my first ‘big girl’ DIY project and creating my own outdoor oasis

planter_featureI finally got tired (enough) of just wanting an awesome patio with lots of plants and a nice place to sit and relax, so I took the leap and made it happen.

I’m really good at wanting things, but I’m not always the best at shifting gears and actually having them… so bringing this space to fruition is a pretty big deal for me. More on the energy of wanting vs. having in another post though… for now, the amazing goodness of my first ‘big girl’ – built it with power tools and all by myself – DIY project!

I had been thinking about what to do with my patio for over a year and had been looking around for different patio furniture and planters for a while already this year, but I hadn’t done anything. I picked up a few smaller planters but really hadn’t pulled the trigger on anything else, even though I knew I had waited too long last year and missed out on what I really wanted… but still, something was making me procrastinate. Whatever it was – I couldn’t find a tall planter I loved, the chairs I loved were more than I really wanted to spend – the reasons to not start were easy to come up with and I finally decided that if I couldn’t find the planter I wanted I would just build one myself. Enough is enough with the wanting and not having, and I got to work creating a space I’d love to be in.

During the ‘Great Recession’ I moved from Chicago back to Virginia where I grew up and worked for about a year as a construction worker with my step dad. Every time I tell this story people usually assume I was managing something in an office. Umm, no… I was outside, swinging hammers (well, shooting the nail gun), pulling concrete, running all kinds of saws, and using the big  boy equipment right along side the guys. It was definitely one of the best experiences I’ve had and I learned a ton. So I thought – tall planter? Piece. Of. Cake.

Wellllll…. it turns out there’s a little bit of a difference between working with a team, building something with the guidance of someone with years of experience, and trying to build something completely by yourself with somewhat limited tools, for the first time, all by yourself. And I knew that… but I’m not sure I really knew that.

But how wrong could it go really? I was basically just building a big rectangular box. I drew everything out in the computer to help myself think it through and kept the design very simple to increase my odds of success. I also wanted to be able to get everything from the hardware store to my house in my car and have a slight aversion to cutting anything with a table saw… and I also don’t own a table saw. So I decided to build my planter with 1×4 wood planks and then give it a nice coat of paint. Simple enough… I just wanted to have something like this –

planter inspirationFirst I taped out the planter on my porch to make sure I was 100% sure about the size. Even though I design spaces for a living I think it never hurts to just throw some tape on the floor and get a feel for the scale of something…

zoom tapeI cut all the wood and then stood there staring at the pile contemplating the next step. It’s a little bit of a jump from pile of wood to – how do I get this box going and keep everything square and level.pile of woodBut I just jumped right in and it somehow came together… In the end I think it turned out pretty well and it definitely felt awesome to bring my vision to life and really start having this space I’ve been imagining for over a year now. And at the end of the day, creating it was pretty easy.

The patio is not 100% finished yet, but this project made me realize that sometimes it’s more important to just start… It also got me thinking about how many times I might have waited or held back because I didn’t have every detail figured out, or I thought I couldn’t make something as perfect as I felt I needed to. But what is perfect anyway? A patio with chairs I love and a planter that might not be a perfect rectangular box but that I made myself, or an empty patio with nothing that I definitely can’t enjoy because maybe I was too afraid I couldn’t do it or it wouldn’t be good enough? I plan on pondering this and many other of life’s big questions as I shop for the finishing touches for this space and sit in my new chairs and enjoy being surrounded by my plants – that hopefully I can keep alive.


  1. Matthew

    If you have not, you may be interested in the concept of mushin. You might also find some appeal in ichi go ichi e — they are related ideas. I’m glad you just went ahead and did it, it looks nice from here.

  2. I’ll have to check them out, thanks Matt!

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