Design ideas for a built-in planter

Lynne writes, asking for some advice:
Hi Pam – About two weeks ago my husband and I purchased a 1959 ranch home in Florida.  Just inside the front door is a brick planter with wooden slats that divides the dining room from the living room.  I have seen this type of thing before, but have not come across any solutions as to what might be done with it.  I don’t want to demolish the thing, but would like to get rid of the slats.  There is dirt and gravel in the planter.  Perhaps you or your readers may have some ideas.
Lynne in Kansas
Of course, I ask for Lynne to tell me more:

Hi Pam – I am a real estate appraiser and you could say it’s my hobby.  In the past couple of years I have been watching the prices in Florida, in the meantime my husband and I went to Texas and Panama looking at possible retirement/vacation homes.  I love the east coast of Florida, and we traveled down there from our home in Kansas City about a month ago and saw 15 homes in one day.  I was specifically looking for a ranch home that had not been renovated.  I wanted terrazzo floors and many of the homes we saw had ceramic tiles installed over the terrazzo.  I was looking for something with at least three bedrooms within walking distance to the beach.  When I saw our home that morning, I loved it, although we kept looking.  At the end of the day, although we had seen newer homes that had been renovated – this was just the house for me.  It has a pink bathroom and a seafoam green bathroom, an inground pool and a detached two-car garage.  The home was built in 1959 and the kitchen seems to be fairly original (cabinets are definitely original) although the appliances had been replaced during the 70’s.  We pulled up the carpets and had the floors refinished – that is actually happening this week while we are back in Kansas City.  The floors are the only renovation I will be doing.  The one thing I am not sure of is the brick planter between the dining area and the living room.  I wonder if any of your readers have encountered anything like this.  I would like to remove the wooden slats, but then will be left with a fairly low structure right where someone could run into it!  I am considering some sort of widely spaced shelves where the slats are now.  The planter contains gravel with dirt underneath.  (I hope no insects!).   I love reading your web page – I no longer worry about the pink bathroom!  I have always loved danish modern mid century furniture, so now I am having a great time shopping for some cool stuff for the house.

Thanks so much – I have attached a photo of my husband Larry and me.  I would have taken a photo at the house but we won’t be back there for another couple of weeks.
Thank you, Lynne! You two are so cute, and you’re Florida house: I’m jealous! Meanwhile, I’ll throw this one open to readers. Readers: What kind of ideas do you have for Lynne and her planter?

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  1. jkaye says

    Hi. A little late, but, still want to comment — recently Pam said something about living in a house awhile before deciding to change anything. I think that would be good advice regarding these slats and the planter. You might come to love the slats. And, after living with it awhile, you’ll have a better idea of what to put in the planter. Maybe you will get to go inside of some other houses in the neighborhood, and get some ideas. Looks like a great place. Good for you!

  2. midmodms says

    Yes, I agree with living with the slats for a while before you take them out. To me that’s such an interesting period feature, I would vote for keeping the room divider pretty much as is. Except for painting it, perhaps. Put plants in the planter and add something decorative to the slats. A painting from the era, or a clock, like that mentioned above. Or some other decorative wall art.

    Or keep the slats in place and hang simple shelves from them.

  3. Chris says

    Mother-in-law’s tongues (Sansevieria trifasciata) in the planter would do well, and would mirror the vertical shape of the slats. I wouldn’t hang anything on the slats, as you want to keep them open for a little light to pass through between the entryway and the sliding glass doors behind them. I like the divider a lot and I think adds character to the space. It would lack something without it. Just my 1.5 cents! :)

  4. bepsf says

    I think it would be interesting to have a cabinetmaker come in and build a custom credenza that would mount atop the existing brick – Something with lots of drawers to stash cellphones, mail, keys, etc…
    …and let it cantilever over each side of the planter a couple inches, and the end of the planter a good foot or two.

    I’d have electrical run inside so that you could have plugs inside enabling your phones to recharge inside their own little drawer – You could leave the case as a long sleek surface with a lamp on top in which case you’d need a grommet in the top to drop the cord down –
    – Or you could have a “random” arrangement of open display shelves built-in above as a room divider – the ceiling light above could shine down and illuminate your ceramic and glass pieces. You could even have a frosted-glass inset in the cabinet top to allow illumination of a featured piece of art from below.

    It could either be of teak or walnut – perhaps cane insets – with some great MCM or Neo-Chinese Regency Brass Hardware.

  5. Paul says

    Ok – two thoughts – turn 2/3rds of it into an upholstered bench seat with a higher boxed in area towards the wall for a decorative piece to sit on or with shelves. KEEP THE SCREEN!!!!
    This is out there – build it up higher and put a big ole’ fish tank on it!
    Live with it first! That’s what I’m doing right now (moved in 1959 jr.exec ranch 90 days ago) and I’m surprised at how different I feel about my initial ideas!

    • Sally Kremer says

      Yes, keep it ! I recently went to Frank Lloyd’s house Falling Water. In the guess house is a low bench seat with the slats to seperate the door from the living room. It is a beautiful walnut veneer. I took a second look because I also have a 1957 ranch house and have been trying to figure out what to use to screen the front door. If you take them down send them my way ! :)

  6. Steve Hawthorne says

    I’m actually going add stats just like those in my house to partially divide the dining area from the livingroom. I would leave them if I were you. It adds visual interest to your house and gives a good retro vibe.

  7. Lorrie Ten Hoeve says

    oh wow … I am upset with myself right now.. I inhereted my house I grew up in in florida.. a 1963 ranch style.. It had that same planter between the living room and dining room. I dragged it outside, on one of my clean out days and my brother decided to bust it up with with a sledghammer!!! Could of done so many things with it!! The whole house has terazzo floors.. but with a row of nail holes right down the middle of dining room were the tack strip for carpet was once. Everyone tells me to tile the floor.. but i cant bring myself to do it. Who did your terazzo floor restoration?

    • Mike Moran says

      Please don’t tile the terrazzo. I bought a 1954 Ranch in SW Florida on December 31 , 09. I had the floors refinished by Colonial Flooring. They are on the East coast and specialize in terrazzo restoration. Mine shine like glass with no sealer at all. They can fix the holes.

    • Lynne says

      Hi Lorrie – Diamond Tech Marble and Terrazzo did the flooring. Peter – the owner, was able to take care of all those strips. He cut the nails off at the floor level and filed them down even, then filled in any holes and faux-painted the terrazzo pattern over any filler that he had to use. The floors are beautiful and shiny, and the best investment I could have made to the home. Once the tiles go down you really can’t remove them to get the terrazzo back. Try Peter – 321-255-9501. He was one of the least expensive people I called and really did a heck of a job. By the way – I am leaving the planter in and will paint it an accent color as per several of the previous suggestions.

      • Nitnoi says


        How much did it cost to refinish your terrazzo floors? I have a very similar looking home and would love to redo mine. Unfortunately they have holes in them from carpet being pulled up.

  8. Karen Sconyers says

    I, too, live in Florida in a 50s-style ranch house. I must agree with others….don’t do ANYTHING until you’ve lived there for a while, maybe a year or two. Your initial ideas will be totally different by then. I did like the idea, though, of a big fishtank. We actually put one in what was once an exterior window but is now overlooking an enclosed Florida room. It was a great way to use the space, and a visual interests in 2 different rooms (the kitchen and the florida room, which we use as our primary den area.) But, this is just inside your front door, so you’ll need to be careful, obviously. I think if it were me, in the end, I’d leave it just as it is and add some plants…and the mother-in-law tongue is PERFECT and is one of the best indoor plants you can have (cleanses lots of air.)

    Good luck either way and keep us posted!

  9. Lisa says

    What an amazing feature. We just purchased a 1960 ranch this spring and have been considering taking out a non-supporting wall just to add a period-style room divider and let in more light. Lucky you!

  10. Amy says

    I guess I’m like the others: I say live with it, work with it, see how you feel after a year or so. Look for vintage pics (or newer pics) of how others have used theirs and give it a try yourself before you modify or tear it out. I agree that your opinion might be miles away from where it is now in a year or so — and you might regret demolishing a vintage feature of your beautiful home. (I wish I had a pink bathroom!) 😉 Congrats on your find!

  11. angie says

    Oh Lynne I so envy you! I live in a 1960 brick ranch-ler (ranch/rambler) where the front door
    opens right into the envelope-shaped lining room like “splat!” here you are with no visual
    demarcation (I think that’s a real word) to orient yourself. I’ve seen these entry-way-planter-
    things and have always wanted one. Be thankful for what you have & see it with a fresh eye.
    It is so true you have to live with something before you figure it out–kind of like marriage, no?

  12. Lynne says

    Hey everyone – thanks for all the great ideas. I have decided not to do anything drastic for a while and will paint the slats a tuquoise color – which will be an accent color in my blue/green color scheme. I am going down there tomorrow to spend a couple of weeks getting the house in order now that the floors have been refinished. I will send a photo of the living room when I am finished.

  13. retroActive says

    I’m probably weighing in too late. While many people say they love the slats, I hear Lynne complain when looked at head on, they block out the light entirely. I can see that, going all the way to the ceiling, they may be too much of a divider… too much of a good thing. My ‘crazy’ suggestion: Figure out what would be a more comfortable height: perhaps 1 or 1 1/2 feet taller than the planter. At that point, glue (strong glue) a wood slat horizontally front & back. Glue another horizontal slat front & back, maybe 9″ to 12″ above that. Carefully measure & saw just above both horizontal slats. Affix the 9″ or 12″ piece in front, like a bench or a seat. You could either use some strong posts to hold up the seat, or carefully measure and have the slats support it on the other side. And voila, a George Nelson-esque bench. I would then stain the slats divider bench the same wood tone as the kitchen cabinets… which I love! The area above this bench would then be clear, yet the bench acts as a nice divider of spaces.

    As for the planter, I love the idea of planting ‘Mother-in-Law’s-tongue’ snake plant. I would plant them in an odd number (3 or 5) of plant pots, buried in the planter, and fill the rest of it with a mixture of polished & unpolished stones (with some coloured glass to match), matching the colour you decide to paint the planter. If there is any turquoise in your terazzo, that would be a great mid-century colour… or a mossy green shade (I think you mentioned that’s in your terazzo).

    Or, for another entirely different idea: I’ve seen some really cool, tall jetson-like fish tanks over the past couple of years. If you like fish, get one of these tall fish tanks and replace the slats with that, behind the planter. I would still paint the planter as described above. The snake plant would go in the area the fish tank isn’t in front of, and in front of the fish tank, I would plant some thinner reedier plants.

  14. Judy G. says

    Absolutely keep it. If you want to hold on to the style of that era, Mother in Law Tongues is the way to go. The other reader is correct. The tall lines of that type of plant is a perfect match for the linear wood slats. I would however, strip the wood and stain it a walnut finish if possible. Clean out the planter and see if there is a metal or plastic box inside. Make sure you add small stones to the bottom for drainage. This type of plant has thick leaves and doesn’t require a lot of water. They are pretty hardy. That is why they were used so much in that era along with Rubber Tree plants. Make sure you feed them. Keep it simple. Don’t add anything else to it and space them a few inches apart. Don’t crowd them. I wouldn’t put anything on the slats. Good luck and I can’t wait to see the finished product.

  15. RENEE says


  16. Susan Menagh says

    We are closing this week on a 1961 ranch home. Ours has four waist high brick planters that are about 40 + inches long. I don’t know the name of the brick type, but it is narrow and long and was popular at the time. Two planters are at the front door as entrance dividers and two divide the kitchen from the living room. I think they are interesting and will not take them out, but, like Lynne, I need to also have some creative ideas. I have photos, but due to my age, I just don’t know how to send them to you!

  17. says

    I once saw a HGTV show and I think it would work in your slatted space. They made a fountain pouring from ceiling to floor (or flowerbed) down the glass. You could DO it, and leave the wood behind it if you wanted. (I’m sorry.. I tried to find the info on but didn’t remember which show it was)

  18. Daniel Kristak says

    Check out Wellspring ( for built-in flush mount planters. I have four in my deck right off my kitchen as a veg and herb garden… they work and look great. My wife and kids love them!

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