not live without it.

  • Reply Lindsay January 24, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    This looks great! I too suffer from anxiety over cord visibility, and I have tried so many things to remedy the situation. I currently have all the unsightly devices (modem, router, surge protector, hair dryer, etc.) in an enclosed wood nightstand. I cut a hole into the back of it to run the cords through, and it works like a charm. However, I am always concerned that the level of heat builds up in the enclosed space too quickly and I don’t want to start an electrical fire. Are you at all concerned about this?

    • Reply Anna @ D16 January 24, 2011 at 5:25 pm

      Nope, not at all. The temperature would have to get extremely high in order to start a fire. The box doesn’t even come close to touching anything inside of it, and there’s plenty of airflow. The inside of a TV cabinet would be more dangerous!

      If you’re concerned (and also to save energy!), you can plug all of your stuff into a power strip and turn it off when you’re not using it. (I can’t do that here because I need these things to be plugged in at all times.)

  • Reply Jo in NZ January 24, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Love it, Anna! Ingenious indeed. I too have the bluelounge cable box (white one) but it has hideously discoloured in the strong New Zealand sunshine — now a nasty, nicotine yellow … gah!

  • Reply kellie January 24, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    Great idea and it looks awesome!

  • Reply Evylynn January 24, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    Brilliant! I love these types of projects. Simple, elegant, and functional!

  • Reply Cecilia January 24, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    I especially love how one of the books is called “Black Hole.”

  • Reply Meghan January 24, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    Your creativity amazes me! Great work Anna! If only I could come up with something so creative to cover my treadmill in my living room. Ugh.

  • Reply Jess January 24, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    What are you talking about?! I love this! I’m doing this! I hate looking at all the precariously plugged-in cords and daisy chains. Eek.

  • Reply joeyjoejoe January 25, 2011 at 12:30 am

    The plugs could potentially spark and start a fire. The risk is not just from the temperature getting too hot. Keeping a thin wooden box on top of electrical plugs is just not very smart. I think the box is very pretty, but this is a dangerous thing to do.

    • Reply Anna @ D16 January 25, 2011 at 8:16 am

      I appreciate the concern, but this truly is not a fire hazard. I realize this may not be clear from the photo, but the box is MUCH bigger than the plug itself. This poses no greater hazard than having, say, keeping a DVD player inside a TV cabinet. Or having curtains, for that matter…or putting a piece of furniture (or a refrigerator!) in front of an electrical outlet. Or books. Or anything flammable. Or having wood studs in your walls.

      If your outlets are throwing sparks or overheating, you’ve got a big problem on your hands, yes. But putting a piece of furniture in front of an outlet (which is essentially what I’ve done here) is NOT going to cause that to happen.

      (The post has been edited to make this clear!)

  • Reply Emily Fitzhugh January 25, 2011 at 2:27 am

    I am so going to do this. Cords drive me bonkers. One extra cup of coffee and I am trying to make sense of them all to no avail. Thank you… you saved me from the battle of the cords! xo

  • Reply Ella January 25, 2011 at 2:58 am

    It’s outlet art! The new thing in town.

  • Reply Morti January 25, 2011 at 4:34 am

    Clever, indeed, but my first thought was about… security.
    I mean: there are several plugs and a timer plugged in an old electric box that wasn’t originally build to support our actual needs (which means this could get warm).
    Plus, you put a… wood box around those cable… Have you ever wondered why electricity wood boxes doesn’t’ exists?
    If I show this to an electrician friend, he would more than probably open eyes like this 0_0

    I don’t want to be sarcastic or break the enthusiasm, don’t get me wrong ;) the idea is nice, but probably not that good…

    • Reply Anna @ D16 January 25, 2011 at 8:24 am

      Thank you for the concern, but I think you’re mistaken about what I’ve actually done here.

      A few things:
      1) This is NOT an “old electric box”, and the circuit is definitely NOT overloaded.
      2) I did NOT replace the electric box with the wood box. The box is merely hanging on the wall in front of—not even touching!—the outlet. There is NO contact with any wires, plugs, or cables. (Perhaps you think I’ve done something here that I didn’t do?)

      It’s really no different than having a piece of furniture (sofa, bookshelf, etc.) in front of an electrical outlet.

      I guarantee any electrician seeing this in person would not see any hazard here.

      (The post has been edited to make this clear!)

  • Reply Jesse January 25, 2011 at 5:57 am

    This is a great idea! I’m very tempted to try it – I might have to fashion some sort of hinge to attach it to the wall more permanently, though. I just know that no-one but me will put it back once they’ve unplugged/replugged appliances. And a cover lying on the floor will be even more annoying than visible cords.

  • Reply Jen January 25, 2011 at 10:37 am

    Hey what a cool idea-speaking as someone with little ones-it’s a stylish cure. Would rather have them over there “beating the drum” rather than messing with cords! eek! :)

  • Reply Sarah January 25, 2011 at 11:01 am

    I love the cross. Such a simple pattern but really dresses that up. I hope you can get that blanket! It will be a lovely addition to your home!!!

  • Reply Ashley M. [at] (never home)maker January 25, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    I absolutely adore this idea! Thank you! I will definitely be making a couple of these for our place.

  • Reply Estyn January 25, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    I think it’s home ownership that turns you into a giant fan of electrical safety… when I first bought my house every time I left I imagined it burning to the ground.

    I love your solution to the disturbing plugs.

  • Reply coral January 26, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    I totally want to see an “electric outlet cozy” etsy store now.

  • Reply Maria January 26, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    love it! I have a similar box, I think I might have to borrow your idea.and you are right, crosses make everything better.

  • Reply Callista January 27, 2011 at 1:07 am

    Brilliant AND beautiful. I wish I had even a fraction of your creativity.

  • Reply carolyn January 28, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    ‘from hell’ is such a good book ;)

  • Reply Tara January 28, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    THANK YOU for this! I posted a problem on YHL’s facebook page and a reader showed me this post of yours. I have a similar problem with a giant Verizon box in my bedroom. This is such an inspiration.

  • Reply Kathy January 28, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    This is Genius!!!! I usually have furniture or something blocking my outlets but recently moved things around and am suddenly faced with this exact problem. I seriously feel like slapping myself and saying “Why didn’t I think of that!” So simple and so awesome at the same time.

  • Reply Shelly February 2, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    Looks great!

    My real question – is From Hell a good read? I love getting a glimpse of what other people read.

    • Reply Anna @ D16 February 2, 2011 at 3:14 pm

      I’ve never read it, but I think Evan liked it quite a bit!

  • Reply yyz February 2, 2011 at 10:45 pm


  • Reply Martini February 21, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    What a wonderful idea! I was just looking at all of our cords by the television yesterday and thought, Ugh! I want to do something. And now I think your project is just the right something. Thanks.

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