Curbing cables on a media center

My husband and I recently purchased a new media center. Our previous media center was damaged when we moved more than three years ago, and we finally reached our limit of staring at the broken piece.

We searched for more than two months for a replacement. We talked to a furniture designer about creating a custom media center, we searched Craigslist and the classifieds, we visited dozens of furniture stores, and we wasted many hours online looking for possible solutions.

Ultimately, we decided to go with Elfa Freestanding. We realized that as our family expands, our current office/television room will be moved to another part of the house or another house entirely. So, the media center needed to be easily portable and able to be repurposed as our requirements change. Plus, we rarely have visitors in our office/television room, so function outweighed form on our list of priorities.

The back of the unit is exposed, which meant that we had to get creative hiding equipment cables. We used two methods to corral the cables:

I’m pretty happy with the results except for the mess of cables under the media center near the surge protector/power strip. I’m going to let the equipment sit for another week to make sure that I like where everything is located, and then use velcro cable ties to get rid of the mess at the bottom of the unit. You can see a few cables behind the equipment, but they’re orderly and controlled.

All of the cable wrangling gear we picked up at our local Home Depot, and the Elfa Freestanding we purchased from The Container Store. I know that there will be multiple comments from people saying that we shouldn’t use plastic cable ties, but ultimately they were the best solution for us. The only cords we used them on are for our gaming equipment, and we haven’t experienced any interference or delay in play. We initially tried velcro ties on the gaming cables, but they slipped out of place and were distracting. The plastic ties stay in place and are virtually unnoticeable, which is what we wanted.

If you’re looking to curb cable clutter at the back of your media center, think about using kwik klips, and either velcro or plastic cable ties. They can supply order where chaos typically ensues.

24 Comments for “Curbing cables on a media center”

  1. posted by Weird Ed on

    I personally swear by the velcro. Makes it so much easier to change things up — I’ve found myself doing that regularly, as my setup changes every few months. In a setup like this, I would probably wrap the velcro around the vertical posts and hold the cables on the back of them.

    In the first photo, looks like there’s still a sort of “nest” of cables underneath the media center. Looks like it could be tied together a bit more neatly, if it’s enough clutter, I’d probably even look into a container of sorts.

  2. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Weird Ed — In my post, it clearly says: “I’m pretty happy with the results EXCEPT FOR THE MESS OF CABLES under the media center near the surge protector/power strip. I’m going to let the equipment sit for another week to make sure that I like where everything is located, and then use velcro cable ties to get rid of the mess at the bottom of the unit.”

  3. posted by Shannon on

    Erin, don’t you just love it when people comment without even bothering to actually read the post? I see it all the time.
    Post: “We bought this Elfa shelving…”
    Comment: “What type of shelving is that?”

    And why is everyone SO darn critical in comments? Let’s all try to be a little nicer folks. Makes the world a much happier place.

  4. posted by penguinlady on

    We also have an open-backed entertainment center and I’ve been desperate for a good solution. The only reason I haven’t gone for ties is that my husband needs to pull out the PS3 and X360 (which we use for BluRay and HD movies) to his office for gaming, so while velcro might work for a while, I know he’ll never put them back. For now, I’ve tacked a small rug to the back of the center to block eye-level view and am pretending to be blind to the nest of cables at the bottom.

  5. posted by Alexandra on

    If I ever do feel I’ve reached a “permanent” installation, is there any way to safely trim/shorten all that extra cable? Or if I shouldn’t try it, are there experts who would?


  6. posted by Gomer on

    A quick question. I read this quote:

    “I know that there will be multiple comments from people saying that we shouldn’t use plastic cable ties,”

    and wondered why? What is wrong with plastic cable ties? Why would someone say you shouldn’t use them? I’ve never heard of any problem with these.


  7. posted by Marie on

    Although it helps more with identifying the cables than eliminating them, I’m a big fan of Martha Stewart’s recommendation to label each cable with those tabs that close off bread bags. That way you don’t have to figure out which cable belongs to which appliance.

  8. posted by Greg on

    It depends on what type of cable you need to trim. Speaker cable is relatively easy as you just trim the wire to length and strip a bit at the end to make a good connection.

    Power cables leave as is, as messing with those can kill you or start a fire (if you have detachable power cables you can purchase shorter or longer ones).

    Coax & RCA cables can be trimmed and capped with either screw-on or soldered connections. This requires a little electrical know how, but isn’t that hard.

    HDMI, S-video, and all sorts of digital cables are best left as is. These are hard to cut, and in some cases you will ruin the cable by doing so. Its best just to buy shorter/longer cables as needed.

  9. posted by infmom on

    I don’t suppose this is really a solution, but we put all the stereo gear in a tall, two-doored cabinet with punched-tin door panels that we bought at Home Depot. (Had to assemble it without the slab of Masonite on the back, to accommodate the size of the various components and all those cables.)

    When we don’t want to see the rats’ nest of cables we close the cabinet doors. 🙂

    Seriously, though, we do bundle the cables together with brightly colored wrap-around Velcro ties and tidy them up as much as we can. But it’s so difficult to get back in there to do more than that, that we just ignore the tangle, most of the time.

  10. posted by Alexandra on

    Thank you for comments. I hadn’t realized that I can buy short (1′, 18″ etc.) coaxial cable. I should have googled what I need in the first place.

    I love Unclutterer; its the first place I go every day (well, after checking my e-mail!)

  11. posted by Sairey Gamp on

    How come nobody uses string anymore?

    It’s cheap and biodegradable. You cut a piece to the length you need, tie it in a bow (easy to remove and replace), and if you cut it too long, just trim the ends.

    It’s a neutral color that would show up even less than the white plastic ties.

    Old school! That’s me.

  12. posted by Rob S on

    Any chance you can provide the model/item number for the elfa components? And perhaps some more images?

  13. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Rob — All Elfa pieces come in widths of two feet … so you should be able to figure it out from there.

  14. posted by Ali L. on

    Erin, what about getting some kind of thin panel in that colour and cut it to make a sort of custom skirting board that hangs down from the bottom shelf? (You’d need cutouts for the metal legs.) Then you wouldn’t see the nest of cables at all. Just a thought.

  15. posted by Jo on

    That’s a really nice shelving system. Another idea to hide the cables you see between the shelves is to first run the cables horizontally behind the piece of equipment to one of the support posts. Then run it vertically down the back of the post securing it with velcro or cable ties. Then run it horizontally again when you get to the shelf with the component you’re connecting to (or along the floor if it’s a power cord.) Some cords might not be long enough for this method, but judging by the cables on the floor, it would work for most.

  16. posted by TSmith on

    Love your idea. Have you thought about putting swiveling casters on each leg to allow you to easily move the system around? I’ve added casters on many pieces and love the convenience because I’m always changing things around anyway.

  17. posted by Inno on

    Erin – try asking at TCS for the semi-translucent panels used for their Summer Sale display – they’re cut for elfa freestanding and maybe the store will give you a few pieces after the sale ends. You can cut holes for the cables and run them behind the panels.

    And I join Gomer in asking what’s not to like about plastic cable ties?

  18. posted by Mike on

    I am guessing you don’t have small children? Babies and toddlers would lay waste to the low-shelf components. For those in the audience whose household includes “exploring hands and mouths,” my wife and I found that credenza-style cabinets are about as solid an answer as there is. Most of the video game stuff is wireless (except the darned Rock Band drums etc) and the cables are happily out of sight behind the cabinet itself.

  19. posted by Dasha on

    I really like the way everything looks so neat! I tend to prefer closed shelving, because I’m lazy and don’t want to have to dust so often. Congrats on the new set up!

  20. posted by lantzilla on


    I love the site, and find that your advice and guidance absolutely wonderful. I never miss a day. Which is why I feel a bit odd about this one. It seems to me that the cables are of secondary concern. I think that there is an issue with the hierarchy. The way that it’s set up, your components and the LCD are of equal importance. It seems like they compete. The primary task in this instance is watching the content on the display, not fiddling with the components. Perhaps, we could add another row of shelving and center the display on top. Just my two cents!


  21. posted by Lauren Halagarda on

    Hi Erin,
    Once you are happy with the arrangement, an option for corraling the power strip, et al is to try a shallow wire basket secured underneath the bottom shelf at the back. The Ikea SIGNUM cord basket is a possibility but may be to large for the available space…you can try locating an undershelf wire basket.


  22. posted by Allison on

    Hi there! I’ve just subscribed your blog, and I must say, I get quite excited whenever I hear the “ding” signaling a new post!

    I really like Inno’s suggestion about the plastic from The Container Store. I’ve always hoped they don’t just throw it all away at the end of the season…

    Another idea: have you considered getting a couple feet of cable “tubing”? It comes in different diameters, materials & colors, and I think it has a very nice, streamlined look. Plus, it’s pretty flexible; you can add or remove a single cable without disturbing all the rest. Just a thought!

    (see for examples if you don’t know what I’m talking about!)

  23. posted by SWu on

    Hi Erin, I too have been considering building an elfa freestanding shelf to host my TV. My only concern was whether the “one-sided” freestanding shelf like yours will be able to hold a 32″ LCD TV (about 32 pounds). Nobody in TCS was willing to give me an estimate of how much a freestanding shelf like this will hold. How large is your TV? Does the shelf seem to hold it well? Also do you bolt the upright bars to the wall? They look like they are attached to the horizontal bar in the picture.

  24. posted by HeidiJJJJ on

    To hide the cable at the floor, you can cut foam board to fit the space – three pieces assembled with tape in a U-shape, painted to match wall color, and simply slide it in front of the cables. Easy & inexpensive. If you want to get really fancy, do it with mirrors (tape still works-just use a strong one like duct tape) – still easy & relatively inexpensive – if you can’t find mirror strips to fit, you can cut them fairly easily (google it).

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