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How many people can you fit inside a red, English phone box?

felt Union Jack

In addition to all things British, I also love felt. Here, I combine two of my geeky obsessions.

My friends (or mates, as they say across the pond) and I were always on a quest to find (suss) the answer.

I lived in England as a teenager, with my family.  On the weekend (at the weekend), my friends (mates), Ingrid, Matthew, Nigel, and sometimes Andrea, and I would go to nearby Milton Keynes to the movies (cinema).

Back to the Future (the first one) was showing, just to give you an idea of the vintage.  The movie and Michael J. Fox and his skateboard made me homesick for North America and Harvey’s hamburgers, of all things.

After the movie (film), there were some innocent teenage bonding experiences:  getting fries (chips), falling down giggling on street corners, and seeing how many of us could fit inside a phone booth (phone box).

All that time in phone boxes and we never phoned (rang) anyone, of course.  Where’s the fun in that?

Ever since, I have coveted one of these cast-iron beauties.  When they started to be de-commissioned in the late 80s in favour of soul-less Plexi-glass (Perspex) replacements, I tried to convince my dad (who was a fellow anglo-phile and somewhat amenable to some of my hair-brained ideas) to buy a bunch (whole load) and ship them over to Canada.  I have always been entrepreneurial with someone else’s bucks (quid).   I’ve been pitching sure-fire money (dosh)-making ideas ideas to invisible investors since the age of 17.

We would sell them, of course, to all the Canadians nostalgic for Queen and country (or those who recall fondly being squished sideways into one, in their youth).  There was huge profit to be made, I was sure of it.  Enough profit to guarantee that–hurrah–I could keep one for my very own.

I had big plans for mine.

It was for my industrial-style loft apartment in New York City.  Positioned right in the middle of my open-concept space, a red, English phone box was my perfect idea of a funky shower.  It was the the final, creative touch for the industrial-style loft apartment in New York City that I didn’t own.

Pfffh.  Minor detail.

Although, I think this is probably the same logic that resulted in Practical Man and I acquiring a cast-iron, claw-foot tub for the Victorian mansion I also don’t own.

Me in my pink clawfoot tub

I had to use the tub for something…cue the pink book promotions.

Anyway,  the English phone box has now achieved protected (listed) designation.   Yep, that means they’re somewhat rare and valuable and highly desirable.  If we’d snapped some up back in 1990, my father and I could have been red, English phone box business tycoons (Sir Richard Branson/Jamie Oliver) by now.


Fast forward 25 years.  I have convinced Practical Man to help me fulfill my red, English phone box dream.  He is so very obliging and far more likely to complete the project when the nasty measuring parts (bits) inevitably reared their ugly head.

We started with our boring (bog-standard) bathroom (loo) door:

Plain door

An unsuspecting door, just waiting to be transformed.

Practical Man then painted it approximately 127 times with red paint because after 63 coats of red paint, red paint still looks like salmon or puce and not at all like red paint:

Red door

We scrutinized photos (piccies) of real English phone boxes (because, I wasn’t actually a telephone box baroness in possession of many or even one real one – drat!) and found an approximation of the TELEPHONE font.  Practical Man transferred the font to the door using carbon paper.

He didn’t curse–even in British–the way I absolutely would have.  I just don’t understand him, sometimes.

I painted the word TELEPHONE (using squinty eyes and three task lights and a lot of deep breathing to avoid shaky hand syndrome and possibly a little bit of British-inspired cursing):

Telephone script

The door frame was then painted, daringly, without the use of drop cloths or a shred of painter’s tape.

Practical Man is kind of a painting show-off at times.

Then, lots of measuring (guess who did that?) and discussion about “hump” size and shape.  Use of compasses–and trigonometry and possibly some parabolas (I abandoned those back in grade 12) and definitely bristol board–ensued to achieve a reasonable facsimile of the domed top–y’know, in 2-D version.

door frame

Finally, the door went back on its hinges (still no cursing) and the “crowning” touch was applied, using a fastidiously-cut, homemade stencil (guess who is fastidious in this house?), a sea sponge and some antique gold paint:

Crown on telephone box

It’s as beautiful (brilliant) as the Royal Mail, the Royal Seal on the Peek Freans cookie bag or…oh yes, an actual red telephone box!  I came (arrived) home from work and clapped my hands in glee.   I have always wanted a crown and now I have one.

We waited one week to cure the red paint.  Someone annoyed someone else fairly regularly with choruses of, ‘Is it ready yet?  Is it ready yet?’ until finally, the magical day arrived:  time to apply the windows.  I helped with the paint shopping.  We (that would be “he”) used the skillfully-chosen metallic gunmetal acrylic paint and lots of painter’s masking tape.  

More measuring, ad nauseum.


We elected to represent a vintage phone box, using the 3×6 window design of the K2 model (1926-), with some artistic liberties taken.  

Tra-la-la!  The finished product:

Complete phone box

I hope you are clapping your hands in glee with me.  I feel our little masterpiece (mah-sterpiece) is worthy, don’t you?

I don’t live in a Soho loft and it’s not cast iron, but I love (adore) it.  This is a project that’s been 25 years in the works and it makes me homesick for Britain and curry rolls from the Cranfield Fish and Chip shop, of all things.

So, how many grown adults can you fit inside a red, English phone box?  My old friends (mates) aren’t around to help me test it out.  Ingrid lives in Wales, Matthew lives in Texas, Nigel lives in England, and Andrea lives in Germany.

But, somehow, they feel closer than ever.

Copyright Christine Fader, 2014.  Did you enjoy this post from A Vintage Life?    Share on Facebook       Tweet         You might also like my latest book.