They're not pretty and almost always hidden from sight, but ductwork for air-conditioning and heating is now proudly displayed in many homes. Like the exposed wood beams that have become popular, the round shape of ductwork is catching on.

EXPOSED UTILITY

As the industrial look becomes more prominent and contemporary designs show no signs of fading away anytime soon, exposed ductwork adds a special decorating element to a home. Although once deemed strictly a functional feature, air ducts can be incorporated into a home's design in a variety of ways that make a statement in a room.

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Ductwork is often used as a design element in contemporary settings, but can be used in transitional and traditional design too. It doesn't have to be silver or gray, though, or strictly utilitarian looking. Ductwork can be painted or finished in way that makes it a seamless part of a room's design.

DESIGN OPTIONS

Today's ductwork can be sleek and sophisticated, with a shiny finish that's a far cry from traditional galvanized ducts. If your home is rustic, ductwork can be refinished to appear antiqued, with a bronzed or rusted paint finish. Custom finishes allow the ductwork to coordinate with the style of the room.

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An expensive choice, but one that creates a distinctive look, is copper ductwork. The shiny  copper can make a big impact. Ultramodern or contemporary rooms might look better with an upgrade from the hardware-store look of standard galvanized ductwork. Bright colors are another option to give the ducts a one-of-a-kind look.

Don't be afraid to paint ductwork with a high-gloss finish. Or, when painted a color similar to the ceiling, ductwork can blend in while still giving a distinct feeling with its tubular shape. And ductwork isn't just for ceilings. Adding it along the top of a wall is another good option.

REQUIREMENTS

Before changing to exposed ductwork, make sure you contact a heating and air-conditioning company to guide you. The right amounts of ductwork, venting and dampers are necessary for airflow and proper delivery of heat and air, so a professional HVAC person will need to guide you to ensure those needs are met. You may also have permitting requirements where you live, so be sure to check with your locality before undertaking a renovation or new construction.