An Easy Built-In Bench (+ Insulation + Stain!)


After we built our planter boxes, the rain came. It came, and it came, and it came, and it took over a week to receive two days of blue skies in a row. The first morning of the sunny-double-days, we got right to work on phase two of the planter boxes – built-in bench seating, insulating and staining!

Jumping back for just a second, we had a consult with a landscape designer from one of our local nurseries, Christy Webber. For $45, she came to our home for one hour, and we talked about the layout of our yard, how much sun we receive (a lot!) and what kinds of plants we were drawn to. I’ll talk more about that in a later post – including the plants we purchased! – but one of the most important things she discussed with us was the necessity of insulating our boxes.


We told her that we wanted mostly perennials, and maybe (like, if we ever found ourselves with a spare handful of hours) we’d fill them in with annuals depending on the season. Because the ground is the best insulator for perennials over the winter, and because we don’t have that working in our favor, she told us that our plants-to-be would live a much longer and happier life if we lined them with thin sheets of foam insulation.

To keep the insulation hidden under the soil, I used a height of about 18,” 3″ shorter than the top lip of the planter. They cut down easily with a utility knife, and I used a staple gun to keep them in place (this is my favorite – easy on the hands!). We ended up having so many extra sheets, we actually went around and double insulated them!


A couple of days before we actually built our planter boxes, we decided on a whim to incorporate bench seating under our garage window. Not only would it give us additional seating (or more importantly, CC seating), but by eliminating 4′ of planters, we’d save just a little more money on soil and plants. It seemed like a win-win! And spoiler, it’s already the best seat in (er, out) the house.

Our idea was to bridge the gap between the two boxes along the garage, and we wanted it to blend seamlessly into the simple design of the planters themselves. To start, we built a support ladder frame from 2×4 pressure treated wood:


We put together the four outside supports first, and each ladder support received two coated deck screws on the top and bottom. Everything was squared along the way to ensure an even, structural frame:


Next, we skinned the support frame on the front and top with the same 5/4″ x 6″ pressure treated deck boards we used for the boxes, leaving a small 1/2″ overhang not unlike the boxes, too! Shimming between the boards not only helps with drainage, but aesthetically, we prefer the look. Tip: As pressure treated boards dry out, they’ll also shrink up a bit. This will make any spacing you add a little larger in the long run, so keep this in mind.


With our bench built and all the planters insulated, it was time to stain! In a perfect world, we would have waited another week or two for the pressure treated wood to dry out, but the one good thing about this scorching summer is that the weather allowed us to move a little faster. We waffled on finish for a while, mostly between a cool, modern grey wash or a deep walnut color. In the end, we did a good gut check and realized that there was a slim chance we could grow sick of the grey, and so we went with a classic dark stain. To get the color as deep as we were envisioning, we used Cabot’s semi-solid deck stain in Cordovan Brown. The oil based stain boasts fade resistance and also acts as a water repellent. Sold!


When we first applied the stain, we might have both panicked a little. It was dark! Really, really dark! At first, it seemed that it was leaning much more solid than semi-solid. I told Scott, this looks like we’re painting them brown! Needless to say, we picked up a few tricks really quickly, and now we couldn’t be more happy with the results. Here’s what we did:

  • We mixed the stain thoroughly and several times throughout the process
  • Scott used a paint tray and roller to apply a good base layer of stain
  • I followed quickly behind with a 3″ paint brush, working the stain into the grooves and cutting in under the lip
  • When I felt that the grooves were filled in nicely, I swiped my brush over the surface to further spread the stain and give it a more natural look
  • It was a hot day, and the stain was quick to dry. Because of this, we worked very, very fast!


After an hour, the stain soaked into the planters even more, and it was very forgiving overall. The few problem areas I was fretting over were a non-issue! Below, you can see that we painted the stain about 6″ down inside the planters as well. Although it was a little extra work, we knew it would irk us for years if we could see the exposed pressure treated wood above the dirt line! Worth it.


The next day, we pulled all the planters into place so they lined our backyard. The color of the stain is rich, and it still allows for the wood grain to shine through. It’s exactly what we hoped for:


Finally, we could attach our bench to the planter boxes! The trickiest part was getting the two boxes level with each other, but Scott worked his magic.


We added a scrap of wood on each box to give our bench something to sit on, and then we laid our finished bench on top of that. The front panel of the bench hangs over the ladder support by 2 inches, which hides these supports completely:


We pushed the boxes together until the bench was nice and secure, and we used more coated deck screws to go through each box and into the ladder support. It was raining, but we were excited! DIY waits for no one. (Well, unless you’re trying to stain outside, you know?)


The front panel of the bench aligns with the second planter panel from the top, and the overhanging top board mimics the lip of the boxes! To give the bench a little extra height and make it extra cozy, we added this 3″ box cushion covered in Sunbrella fabric.


The cushion stays secured through two small eye hooks in the back:


It’s been a little more than a week since everything has been stained, and it’s rained almost every day since. We’re happy to report that the rain beads up and rolls right off! Of course time will tell, but we only used half a gallon of stain for 37-feet of planter boxes; let’s just say that we have all the touch up stain we’ll ever need.


As we progress in the backyard, we get more excited for the projects still on the list! According to my inbox, summer is winding down (back to school and fall sales, anyone?), but I feel like we’re just hitting our stride in our outdoor space. The fireplace is getting her facelift very soon, and we can’t wait to dig in on a big table!


But first? Dirt. Plants! We’ve learned so much about both. Over the weekend, we had a massive gravel delivery, and whoa, what a difference that makes, too.


In the meantime, you know where to find us.

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  • I’ll have to go back and see what you’re planning for the fireplace, but I actually love the character of yours! It’s so cute and looks amazing with the dark planters. Green plants will only enhance this whole area, so bravo!ReplyCancel

    • Kim8.23.16 - 8:08 AM

      Thanks, Michelle! We’re not digging the faux burnt edge around the opening, and the color isn’t our favorite. Just gonna modernize it a bit with a new paint job and convert it to propane! We’ll share all the details once we tackle it.ReplyCancel

  • Steph M.8.23.16 - 9:01 AM

    They look great! I love the warm wood. This is going to be a great spot for outdoor dinner parties!!ReplyCancel

  • Kristen8.23.16 - 9:21 AM

    Wow!! The bench and planting boxes look amazing!ReplyCancel

  • Brooke8.23.16 - 10:25 AM

    It’s looking really great!

    I do have one question though, aren’t you concerned about having the fireplace so close to your fence and wood planters? I have an original Majestic Firehood with a list of setbacks based on the model and the Firehood requires 36″ clear on the sides and 19″ from the rear to any combustible walls. Other models have smaller clearances but some of those were gas burning not wood burning. Maybe yours doesn’t have as large of a clearance?ReplyCancel

    • Kim8.23.16 - 10:36 AM

      Hi, Brooke! Some of our inspiration photos show this fireplace with even smaller clearances (and indoors even, which is this model’s original purpose), something we took into consideration, for sure! Another thing we’re doing is converting it over to propane, so it will no longer be wood burning.ReplyCancel

  • Julia [Chris Loves Julia]8.23.16 - 10:58 AM

    This looks so slick. Seriously.ReplyCancel

  • Crystal8.23.16 - 11:05 AM

    Are you going to be staining the back deck and stairs? Does it bug you that they are such a different color from the planters, being warm and bright, rather than a deep dark brown?ReplyCancel

  • Staci @ My Friend Staci8.23.16 - 3:33 PM

    I love that you went with the dark brown which adds a great dimension to the space. And how cute is CC the sun worshipper… <3ReplyCancel

  • Dakwerken8.25.16 - 3:50 AM

    I wanted something like this for our backyard for a very long time. Thanks a lot for sharing the great idea of making use of lawns and backyards so effectively!ReplyCancel

  • Jodi8.25.16 - 10:14 AM

    Looking great!!ReplyCancel

  • Lavues8.28.16 - 5:46 AM

    Great effort for making the bench, it looks really nice!ReplyCancel

  • Liz8.28.16 - 10:13 AM

    Is it overly dramatic to say that the stain you chose is breathtaking?? ;-) I absolutely love the way the boxes and bench turned out.ReplyCancel

  • Justin9.22.16 - 6:00 PM

    This was such a great idea and it looks so great wrapping around the patio like that. The bench seat was also a great idea to throw in, all-in-all, excellent job!ReplyCancel


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