Sunday, January 28, 2018

A birthday request

Many, if not most, of the best birthday and holiday gifts Brian has given me over the years are the ones he made himself. Indeed, the very first present he ever gave me was this picture he drew for my 27th birthday, before we were even officially dating. It hung in the bathroom at my old apartment in Princeton, moved to the hallway in our apartment in Highland Park, and now hangs downstairs in the game room over the "fireplace."

Since then, he's given me many more gifts of DIY items for the house and yard, such as a glassware rack to display a collection of stemware inherited from my Auntie Grace...

...a set of picture frames for my birthday five years back, to display a few ceramic tiles inherited from my grandmother and his...

...a custom made knife-block insert for our kitchen drawer three birthdays ago...

...the new rosebush he planted for me for Valentine's Day in 2016, and the patio extension he built to house it...

...and, biggest of all, the set of bifold doors he finished and installed as a birthday gift for me two years ago.

So this month, as my birthday was approaching again, Brian asked me if there was anything he could make for me as a present, since those gifts tend to work out better than anything from a store. And after some consideration, I said there was: a cover for the AC unit in the living room.

This is a room-sized air conditioner, similar to a portable window unit, except that it's permanently installed through the wall. We hardly ever use it—maybe once or twice a summer, if that—but we still have to look at it all summer long, and it isn't exactly pretty. In the winter, we cover it so it doesn't let in the cold outdoor air, draping a flexible plastic cover like this over the outside portion of the unit and a padded cloth one like this over the inside part. With the cloth on, the air conditioner isn't quite as obtrusive as it is in the summertime, but it still isn't exactly sightly. And since the cloth isn't sized exactly right to fit the unit, it doesn't do that great a job of insulating either. We've tried filling in the gaps with cotton batting, but it tends to droop and peep out around the edges of the fabric, which makes it look even sloppier.

We've looked for something more permanent to cover the air conditioner that would be both more practical and nicer-looking, but all we've ever been able to find online was quilted fabric covers like the one we have now. Brian has been talking for several years about building a permanent cover out of wood, but he's never gotten around to it, and I eventually realized that he probably never would get around to it unless something happened to push it to the top of his to-do list. So it seemed like the perfect request for my...ahem...(mumbling) 45th birthday.

Of course, like the bifold doors, this is a project that will take some time to complete, so I knew it wouldn't be done in time for my actual birthday. However, he did start drawing up some sketches for it during my birthday week, and that weekend we went out to Lowe's and bought some supplies for it. We bought one sheet of 4-foot-square birch plywood (which we had to cut into two pieces to get it into the car), two 3-foot hardwood dowels, and a box of wood screws, for a total of about $22.60. In addition to these, Brian plans to use a couple of longer wood pieces he already had around the shop to build a bracket to hang the thing on, and some small nails.

His design is basically a simple wooden box, slightly larger than the air conditioner itself. To hang it, he plans to secure a long piece of wood to the wall right over top of the AC unit and let the box hang from that. Eventually, he plans to buy a little corner molding to finish off the edges and make it look nicer, but we didn't get that on this trip because we weren't sure yet what we'd need (or whether it would all fit in the car). We're still discussing how we want to finish the outside of it. The options are:
  1. Paint it the same color as the wall, so it will blend in and be unobtrusive. However, even if we disguise it in this way, it will still be noticeable, so it might not be much of an improvement over what we have.
  2. Stain it and finish it to match the other wood pieces in the room. This might be a better option than trying to disguise it, but a solid block of dark-colored wood against that wall could look a bit incongruous.
  3. Cover the front with something else that will look nice, like a patterned fabric. The difficulty with this option would be, first, choosing something that doesn't look too busy, and second, actually affixing it to the wood.
However, we should have plenty of time to figure out these details while Brian is busy building the box itself. Because you know how we are when it comes to DIY projects: we'd rather take our time to do a good job on a budget than either cut corners or spend a lot of money. If this project goes at our usual rate, we should have it done by the time summer rolls around...just in time to stow the box away and not actually install it until fall.
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