Introduction: Phone Booth Planter

About: Like Birdz of a Feather, let's flock together to create sustainably. After all, good planets are hard to find! We're a husband/wife team that takes our inspiration from everything around us; especially things …

You may have seen the teaser on a previous Instructable; now we're excited to share with you one of our most interesting projects to date.

This Instructable is full of creative misuse: we've upcycled a phone booth into a planter and developed a way to install the shelves without destroying the metal walls.

We've also got a great 'tool' misuse and a useful hack to go with it. We're showing you a quick and efficient technique to mix old fashioned milk paint using none other than a milk frother! We're again borrowing from the kitchen using a coffee filter to prevent paint splatters.

Lastly, we're turning humble 'ol knotty pine from a big box store into faux barn board for the shelves using a wire brush technique and milk paint.

Step 1: More About Our Retro Find

Whenever we're antiquing, I always have a wish list of things I'd like to find but the fun of the hunt is that you never end up with what you originally envisioned. There's always something you stumble on that grabs you in a way that you never expected. That's what happened when we found this phone enclosure.

Sometimes hubs and I don't agree on items at the antique market, but we were both intrigued by the phone booth! The lightbulb went off on all the possibilities and we knew we just had to have it to work our upcycling magic on!

The hand resting on the phone booth is that of the vendor; he put a call in to the owner of the item to ask if he could get a better price for us. We didn’t do much better than the $85 price tag, but every little bit helps when there’s still supplies to buy to transform a piece! It never hurts to ask!

Step 2: ​Material List

Although we found our phone booth at an antique market, I did do some searching online and you can find a similar one here.

Here's the list for texturing, milk painting, shelf supports and other additional materials:


Milk Paint Supplies

Mounting Hardware


Step 3: Attach Wire Wheel

The boards we're showing you today ended up being my practice boards because they warped. We started with 2" knotty pine so we could split them in half lengthwise into 1" thickness. This gave us additional rough texture to start from the saw blade marks, as you can see in the first picture above. However, wood coming from the big box stores is still pretty green and once our boards were cut, they all cupped and warped - not the look you want for shelves.

Lesson learned: Unless your boards are seasoned, don't split 2" boards - just buy 1" material and proceed with grinding to get texture. The texture you end up with from the wire wheel is perfectly fine to get the look of barn board.

Don some leather gloves when handling the wire wheel (those bristles are scratchy!). Secure the wire wheel to the angle grinder.

Step 4: Texturize by Wire Brushing

Lock the piece of wood into the work bench. Turn on the grinder and move it from the centre of the wood to the edge of the piece and off the board in ONE DIRECTION ONLY. Do not reverse direction and move it back from the edge or the bristles might catch the edge and you'll lose control of the grinder. Move only in the direction of the grain- along the length of the board (not across).

When you're done one half, move around to the other side and again work from the centre of the wood to the outside edge. Once the surface is done, clamp the piece vertically. Then do the edges in the same manner.

Step 5: Close Up of Texture

Here's the smooth original surface compare to the textured side. The second picture shows a close-up of the texture. The last picture shows how the edge will look after wire brushing, but you're not done yet with the edges.

The wire brush does a great job of removing all the soft parts of the wood, while leaving the harder wood intact; that's what forms the ridges. Isn't it great when you can get dozens of years of natural wear in just a few minutes?

Step 6: Distress

The next step is to distress the edges with a paint scraper. I call this 'whack 'n scrape' for lack of a better term.

Whatever technique you use here, you really can't go wrong. I like to gauge out big chunks as you can see above. Once done, use a piece of fine sandpaper to knock back the obvious burrs. You want to make it look time-worn and weathered!

If you want even more texture on the face of the wood, you can also have-at-it with chain and nails to further distress it. That's an extra step we might take if we were creating faux beams, but for this project we stopped at the edges.

It goes pretty fast; it won't be long until you're pile is stacked. After the grinding was done, we stopped for the day and then the rest was up to me.

Step 7: ​Trick to Prevent Splashing

You can find the full Instructable for the following mixing hack here. I've included a slightly briefer version for this project in the next two steps.

You'll need milk paint powder, a coffee filter, milk frother, water, a mixing cup (preferably clear), a mixing spoon, a paint brush and a wooden craft stick.

The spot where I paint in my craft studio is pretty confined so it doesn't take much for splashing to occur when mixing small batches of milk paint using the milk frother. Here's a trick I developed to prevent milk paint from splattering out of the mixing cup. Take a coffee filter and fold it up into quarters. Use scissors to cut a small hole right at the pointy tip.

Unfold the coffee filter and cut a straight line up to the hole you just cut in the middle. The hole is necessary so that when the frother is on, the filter won't catch and get caught around the spinning spindle of the milk frother (trust me, I know this from experience).

After the water and milk paint are added to the container, drape the filter over the top of the cup then insert the frother through the hole in the middle. Overlap the filter at the seam and now you're ready to turn on the frother without fear of splashing! Disaster averted!

More about the frother mixing technique in the next step.

Step 8: Frother Technique to ​Mix the Milk Paint!

For the first colour, I mixed up a small batch of milk paint using Coal Black. Instead of the usual ratio - 1:1, dilute it with more water to make it more like a stain (about 3 parts water to 1 part milk paint powder).

Since we're making small batches, I use the tablespoon to measure the water and milk paint. I add the water to the cup first and then the milk paint (although some people swear by doing it the other way around).

Put on the coffee filter as described in the previous step. Rest the frother on the bottom of the container and apply pressure. Turn it on and lift it up ever so slightly to mix. Work the powder into the water in this pouncing manner for a maximum of 20-30 seconds so it doesn’t over-froth (if it does, there's a fix for that too!).

Remove the filter and let it sit for a few minutes (go do something else). This will allow the water to absorb into the powder. Give it another quick mix with the frother - or you can simply use a wooden craft stick (which you should also use to periodically mix the paint because the minerals will settle as you paint).

If you find that the paint got too frothy, you can let it sit for a while so the bubbles disperse or skim them off and discard them. But who has time to wait when you're excited to get started? I skim the bubbles off.

Clean the Milk Frother
Submerge the frother in a cup of water and turn it on to rinse. Give it a shake and let it dry so it's ready to use next time. As I mentioned in the supply list, I keep my milk frother exclusively for milk paint use.

Step 9: ​Apply Layers of Milk Paint

With the black paint mixed up, brush on the first layer of black.

Mix up another batch of white milk paint with the same 3:1 ratio. This time I used a Limestone colour.

Brush it right over the still wet black paint.

The colour will instantly turn grey. You may be wondering at this point, 'why not just mix the Coal Black and Limestone together to start'? Applying each colour in separate layers will build up greater depth. You'll see more black in some areas and more grey in others which adds interest. Mixing the two together will give you an even flat look. The last picture shows how applying the colours separately will look.

Step 10: Cut Holes and Seal

Once the boards are dry, cut holes in boards.

It can be difficult to estimate the size hole you will need to fit the terra cotta pots, so we generally measure the circumference at the top of the pot then make a few test holes in scrap material using a few different hole saws. Fit the terra cotta pots into each hole to see which one will work best. We determined that a 3 5/8 hole saw would be our best fit.

We measured out three evenly spaced holes on two boards. We added a scrap of wood underneath and clamped both pieces of wood to our workbench. The scrap wood will help prevent tear-out on the good piece of wood. Connect the hole saw to a drill or drill press and drill out each hole. Test the fit before moving onto the second board.

Although these practice boards didn't quite work out the way I wanted because they cupped, they are ok for this project because you won't end up seeing much of the wood anyway by the time you cut the holes! I can't let anything go to waste.

Step 11: Seal With Outdoor Topcoat

After the holes are cut, sand the rough edges around each one. Use a satin finish formulated for outdoor use like Varathane Diamond Wood Finish, if it will be exposed to water (which ours will). It's very low sheen, water based and dries crystal clear.

Step 12: Make Your Own Tension Rods

Once the shelves were dry, it was time to turn our attention back to the phone booth.

We didn't want to drill any holes into the original metal to mount the shelves so at first we tried tension rods.

Tension rods didn't seem sturdy enough to support the weight of the shelves so hubs came up with a brilliant idea using these threaded metal rods, joining nuts and rubber kite tips left over from his kiting days.

The threaded rods were cut slightly shorter than the phone booth (which was 14" in width). All the metal was spray painted black paint to make it less noticeable and also protect it from rusting. We threaded on a nut at each end and capped them off with the rubber tips.

When you insert the rod into the phone booth at the height you want it, all you have to do is twist each nut in the opposite direction to lengthen the rod and press it tightly against the side. As you can see, on the bottom, we only need one rod because there is a piece of metal sticking up at the back that can act as a support.

Step 13: Level


Step 14: Add Shelves

Using the rods alone may not be a solution for very heavy objects. I was still nervous that the rods might slip once weight was added. I noticed that the boards happened to intersect a few of the holes in the phone receiver graphic on the sides of the phone booth.

I marked a few of those holes with green tape.

Then hubs went out to purchase a few different sizes of round head stainless steel screws. We ended up using 4 x 3/4" as you see below. It's important to buy round heads, because the head of the screw will be resting within the holes. The screws will essentially act as shelf pins.

Hubs predrilled where I marked and screwed in the stainless steel screws.

You really can't notice the screws once they're installed - or the graffiti. Apparently, Netty loves you :)

With the shelves secure, this is what we ended up with. There's no need to place screws on the bottom (because there are no original holes and the bottom shelf is better supported).

Step 15: Accessorize

We gathered a few other milk painted items to accessorize. In went the terra cotta pots, then the succulents.

Step 16: Reveal

Here it is; pretty cool, eh? You might recognize our 'Partners in Grime' metal planter on the bottom shelf (you can find that Instructable here).

We'll probably find somewhere outdoors to hang the phone booth or set it down in the garden. We actually did drag it around both the front and back gardens as you can see by the last picture but couldn't decide where to put it! Wherever it ends up, if you duplicate our project and place it outside, be sure to secure it well so animals (and the elements) can't knock it over!

Step 17: BREAKING NEWS! Please Support Our Nomination :)

Birdz of a Feather is excited to share that we've been nominated for an Amara Award in the Best Creative Blog category. Voting goes until September 11th, 2019.

Show us some ❤ by casting a vote! This year one of the blog award sponsors, Leica, will be giving away a SOFORT instant camera to one lucky voter, so it's a win-win! Your vote will help get us to the shortlist :)

Step 18: Follow Us!

The phone booth used to be so iconic. There aren't too many of them left in our neck of the woods anymore so I'm glad we were able to save a little piece of history! I think the last time I used a phone booth, local calls used to be 25 cents. It's been ages: I wonder what you'd pay if you found one now?

We still have another idea for the phone booth to come so stay tuned to for another technique packed post!

Ready to get your DIY mojo on? Follow Birdz of a Feather if you don't want to miss another unique idea. You can also follow us on Pinterest, our Youtube channel, on Facebook and Instagram.

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