Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How to Make a Planter Box Cover Using Tile

Our family room is sunken and separated from the kitchen on one side by a half wall, sometimes referred to as a pony wall.  Whatever its name, ours features a  built-in metal planter box.  I can only imagine that the original homeowners filled this with some sort of exotic, tropical plant material.  When we first toured the house with our Realtor, the planter box was empty.  We joked that it would make an awesome beverage cooler if filled with ice.

In my dreams, we would use the planter box for an indoor herb garden, or fill it with lush houseplants, or even create a living bamboo wall.  Plants and indoor trees do, indeed,  help clean the air and make for a healthy home.  And, who doesn't want a healthy home?

Rethinking the Situation:
Three facts prevented me from actually installing any living plants in that planter:
  1. Lush houseplants and herb gardens = regular upkeep and maintenance.  
  2. Actual, living plants could obstruct the view when we watch T.V. from the kitchen table.
  3. I would need to find new homes for the backpacks, books, and assorted, orphaned objects stored in the planter box.  
Over time, not only was the half wall beginning to look messy (bags were always overflowing), but also I knew it was unlikely I would plant anything anytime soon.  It was time to act.
We considered several options:
  • Recover the half wall with new plywood and trim?
  • Purchase a slab of granite to slide over the existing top? 
  • Knock the whole thing down and build a bookcase of some sort?  
Ultimately, we came up with the winning solution while at a garage sale.  We love to shop garage sales, moving sales, etc. on weekends.  You just never know what you'll find, and the price is always right.  One Saturday, we found two, nearly-full boxes of tumbled travertine tiles-priced to sell and an exact match to the tile on our kitchen back splash.  We bought the tile and quickly mapped out a plan to create a cover for the planter box.

How to Build a Planter Box Cover:
My husband has tiled before, so we already own basic tiling tools, such as trowels, floats, tile cutter, spacers.  Because this project is not nearly as involved as an entire floor, our shopping list, and cost, was small.

Materials we bought at the home improvement store:
Other materials/tools we used to complete the project:
  • Saw horses
  • Circular saw - to cut cement backer board
  • Miter saw - to cut the quarter round molding on 45-degree angles
  • Plastic garbage bags or tarp - to keep mess contained
  • Tile spacers ; Grout float ; Sponge
  • Measuring tape, pliers
  • Finishing nails, hammer, spackle 
General How-To:
  • Determine the planter box cover dimensions.
    Mark cement backer board, and complete cuts using circular saw.
  • Measure and adhere tile setting mat to backer board.
    Note:  The tile setting mat was more expensive than traditional mortar, but was a great choice for this small project.  It's mess-free to install, and we were able to tile and grout immediately, rather than having to wait for thinset mortar to set up.
We measured and cut the tile setting mats to size using scissors before adhering.
  • Arrange tiles on backer board.  
Tile spacers ensure grout lines are evenly spaced.
  • Apply premixed grout according to manufacturer instructions.
    Again, choosing premixed grout is more expensive than the powdered grout.  This small project only required one package, so convenience trumped cost.  After all, time is money, right?
    Once grout dries, remove haze using a slightly damp sponge.
The grout is dry - time to wipe off the haze.
  • Measure, cut and attach trim molding.
    Note:  We debated how to best apply the trim molding.  In the end, we simply created a box frame and placed it around the planter box cover.  We do not plan to remove the cover, so we saw no need to attach it to the tile or backer board with nails.  We also saw no need to paint the trim - it came pre primed in white, which matched the existing white half wall color.
The quarter round molding frames the planter box cover.

  • Install the finished project.
Finished planter box cover installed.
From start to finish, this project took us about three hours and cost under $30.00.  I really love the finished look.  If we choose to use the planter box in the future, we just need to remove the cover.
The kids have gotten used to storing bags and backpacks elsewhere, and we are still able to use the surface for temporary storage.    
This was my first tiling project.  It went so well, I may be ready to tackle a larger tiling job sooner than later!


  1. I feel pleasure to read the content that you are posting.
    travertine floor tiles

  2. I love this idea! Can you provide details about the cement board you used? I'm having an issue with a Stone planter box in my house that I desperately want to update!

  3. Thanks, Lauren. Cement backer board is typically used when tiling floors and walls, so it's very rigid and strong. We found it in the tiling department at the home improvement center, and purchased a board that was approximately 3 ft x 5 ft and 1/2 inch thick. You can search on the brand, Durock, to learn more. Hope this helps! Good luck with your project :)