How to Make a Decorative DIY Air Vent Cover

September 19, 2022

Update your plain air return covers with this easy DIY.

How to replace your basic metal wall grilles with custom versions that add architectural interest in your home! 

We had a long air intake vent in our foyer that bugged me because it was one of the first things you see when walking in our front door. 

This is the only noticeable wall vent that we have in the house...there's another in our bedroom but it's not nearly as big: 
three vertical photo frames

I'm guessing no one else notices it, but it's a spot that I knew I could make so much more attractive. Initially my plan was to try to paint the existing cover to match our walls, but then I had a better idea. 

I've wanted to make this DIY vent cover for years, and I finally got to it! This is a fairly easy project that doesn't require major power tools. 

You can buy these decorative covers online...but you'll save a TON by doing this yourself. :) 

Pick out your supplies

You'll need decorative metal sheeting for this project. I've used this stuff many times over the years and it comes in so many beautiful designs: 
brass decorative metal sheeting

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It's made for vent and radiator covers, but the possibilities are endless! 

I used this pretty brass dot design to make inserts for the cabinet doors on our basement built ins: 
metal sheet cabinet insert

This thin metal sheeting gives some privacy but also still allows for airflow (and remotes work through it!). 

I've always purchased the metal mesh sheeting at Home Depot, but I'm kicking myself because it's priced MUCH better online. 

This "elliptical" version is what I used for this project. I recommend going with something with larger cut outs to allow air to flow freely. The smaller design I used on the built in cabinet doors may be a little too intricate in this instance.

Measure and cut your sheeting

The first step is to measure the vent opening -- take the old one down and measure the open space. You'll want your metal sheeting to be that size and you can add onto the overall measurements with the frame you'll add. 

The metal sheets are very thin, but keep their shape well and lay flat nicely. You don't even need tin snips to cut it! I use old scissors and they work perfectly: 
cutting metal radiator sheets

As with many DIY projects, there are SO many ways to go about your build. This was my first time at this one, so I winged it at the end. 

I like to share my process to show you that it doesn't have to be absolutely perfect to be functional and look great!

I wanted the profile of the new air vent to be simple, so I chose 1/2 thick wood at about two inches wide. I prefer a clean look, so mitered my corners instead of butting the ends up against each other. 

Keep in mind if you butt the ends of the wood pieces up to each other and don't meet them at an angle, you'll have the raw/cut wood ends showing at either the top and bottom or the sides. Even though it makes the process a little easier, I wanted to avoid that. 

I laid the trim on the metal to determine where I wanted it to lay and made sure that the design matched at the top and bottom and then both sides before making my final cuts: 
DIY air vent cover

I painted the wood with a couple coats of the Agreeable Gray before building the frame. 

Once my cuts were done, I used wood glue and my handy 90 degree corner clamp to hold the pieces together: 
90 degree corner clamp
See how I made a DIY frame for our Frame TV using this tool!

Because I only have one clamp, I wanted to speed the process along a little bit. I added a couple of staples on the back of the corners to hold the pieces together as it dried. 

I got impatient though, and as I worked my way around the frame connecting the corners, a couple of them came loose as I went. The backs were still secure, but the front was coming apart a bit.

The mitered corners do make the assembly a bit more difficult. If you butt the wood pieces together, you can drill pocket holes and screws to attach everything securely. 

I could have added some flat "L" brackets like these to the back, but instead of running to the store, I decided to staple once more into the front to secure that side: 
nail punch staple in wood

These are easy to hammer in to make them flush with the wood. I used my nail punch to drive them into the wood even further so I could putty over them. 

This Plastic Wood filler is my absolute favorite:
plastic wood filler

It's so easy to use and leaves a great, even finish. 

After the corners were more secure and the imperfections were filled and sanded, I laid the wood frame face down and placed the cut sheeting on the back. After double checking that it was centered the way I wanted, I started attaching it to the back of the frame. 

This metal is so thin, a staple gun is all you need to attach it. I was able to go in between the design for the most part, but in a few spots the staples went right through: 
stapling metal sheeting to wood

I added a line of glue as well, but it's not necessary. :)

Make sure to hammer your staples in so they're flush!
I went back and forth on the metal color and ultimately decided on spraying in the brass color I love so much. I'm SO glad I did!:
DIY brass wall vent cover

The brass tone is so lovely! I almost painted it the same color as the walls, but I love this slight contrast. 

My plan was to attach this to the wall with Velcro 3M strips so it would be easy to take on and off to clean. Turns out we are out of the Velcro versions, so I ended up nailing into the wall around the duct opening for now. 

I absolutely LOVE how this DIY vent turned out! I like the architectural interest that the metal gives this space. 

It's like a little piece of artwork!: 
foyer craftsman door with windows

And I didn't realize till after I got it up that the brass tone ties in the metal on our light fixture as well. :)

Here are a few more things to consider if you want to try this DIY decorative air vent cover: 
  • We don't use filters on our wall vents, but I figure you could use Command strips to attach them to the back of your vent cover. 
  • You can use the existing screw holes in the wall by drilling through the frame with a drill bit and attaching it with the same screws. Or countersink your screws and use wood screw covers to hide the top of the screw. 
  • If your vent is larger, these metal sheets come in various sizes that should work!
  • The inside of our vent is black, so you can't see the metal inside the wall. If your vent is lower on the wall, consider that you may be able to see inside if you change to this sheeting. Sometimes seeing what's inside looks worse than the basic metal grilles!
If you're looking to add an understated custom touch to your home, this is one of those little changes that elevates the whole room. I'm so glad I finally tackled this quick project!

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  1. This looks great! I had seen your post a few months back about changing out vent covers with nicer purchased ones. But I like this even better!

  2. As always, perfection!

  3. Great idea! We have a large vent, and a few smaller ones, that have always bothered me. Thank you for the idea and tutorial.

  4. Very clever! I have painted many of these to match the wall color but this provides me with a different option in the future.

  5. I absolutely LOVE this!! I have a grouping of pictures on my living room wall and there is a vent right smack dab above it all! I have wanted to do something about it for years!! This just might be the thing!! Thank you so much for sharing the idea!!!

  6. Back when you made your media cabinet I loved your idea of using the decorative sheet metal. As I have been updating my house I am using it to redo all of our wall vents. So fun to see you doing it, too! I have one vent on my stair wall, so you can see into it as you walk up the stairs. In the spring when we didn’t have the HVAC on for a few days I spray painted the inside of the opening a flat black. It works perfectly to cover up anything that would have been visible through the vent!

  7. This is clever and beautiful! Have you made angled baseboard vents?

  8. We just bought a
    Florida condo and the bedroom doors have ugly metal vents cut into them for ventilation. This will be one of my summer projects when too HOT to be outside. I LOVE your style.....wanna come visit me on Longboat Key? We could transform our 80's condo!

  9. Love this! Wonder if you could use magnets to secure so you can remove easy to change air filters?

  10. Love this idea; just looked on Etsy & would be $150 to use theirs!


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