Phone Booth Upcycle

3 Materials
4 Hours

You’ve seen the teaser and the faux barn board project we did last week. Now we’re excited to share with you one more version of the phone booth!
phone booth upcycle
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!
phone booth upcycle
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 more to buy to transform a piece! 

The boards we’re showing you today ended up being my practice boards. We vastly improved on the final look – which you saw in our last post - with the addition of a pickling solution. This project skips that step.

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.
phone booth upcycle
As we showed you last week, to achieve the texture, secure a wire wheel into an angle grinder. Don some gloves when handling (those bristles are nasty)!
phone booth upcycle
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).
phone booth upcycle
Below you can see 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.
phone booth upcycle
Once the surface is done, clamp the piece vertically then do the edges in the same manner.
phone booth upcycle
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 along the edges. Once done, use a piece of fine sandpaper to knock back the obvious burrs. You want to make it look time-worn and weathered!
phone booth upcycle
After all the distressing was done, the paint finish was up to me.

Mix the Milk Paint

For this project, I'm using Homestead House milk paint again in two different colours to create a barn board effect on the boards. 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). Head to our blog for more detail on the best technique to mix milk paint.
phone booth upcycle
With the black paint mixed up, you’re ready to brush it on with a cheap brush:
phone booth upcycle
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. It gets brushed on right over the still wet black paint.
phone booth upcycle
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, as you can see below, whereas mixing the two together will give you a boring flat look.

Once the boards were dry, we measured out three evenly spaced holes and used a 3 5/8 hole saw to cut them.
phone booth upcycle
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. 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. We're running out of space for step-by-step pictures, so head to our blog (link below this post) to see his solution! 

We levelled each shelf and this is what we ended up with:
phone booth upcycle
We gathered a few more items, including some succulents, and turned our phone booth into a planter!
phone booth upcycle
You'll see more pictures of how our phone booth planter looks in an outdoor environment if you head to our blog :)

Next week we're going to show you how we painted our ‘Partners in Grime’ metal planter you see on the bottom shelf and terra cotta pots - all using red milk paint from Homestead House. Milk paint allowed us to achieved a barn board look on the shelves and a vibrant pop of colour in the accessories - which goes to show just how versatile milk paint is!

Be sure to check out the brief video above this post to see how it all comes together.
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?

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Suggested materials:

  • Milk Paint  (Homestead House:
  • Wire Wheel  (Big box store)
  • Additional materials  (Complete list can be found on our website)
Birdz of a Feather

Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!


Have a question about this project?

2 questions
  • She22012848
    on Jul 20, 2018

    How do people think of awesome things like this?!?! Amazing!

  • Brian C. Lockwood
    on Jul 20, 2018

    Why not simply buy some barn wood for the shelves instead of going to all of the trouble to make the shelves look like barn wood?

    • Birdz of a Feather
      on Jul 28, 2018

      That's a great question! There are SO many reasons, but I'll give you my top five:

      1. Unless you're buying kiln dried wood that was guaranteed to kill bugs, you're taking a chance on reclaimed wood - especially if you're using it indoors. The chance of anything like termites coming out of the woodwork, so to speak, far negates the convenience of buying it!
      2. If you have to cut down boards - either length or crosswise - you loose the aged effect of the wood. It will look new on any cut edges and if you can view your project from both sides (like the phone booth which is open at the back), you either have to touch it up or leave it as is. If you leave it, it will look odd. If you touch it up, you'll have to match the existing finish perfectly and if you're already going to that extent, why not just do a faux board?
      3. Price. Reclaimed wood in our area costs a fortune. For this very small project, barn wood would have cost over $150. Our faux shelves cost under $25. Doing it yourself can save a lot of money. If we were to do a much larger project with this faux barn board in the future, we would realize an even more significant savings!
      4. I personally love the challenge of figuring out how to do something new - whether it's totally unique or just an improvement on what's already out there. While our faux barn board technique was definitely a lot of work, I think it's worth the time and effort spent to get exactly what you want. Plus, there's no better feeling than putting sweat equity into a piece and getting compliments on it!
      5. DIY is just plain fun for us. While hubs enjoys the power tools (as do I), there's nothing I enjoy more than painting (I find it relaxing). Our combined skills complement each other so we make a great team. Not every couple can work well together, but we really do enjoy DIY'ing together.

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