If you search the hashtag #LAProblems on Twitter, you will find a litany of complaints: traffic, celebrities, gym woes. But for the design-conscious renter in L.A., landing high on that list is the air conditioner — that bulky beast hanging out of our window or gobbling up wall space in our living room.
Air conditioners are a necessary evil in apartment life. We hate how they look, but we are completely at their mercy on a day with hot Santa Ana winds.
Real-life problems can make for the most inventive solutions. As a designer, I take air-conditioning units as a personal challenge. In doing a bit of research online, I found homemade A/C unit covers that are basically decorative boxes. For me, that doesn’t fix anything. A box covered with wallpaper floating in the middle of a room may be a visual Band-Aid, but it prevents proper function of the A/C.
I have two solutions. In my L.A. apartment, I have a typical wall A/C unit. It’s next to my front door, where I’d otherwise put my beloved bookcase. After living with the air conditioner uncovered for about a month, I decided that what I needed in that spot was a credenza — a place to put my keys when I walk in the door. The credenza also could serve as a place for outgoing mail and, of course, provide more storage.
So I sketched a quick design for a cabinet that coordinated with my media console and took the rendering to a vintage furniture store in Silver Lake. That store referred me to an inexpensive furniture maker in the San Fernando Valley. It built a credenza that essentially was a walnut box with an open back and sliding doors in front. I positioned it so my bulky wall A/C slipped in through the back opening, and voilà! When the credenza doors are closed, the A/C is hidden from sight. But when the AC unit needs to be in use, the doors can slide open, allowing cool air to flow freely into the room. And whether the A/C is on or off, I have a place to set down my keys and mail.
Window units are a bit trickier, but again, every creative constraint has a creative fix. The window is a natural spot for plants, so my solution is an A/C cover that doubles as an herb garden shelf. It has a removable, magnetic front panel, so the cold air can get into the room without having to move the plants.
Double duty is the only way to make a small space work. An air conditioner can be an eyesore, but the trick is to use its presence to your advantage. Brainstorm how you can turn your A/C unit into a feature with form and function. You’ll be amazed at the difference such a simple change can make.
With just four pieces of wood, a small panel of MDF, chalkboard paint, L brackets, screws and some magnets, designer Kyle Schuneman explains in his DIY video how he created an herb garden shelf that doubles as camouflage for a window air conditioner.