Cement Planters: A Gray Area

August 26, 2011   //  Posted in: Backyard, Decor, DIY, Gardening   //  By: Emily   //  11 responses

I’ve been plotting to make cement planters ever since I saw them detailed in the late ReadyMade magazine earlier this year.

Graphic designer for Exhurb Magazine, and author of, Sofie Sausser sung their au-natural material praises as she outlined the how-to that was featured. And I was impressed.

Thank you to ReadyMade for the inspiration.

Her designs asked for small recycled plastic containers (think: leftover from your every day yogurt, sour cream, cottage cheese, or worn out tupperware) to act as forms for the cement to cure within, but I was hoping to kick it up a notch and create some larger planters. Specifically, one for that large, leafy tropical plant I lugged home last month. And some larger ones for other plants to be transplanted into. Because I always seem to be outgrowing my collection of planters.

I’ll tell you upfront that this wasn’t as easy on a larger scale. In fact, it was damn close to a fail at times. Read on to understand why, but first, take this sneak peek of the final project. And oohh, aahh, nice.

Finished planter. Oooh, ahhh...

Want to know how I did it (and why I self-categorize it into a gray area on the success scale)?

I save almost every random plastic planter and bucket that falls into my hands, so I had a good selection to choose from. For my flagship run, I went big, using a large black plastic container to serve as the outer edge of the planter mold, and carrier of the cement. Because I needed a smaller bucket for the inner part of the mold to create the form that the plant would eventually be planted in, I used a 5-gallon pail (that white one in the background of this photo. Before I could do anything though, I had to seal the black container base, as it was constructed with built-in drainage. I imagined at first that this wouldn’t work, but it did.

The outer black plastic bucket for the mold. Holes in the bottom. Problem? No.

Duct tape was the problem solving material, and stayed really well put throughout the whole process, even considering that I mixed the cement directly in that bucket with a small pointy-ended, hand-held, gardening rake that you’d immediately imagine puncturing the tape in a swift motion. It was Extreme Home Cement Mixing – DIY Edition.

The outer black plastic bucket for the mold. Holes in the bottom, patched. Thanks, duct tape.

I did bring home a 94-lb. bag of portland cement for the project, which was the variety that Sofie had used and recommended (although I have noticed other people doing these projects and using whatever cement they wanted). I had never worked with that variety of cement before, but can attest to it’s texture being more like soft flour rather than rocky or gravely cement that I’ve used in other projects (like installing deck posts).

The bag was just shy of $10, and I imagine that it’d make about 3 large planters, or 5,000 small planters like Sofie has perfected. OK, 5,000’s an exaggeration, but it would go hella far. (I should also note that I would have bought a smaller bag if I could, but this is all they had at our Home Depot).

Pete gets full credit for carrying to and from the car and stashing it off the ground in the shed, which is exactly where it stayed for a week as I mustered up the energy to get started. Concensus? Concrete seems like it would be a pain in the ass, but it’s really not bad at all. Plus, it’s always a race against the clock since it begins to cure so quickly, so the project is practically over before it begins. Did I just sell you on it?

To begin to mix the concrete, since I couldn’t lift the bag myself (which I suppose is the huge deterrent for getting started). Because the bag was off the ground (balanced on two chairs), I tore open a corner and began scooping it into the black container slowly.

I mixed water and alternated adding more cement, adding more water, adding more cement until the mix (as Sofie put it) was the texture of peanut butter.

I do not have an exacting formula for you, just know that if you use more water, it will take a little longer to dry.

Droppin' the portland concrete into the taped bucket.

I mixed it right in place rather than in a different container for simplicity, and used a small gardening trowel and rake to make the consistency smooth and lump-free; the rake acted like a whisk and broke up all chunks, just like if I had been beating cake batter. I was also continuously checking how the height of the planter walls would be by squishing the 5-gallon bucket into the mixed cement until it was the height I had envisioned (anywhere between 9-12″ tall).

Once it was ready to be set for drying, I loaded the 5-gallon bucket with bricks to hold it deep into place, and used some duct tape as reinforcement to keep the bucket balanced upright while the cement began to set. Without the tape, the bucket and bricks were bobbing in the cement a little, tilting to the site.

You can see in this next photo how I forced the white bucket all the way to the bottom of the black outer bucket to help figure out how thick the bottom base of the planter should be. Because the wet edge of bucket sticks about 1.5″ above the level line of cement, I knew that the base would be 1.5″ thick.

Cement leveled, bricks weighing down the mold, tape keeping it level up and down.

The good thing about portland cement, I found, was that it wasn’t as bloated with air bubbles as other cements I’ve worked with. I did tap on the outer edge of the black bucket before it set, but I didn’t shove a narrow stick down into the walls of the planter, and still didn’t end up with obvious air bubbles.

Turn the clock 24-hours forward. The cement was set, and I was ready to separate it from the mold. This is where it got tricky.

Because the plastic containers weren’t lubricated with anything like vaseline or Crisco, that cement was sealed in there pretty well. Zoink.

This is where I wish I had more photos of myself, because while I started by gently and cautiously tapping the outer bucket with my palm, I quickly transitioned to blasting it with a hammer and launching the whole piece medicine ball-style with my big ol’ work gloves on for grip. While it seemed to be loosening along the visible edges of plastic, there was no budge. But I was getting a damn good workout. It was 30+ pounds of cement plus buckets, after all. Muscles, baby.

Seriously stuck buckets.

For about a half-an-hour (yes, that long, and I wonder if my neighbors were watching), I forced my hands against the plastics, dropped it upside down, jumped on it, rolled it, launched it, and pulled on it. There just came a point where I figured it would never come out, and was trying to salvage the buckets by holding the whole thing above my head WWE-style and shot-putting it a few feet in front of me into the yard, where it landed hard, digging into the grass. I was never great at shot.

Suddenly, the white bucket popped loose like it should have been extracted simply all along. Kind of like when you try and open a jar of banana peppers for 3 minutes and then ask someone else to try and they break the seal in .0025 seconds. What can I say? I was surprised. And felt accomplished. Notice how cracked the white bucket became after several hard encounters with earth.

White bucket, out. It did get pretty banged up, though.

Removing the outer bucket was a little easier once the inner bucket was out of the way. I bashed it against the ground upside down a few times and hammered against the bottom until I felt it slide loose.

Of course, considering the brutal knock-down it had been enduring, it slid loose in pieces.

Whoops. Busted cement planter.

And not that it’s overly significant, since the rest of the planter was in shambles, but nice chunks of cement did adhere to the drainage holes that I had taped up. I wish that hadn’t happened.

Cement chunks in the base of the mold. Live and learn.

About half of it had loosened, but the other half was still in tact, including most of the base, so I brought it all inside to try and cure the situation with some glue.

Piecing the cement planter back together.

I do know enough about cement that patching it usually involves using more cement, but Pete’s a big collector of glues, epoxy, and generally mega-strong adhesion formulas, so I tapped into a half-empty (or half-full, since it was enough to complete what I was going for), tube of the crafty and strong E-6000 (the same stuff that’s saved my IKEA drawers and Pete’s Aluma-wallet).

Piecing the cement planter back together. The salvaged pieces did fit together pretty easily and, more importantly, evenly, so I gave it a fair shot at living by reinforcing the pieces while the glue dried with blue painter’s tape (since unlike duct or masking, it wouldn’t leave behind a residue on the smooth planter). It was (and is) super smooth to the touch, by the way. I love me that portland cement.

Glued and taped. Not the planter process that I had in mind, but it seems to have worked.

I also smushed the E-6000 into each crack along the inside of the planter in hopes that it would help out. It seems to have acted like a water barrier of sorts, and I’m interested to see how it holds up.

Cracks, glued.

After another day letting the glue dry, I was daring enough to fill it up with potting soil and transplant the big, leafy, happy plant into it’s new home. And freshly watered it. Curious if the glue will hold up; I really have no way of knowing.

Finished planter. Leaving it outside for a few days just in case it crumbles.

Finished planter. Leaving it outside for a few days just in case it crumbles since there are visible cracks all over.Notice the chips in the base? That’s from the holes in the original black container. Even though I taped over them, the cement latched on to remaining ridges and didn’t come off smoothly.

Ridges in the base of the planter. Bummer.

It’ll stay on the deck for a few days for two reasons:

1. The cement is sure to absorb moisture from watering the plant, and I don’t want that moisture seeping into the hardwoods (I need to find a large tray or something for it to sit on);
2. Hello, it’s glued together with E-6000. I half expect it to crumble overnight. Bets on how long it lasts?

P.S. Started working on a smaller one just this morning. Sneak peek? If you can tell, this time I’m using more malleable black plastic 3-gallon containers that Home Depot plants come in. I’ll share a photo update Sunday on the facebook page. I’m cautiously optimistic. Have a cool weekend.

Take Two: Smaller Scale.

Knobby Upgrades (From The Sale Rack)

August 25, 2011   //  Posted in: Decor, Office Space   //  By: Emily   //  4 responses

I wasn’t much bothered by the drawer pulls that were on the original Pier 1 dresser that I updated and shared with you earlier in the week, but once the fresh white coat was in place and the whole desk was reassembled, I began to wish for something different.

Something more colorful.

Something more like… oh, I don’t know… this?

New, blue, pretty drawer pull. Thank you Anthropologie.

It caught my at Anthropologie. Sale priced too, discounted to $2.95 from it’s original $8. And such a pretty bright color and heavy knob, I couldn’t pass it up for the cost; after all, my whole plan for the new office revolves around tossing pops of color in with neutral anchor pieces. I love them pops of color, and so the turquoise knob came home with me.

It was perfect for another reason as well; the original black metal hardware on the desk was affixed by not one, but two screws, meaning that if I didn’t have a new drawer pull with the same holes, I risked having the existing holes popping out visibly.

Measuring the placement of the holes from the existing desk hardware. Need to cover up that spacing behind the screws somehow.

The best part about the knob that I bought was that it had a wide metal base, so even though it was going to be a solitary-bolt attachment, the existing two holes should be totally hidden by the base. Even though I had measured before going to Anthropologie, I still wasn’t sure that the base would be quite wide enough, but decided that the risk was totally worth that almost $3.

I drilled a hole directly in the middle of the other two holes with a 11/64 drill bit, knowing that the previous drawer pull has been installed centered on the drawer.

New knob, new drilled hole, and can you tell where the wood had been protected by the previous drawer pull? Odd.

Fortunately, it all did line up and cover the previous holes, leaving me with a pretty new pop of color on my refinished desk drawer. If you’re wondering, the second tier of shelving won’t be reinstalled or refinished in any way to work with the new desktop; it’ll likely just sit in the attic, and what that means in terms of drawer pulls is that I really only did need to spend $3 on a single pull, instead of $9 on a set of three.

Desk, with the new knob.

Ooh, shiny desk. New knob. Pop of color.

Pretty pretty.

You might have noticed in the first photo that there was a second set of knobs in the background.

More knobbies. These ones envisioned for use on the IKEA shelving unit that remained in the office.

Also recovered from the sale bin at Anthropologie, I bought them for $3.95 each on a whim thinking that they would be good, solid knobs for the IKEA shelving unit that we’re keeping in the room for concealed storage (plus, they were originally $14 each!). The current knobs are just wooden pegs, and while they’re totally functional, I wasn’t opposed to an upgrade when I laid my eyes on those colorful, bubbly model.

Existing knobs on the IKEA shelving. Uneven! Blasphemy.

Also, as you can tell those knobbies are uneven as could be. It’s not so apparent until you’re hovering at their level (around knee-height) and photographing them, but I thought the more ornate knobs would distract from the unevenness better than something sleek that needs to align in an exacting way.

New knob on one side. Looking more even already. Deception at its finest.

The shelving unit itself will eventually get an office overhaul to better vibe with the space (the laminate just isn’t cutting it anymore), but that’s another project for a day down the road. For now, the installed knobs help to make the existing uneven holes a little more aligned, while adding a nice extra hoo-hah to the neutral cabinetry.

I should also note that it looks like the knobs/doors would bonk into the opposite knob, but they don’t for the most part. That isn’t to say that there’s a lot of clearance, but they definitely allow the shelving doors to open and close easily.

Updated knobs. Nope, they don't bonk against either either... the doors on the shelving remain fully functional.

I’d say not too bad, considering that the original cost of the 3 pulls would have exceeded $36 with taxes and I paid just under $12 total. I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, almost all great Anthropologie knobs go on sale at some point, and at any point in time there’s usually a fine selection to choose from.

And if you’re wondering how my organization is coming along… it’s getting there. For the purposes of taking some of these updated photos in a cleared setting though, I did shove the remaining odds and ends off to the corner. The closet door won’t even close because it’s so jam packed with assorted stuff.

Clean up in progress.

Aaand, it’s probably time to get rid of some shoes. Work in progress. More to come.

Mexicana Infusion

August 24, 2011   //  Posted in: Bedrooms, Decor   //  By: Emily   //  2 responses

Two weeks ago today we were leaving Mexico. During our 3-night stay (that you can read about over here), we did spend one morning off the resort exploring Playa Del Carmen. The town itself a great tourist trap, and not surprisingly, where we made the bulk of our souvenir purchases.

Oh look. Just me sweating my butt off at the puerto. Note to the ladies: loose cotton shift dress from J.Crew. Will not cling. The pattern will not show sweat. Makes humidity bearable.

Heading down to the beach at Playa del Carmen.

It should come to no surprise that I was looking for bargains and limited by suitcase space (we shared a single carry-on to avoid the whole checking-bags headache). Before leaving, I had wild mexican dreams of bringing home a few phenomenally embroidered tapestries like these, although I knew they would be expensive. Would have made a nice throw, or a pop of color as a bed coverlet, right? Maybe next time.

Colorful tapestries in Playa del Carmen.

During our walk up and down 5th avenue, the main touristy strip of PDC, pile of textiles outside one of the shops caught my eye (and were without a doubt within my budget, marked in a sale pile for $4 USD). We inspected few of the products (sized like a 3’x5′ carpet) trying to figure out if they were intended to be. Wall decor? For floor use? Blankets? Wearable wools? All of those things? We’re clearly not seasoned mexican travelers or well-exposed to authentic materials. In any case, our mind went to making the textile floorable, so I bought one in a blue/gray woven knit to use as an accent piece in our bedroom, where it’s happily already taken up residence. That wrinkly, wrinkly bed.

Hint of mexicana. Not sure if it's really a rug, but it is for us.

You see, the big reason it’s in there is because after the great bed switch, the beloved West Elm Pebble Rug was providing less coverage than it had been. Mostly, this was due to the size of the queen bed, because we really loved the carpet and wanted to optimize how much of it was showing in the room. So while the rug runs along the whole front of the bed and part of each side, not so much shown in these pictures, we had a small space to fill between it and the dresser right about where my feet land on the wood floor every morning.

How about a close-up of the overlapping West Elm Pebble Rug and Mexican "rug"?

It’s not a problem in this summer heat, but during the winter I do favor stepping onto something cushy and not cold and hard, so I had been on the lookout for something that would complement the existing pebble rug that I still love so much. Similar colors, different texture, different patterns, and this winning Mexican textile is all of that. It’s a nice mix of modern and classically-authentic (we think) when pulled together, so on the floor it will stay.

The carpet width was also ideal for the tight gap between the dresser and box spring, so the edges do tuck securely underneath both pieces of furniture (score!) so that the lightweight weave (which really does need a carpet pad) doesn’t move around very much or wrinkle underfoot. Yes, there are still some creases from the original folds. I’m thinking that should have been ironed first.

Fits perfectly between the IKEA dresser and bed.

Having only spent $4 on my “carpet,” I allowed myself a second souvineer, of course, it was not (and still is not) seasonably appropriate, nor does it remind me highly of Mexico because I know I have a similar one from Gap circa 2001, but it’s a big wool scarf. And I’m a girl who likes scarves.

Or was it narrow carpet runner. Or towel? Honestly, not totally sure, but I started sweating .5 seconds after draping this thing around myself in the store. Seems scarfy to me. Pendleton scarfy.

Hanging scarf. Is it a scarf?

Scarf-y texture.

Humidity + Mexico + Wool = not pleasant, but I thought it would be great in NY during the 6-month season of chill. It was only $9 USD, and I further justified the spend by deciding that I couldn’t put a textile I sweated on that much back on the rack.

Added bonus: Very cozy.

Scarf? Yes, it'll work as a scarf.

Additionally, and you already saw this, we picked up an ornament for our Christmas tree, since I’ve always liked a tree covered in brightly colored, memory-inducing treasures. I’m especially fond of the sparkle.

Mexico ornament, 2011.

Lovely Mexican Ornament. Sparkles.

Not that I’ve done an extensive online search yet, but I’m sure most of these items are also available directly from the sources (or the popular wholesalers like who were infused into each of the Playa del Carmen shops). While not direct, Sunshine Yoga showed up in one of my early searches, promoting their similar products as mexican blankets (totally not rugs), and as much as I’d love to directly fuel the mexican economy, these hammocks sold via The Mexican Hammock Company in the UK are pretty.

If anyone has recommendations for wholesalers and online shops native to Mexico, please, please leave a comment with more info