How One Creative Couple Turned Old Windows into an Adorable Greenhouse

In my last design column, I wrote about clever DIY uses for old windows. In my own home, and in a number of design jobs, I’m fairly pleased with my projects of using old windows as giant frames for enlarged photos.

Using old windows as frames wasn’t that unique a project, but it did satisfy the need to creatively recycle something destined for the landfill.

It wasn’t until I got to visit my friends Vicki and Craig Bonnell and see their backyard that I found myself amazed by the imaginative potential of old, discarded windows.

When I first met Vicki Bonnell, I was captivated by her ingenuity. Now friends, we are in sync, with long discussions of artistically unusual ideas for interior and exterior design. Vicki was my co-designer of O Street Gallery, of which I am curator.

An example of how we put our creative heads together includes using flashing metal sheets — originally used for plastering walls — as a backdrop for a mosaic mermaid at the gallery.

It was Vicki’s idea to rip the nasty blue material off old office partitions to reveal “lovely (to us)” rusted steel panels for the gallery classroom area.

Vicki’s husband Craig, who is a building contractor, shares a similar creative aptitude as Vicki. The Bonnells have spent their marriage as a dynamic duo in creative remodeling and building projects.

The term “fixer-upper” — something that would send most sane people running — is music to their ears. A few years ago, Vicki was hired to be the designer for a remodel job on an old house on Gold Street. As the old windows and doors were being ripped out for replacement, Vicki couldn’t in good conscience see them discarded. Where some would see trash, Vicki saw potential beyond picture frames: treasure from Gold Street.

As Vicki drove home that night, her SUV packed with 24 old windows, 24 matching screens and three old doors and three door screens, she anticipated that Craig would be less than thrilled. But Craig’s accustomed to Vicki calling for help with his truck when she finds big old stuff too big for her SUV. Craig’s also accustomed to their garage being filled with Vicki’s pending restoration projects. Much to Vicki’s surprise, instead of resistance, Craig announced, “Let’s build a greenhouse!”

Craig and Vicki are equally generous in who gets credit for the idea. Craig said that awhile back, he’d remembered that Vicki had mentioned seeing online examples of greenhouses made from old windows.

That Friday night, they immediately set out to build their greenhouse. Craig pulled the 24 windows out and grouped them with the styles he wanted together, which also determined the size of the greenhouse. Vicki picked the location in the yard. Craig determined the placement of the greenhouse’s four corners and started digging and setting 4-x-4 posts along with two posts sticking out of the ground where the door would be.

Craig drew a sketch for Vicki’s approval, and then began the process of framework for window frames. Everything used in building the greenhouse was made from found or recycled materials. Old wood shakes were used for the roof, and framing materials, all saved from discard from former projects, found a function in the Bonnell greenhouse.

The greenhouse floor is made up of old bricks found buried in their 1/2-acre backyard. Vicki found two old janitor sinks at a yard sale in Happy Valley. One was used for inside the greenhouse, and the other was mounted directly behind the greenhouse, outdoors. The outdoor sink plumbing is concealed with large fragments from an old broken clay pot from a root-bound olive tree.

Even the rooster weather vane, that sits at the peak of the greenhouse, was found buried in the dirt in the backyard.

Vicki’s love for digging through junk yards and antique stores rewarded her with old, rusty industrial refrigerator grates, which Craig hung high to hold potted plants.

That entire weekend, Craig worked non-stop on assembling the Bonnell greenhouse. By Sunday, the greenhouse was finished, and ready for use.

When Vicki and Craig first built their greenhouse, they didn’t anticipate a use beyond growing plants, as Craig is an avid gardener. This past November, the Bonnells hosted an outdoor family wedding. The greenhouse served well as the bar, with ice and drinks in the old janitor sinks, and counters holding beverages and glassware.

An element of bling is achieved in the chandelier that illuminates the glass house, looking much like a snow globe at night. Vicki said, “I bought that old chandelier for $20 at Salvation Army. I took the wiring out and put in solar lights, but for the wedding, I put in non-drip candles. It was beautiful lit up at night!”

Today, the Bonnell greenhouse is in use for Craig’s plantings for his vegetable garden, just adjacent to the greenhouse, and a row of grapevine. The Bonnell’s grandchildren have fun helping Craig dig in the garden, and occasionally, they get to hose off the greenhouse windows.

The creative collaboration of Vicki and Craig, from salvaging materials destined for landfill, to something of immense beauty, character, charm, whimsy and function, serves as example of artful ingenuity and effort. Backyard jewel, from 24 old windows. It’s possible.

Shelly Shively lives in Redding. She is Interior Re-design Network certified.  Among her specialties are real estate staging, furnishing vacation and new homes, and the art of interior “re-design” – where she transforms and refreshes clients’ living spaces using their existing belongings. Shelly is also a freelance artist, illustrator and muralist.  To inquire about a consultation, she may be reached at  530-276-4656 or leinanishively@gmail.com

Shelly Shively
Shelly Shively lives in Redding. She is Interior re-design network certified. Among her specialties are real estate staging, furnishing vacation and new homes, and the art of interior re-design where she transforms and refreshes clients living spaces using their existing belongings. Shelly is also a freelance artist, illustrator, muralist, Whiskeytown kayak volunteer and curator at O Street Gallery. To inquire about a consultation, she may be reached at 530-276-4656 or leinanishively@gmail.com
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16 Responses

  1. OH, wow! Love the creativity in this project. Possibilities everywhere, indeed.

  2. EasternCounty says:

    Impressive!

  3. Ginny says:

    How wonderful the “junk” worked out so well for two inventive people. Thanks for the view and story.

  4. R.V. Scheide says:

    Gosh darn it Shelly, now you’ve gone and opened up a whole new can of worms! I’ve been looking for an article like this, and I’ve been looking at all the windows available on craigslist. Now I know how to put them together!

    Question: what is the floor size of your greenhouse, and did it require permitting?

    Thanks for the article!

    • Craig Bonnell says:

      The greenhouse is 8×10.
      No permit is required for a free standing structure up to 120 sq. ft. that is not attached to the house and meets the set back requirements. Similar to a tool shed you would build or purchase from the local big box store.

  5. janet says:

    I love this idea.

  6. Canda says:

    What a great idea, and the outcome is beautiful! Thanks for sharing, Shelly.

  7. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    This article does my heart good. Would that someone is around when ever perfectly wonderful old wood, windows or hardware is thrown into a pile to go to the dump! Thank you for a wonderful article Shelly.

  8. david kerr says:

    Anewscafe shows the potential for this format. The photojournalism is a great way to illustrate the topic.

  9. Shelly Shively says:

    So glad you all were as inspired as I was when I visited the Bonnells.
    I contacted Vicki about needing a permit, and the short answer is No.
    Vicki and Craig will add comments to this thread today.

  10. Vicki Bonnell says:

    Thank you Shelly for the great article about our green house. Now if I could just get a green thumb. But I have been know to sit up on the counter, read and soak up the sun. We are getting ready to replace all the windows in our 1954 house and are thinking about what to build with those windows. Maybe a grand chicken house!

  11. Shelly Shively says:

    Vicki and Craig, thank-You, for letting me share your greenhouse jewel on anewscafe! I hope you’ll let me be your chicken consultant when you build your deluxe coop, as well as letting me write about it on anewscafe!