Phone Booth Upcycle

You’ve seen the teaser: now we’re excited to share with you one of our most interesting projects to date! We’ve got two ideas in store; we’ll show you one today and the other one next week!

Whenever we’re antiquing at the Aberfoyle Antique Market, 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!

Materials List

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

Texture

Milk Paint Supplies and Mounting Hardware

Mounting Hardware

Additional

Texturize by Wire Brushing

The boards we’re showing you today ended up being my practice boards. We vastly improved on the final look – which you’ll see in our next post. We started with 2″ knotty pine so we could split them in half lengthwise. This gave us additional rough texture to start, as you can see below. 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: don’t split 2″ boards – just buy 1″ material and proceed with grinding to get texture – unless your boards are seasoned.

Secure the wire wheel to the angle grinder:

Don some leather gloves when handling (those bristles are nasty!)

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).

Here’s the smooth original surface compared to the textured side. The grinder removes the softer wood leaving the harder wood behind lending a time-worn look to the piece.

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.

Here’s a closeup of the texture:

Once the surface is done, clamp the piece vertically:

Then do the edges in the same manner.

Here’s how the edges will look, but you’re not done yet.

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 below. 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.

Mix the Milk Paint

For this project, mix 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).

The best technique for mixing small batches is to use a milk frother. Rest it on the bottom of the container and apply pressure. Turn it on and lift it up a little bit so it moves; mix it using this pouncing motion for a maximum of 20-30 seconds so it doesn’t over-froth.

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 a stir stick. I use a popsicle stick to stir the milk paint periodically because the minerals in the paint will settle as it sits. To clean the frother, run it in clean cup of water.

If you find that the paint got too frothy after mixing, 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.

With the black paint mixed up, you’re ready to brush it on.

Apply Layers of Milk Paint

Brush on the first layer of black with a cheap brush.

Mix up another batch of white milk paint with the same 3:1 ratio of water to milk paint. 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’? Here’s how applying the colours separately will look:

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.

Once the boards are dry, measure out three evenly spaced holes. We used a 3 5/8 hole saw to cut the holes.

Although these practice boards didn’t quite work out the way I wanted, because they cupped, they are perfect for this version of the phone booth because you won’t end up seeing much of the extra hard work we put into the next project by the time you cut the holes!

Sand the rough edges around the holes before applying a topcoat. 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, waterbased and dries crystal clear:

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

Mounting the Shelves

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, coupling nuts and rubber kite tips left over from his kiting days.

All the metal was spray painted black to make it less noticeable and also protect it from rusting.

The threaded rods were cut slightly shorter than the phone booth (which was 14″ in width).

We threaded on a nut at each end and capped them off with the rubber tips.

When you insert the rod 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.

You can measure and place pieces of green painters tape where you want them if you’d like to be accurate with the height of each shelf, but I just wing it and finesse as I go.

It can be a little tricky levelling and lining up the rods. Don’t tighten the rods completely at first, then balance a shelf on top and make adjustments.

Here, I’m using a level. Before tightening the nuts completely so the supports are secure, check with a level to make sure nothing is wonky. You may have to adjust by loosening off the nuts and re-tightening with the board in place.

Although it can be finicky, this is a great solution if you don’t want to destroy the phone booth by drilling into it – or permanently committing to the number of shelves and height.

However, 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 inside 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 lightly scratched-in 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 (there are no original holes near the bottom and the shelf is well supported by the original metal lip along the back anyway).

We gathered a few other milk painted items to accessorize. If you haven’t already guessed it by now, we turned the phone booth into a planter 🙂 In went the terra cotta pots:

Then the succulents:

Here it is; pretty cool, isn’t it?

You might recognize our ‘Partners in Grime’ metal planter:

Watch the Video

The video shows how it all comes together!

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 below, 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!

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?

Don’t forget to pin for later!

We still have one more idea for the phone booth to show you next week. We’ve drastically improved on the shelves: we’re going to show you how to achieve a beautiful and rich faux barn board. Stay tuned for another technique packed post!

Until then, you might want to to check out what else we found at the Aberfoyle Antique Market that could show up in future Birdz of a Feather posts.

With summer arriving last week, we’ve been busy in the garden building this solid wood fence screen, so our outdoor transformations will definitely taking priority while the weather is nice.

Follow our blog here (link in the footer) or on Bloglovin’ (button below) to get tutorials on other DIY projects, in and around the home. You can also follow us on PinterestFacebookYouTube and Instagram.

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8 thoughts on “Phone Booth Upcycle

  1. That is so cute! I totally did not see that coming. What a great idea!
    I guess our generation is now “retro”, huh? 🙂

  2. This is so awesome Sara, I love how the phone planter turned out. What a super idea. I remember using these too way back when and I think there are still a few installed on the highways here in South Africa. Not sure if they still work though.

    • Thanks Michelle! I love having the phone booth around – it sure does bring back memories and I’m on such a succulent craze right now so it’s a win-win 🙂

  3. Sara, this is so cute. What a great idea! I especially like the grey wood contrasting with the red, and what a clever idea cutting round holes for each planter so they don’t tip. Wherever you decide to put it, be sure to set out a jar of dimes, too. LOL…remember when?

    • I sure do remember when! A dime used to get you a chocolate bar, a bus ride and a phone call. What more did you need back then – lol!

  4. I love this – it turned out so cute. I never would have thought of this. I actually recently pulled out a bush and have been trying to think of something to put in the spot. I think that this may be the perfect solution. Now I just need to find a phone booth.

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