Blanket ladders have been all the rage for a few years now – but decorative ladders can be used for so much more! Here are 3 creative ways to use a decorative ladder outside – and the details on how to make DIY ladders.
This post is sponsored by Rust-Oleum and contains affiliate links.
I’ve been seeing blanket ladders all over the place for the last few years. I really do love the look, and have been contemplating getting one for a while now. But, I’ve always wondered what else they could be used for. A ladder always looks great with a few blankets draped over it, but surely there are other ways to turn a decorative ladder into decor.
All that to say, when Rust-Oleum asked me if I’d be interested in coming up with three different ways to use a ladder in your outdoor decor, I knew I was up for the challenge. I decided to go ahead and make my own ladders for this, simply because after weeks of scouring Facebook Marketplace for some cute options, I knew the only way to get exactly what I wanted was to do it myself.
Plus, making a DIY decorative ladder is one of the easiest projects you can tackle – and you know I love to show off how simple it can be to make something beautiful for your house!
DIY Decorative Ladders: 3 Ways to use blanket ladders in your outdoor decor
Before we dive in, I created a fun little video to show you the basic process for anyone who likes to see the building in action. It’s a great way to give a little visual of how to build the ladders and, of course, to see them in action!
First up, let’s chat about how to build the ladders themselves. I went with two different designs, just to show off how versatile this project is. You can follow my method for either of these, or you can come up with your own design – the basic step-by-step will be the same either way!
Option 1: Dowel Rod Ladder
- (2) 6′ 2X3 select pine boards
- (1) 8′ 1.5″ dowel rod
- Drill/driver set
Make a simple DIY decorative ladder with dowel rod rungs!
- Gather your supplies
Be sure to select 2X3 boards that are straight and don’t have a lot of defects. You won’t be cutting off any excess, so be choosy when you’re picking them out!
- Cut dowel rod into rungs
Cut your dowel rod into five 18″ rungs. Be sure to measure twice – you want them all to be the same length!
- Pre-drill holes
Measure and mark five spots on each of your 2X3 boards for the ladder rungs. Make the first mark 15″ from the bottom of the ladder, and space the rest of the rungs 12″ apart. Pre-drill holes at each mark in the center of the 2X3 board. Pre-drill a hole in the center of each side of your rungs as well.
- Assemble the ladder!
Now, you’re ready to assemble. Simply screw from the outside of the 2X3 board into the dowel rods on either side to attach the rungs to the ladder.
Simple, enough, right? Now let’s chat about how to make the angled ladder – it’s slightly more complicated, but not much!
Option 2: Angled Ladder
- (3) 8′ 2X3 select pine boards
- Drill/driver set
Time needed: 1 hour.
Make a DIY blanket ladder or decorative ladder with a slight angle. Note: I was inspired by A Burst of Beautiful for this ladder and used her directions as my starting point!
- Cut two of your 2X3 boards down to 6.5′
I made this ladder slightly taller, so I started with 8′ boards. You could stick to the shorter boards if you prefer, but I liked the impact this one has with a little more height!
- Cut your third 2X3 board into 5 rungs, slightly angled
Since this ladder is slightly angled, you’ll want the sides of the rungs to be angled as well. I cut mine at about a 5-degree angle, and it worked well! Don’t know how to do this? Here’s my tutorial on how to use a miter saw. Cut the first rung to be 18″ long, the second to be 17″, and continue taking one inch off until your final rung is 14″ long.
- Pre-drill holes
Just like with the other ladder, you’ll want to pre-drill your holes. For this one, I started with the first rung at 18″ from the bottom, and the rest were spaced 12″ apart. After I marked the spots for my screws, I pre-drilled two holes on each side for each of rungs (with just one screw, they’d be able to rotate), and I also pre-drilled four holes in the rungs themselves (two one each side).
- Assemble the ladder
Now you’re ready to assemble! Just drill in your screws into the pre-drilled holes. With this one, it might be helpful to have either some clamps or a second pair of hands to help hold things in place as you work.
I’ll share details about how I stained or painted each of the ladders as we chat about them, but first I want to give a very important note on sealing. If you’re going to be using your decorative ladders outdoors (and you should!), you’re going to want to make sure they can handle the elements, right?!
When you have wood outside, you need to either make sure you’ve purchased wood that is pressure-treated and can handle getting rained on, or you need to make sure to do an amazing job of sealing it so that it’s totally protected. I generally like to seal it myself, simply because pressure-treated wood can be tough to work with and it doesn’t always take stain well. For all of these projects, I used Varathane’s Ultimate Spar Urethane to treat my ladders before putting them outside. Spar Urethane is the only sealer you should reach for when you’re working on an outdoor project – it’s made to be left outdoors and will ensure your ladders stay looking great.
Varathane’s Spar Urethane won’t yellow over time, and it seals out any moisture from getting to the wood. It also prevents mold or mildew and protects from UV rays. Basically, it puts a shield around your project so you can use regular old non-pressure-treated wood and rest easy knowing it’s going to be just fine in the backyard.
Ok – now that you know how to protect your projects, we can move on to the fun part. Let’s make them look good!
How to use decorative ladders outside: Three ideas
IDea 1: Make a serving station
Do you love that finish as much as I do? It’s Varathane’s Whitewash stain, and I love that it gives you the look of a true whitewash treatment without having to deal with mixing up the perfect ratio of paint and water!
I stained my ladder with the Whitewash stain, sealed it with Varathane’s Spar Urethane, and then I was ready to fill it up. For this one, I grabbed some large S-hooks and wire baskets to turn the ladder into a great place for storage. NOTE: If you purchase your S-Hooks online, be sure to pay close attention to their sizing. I didn’t think about the fact that they’d all have different openings, and ordered ones that were way too small the first time around. Whoops!
I loved the idea of making this ladder a little serving and storage station for some outdoor dining supplies. This would be a fun solution for a small patio, and a great way to set things up if you have a group over for an al fresco dinner and want to make it easy for everyone to serve themselves. I simply loaded the baskets up with some plates, cups, and other necessities and placed it near our grill cart – it looks absolutely adorable and would be so functional for a dinner party!
When the ladder isn’t full for a party, you could use the baskets to hold just about anything – plants (hint – see the next idea!), kid toys, gardening supplies, etc. Or, you could just pull the baskets off when they aren’t in use and leave the ladder out as a cute decor piece!
Idea 2: Fill it with plants
This one might be my favorite, simply because I’m a sucker for a corner filled with plants.
I started by staining the ladder with my ride or die favorite stain – Dark Walnut from Varathane. It’s a deep, rich brown tone with just the right undertones (it’s never too yellow or too red!), and it goes with anything. I went with just one coat for a slightly more rustic and weathered feel, but you can do two to get an even deeper color.
After my stain had dried, I sealed it with Varathane Ultimate Spar Urethane. After that had dried I was ready to fill it up with plants!
Obviously, I’ll note that this is purely decorative and if you really want to use this full-time to hold plants you’re going to want to make sure it’s in a spot where the wind (or wild children) can’t knock the plants off the rungs. I stuck to mostly smaller pots on the ladder, to ensure they were sturdy on the 3″ rungs. If you wanted to be able to place wider pots, or if you don’t have an area where it can be protected from wind, I’d simply use slightly wider boards for the rungs to provide a more stable shelf.
I love the look of the rustic terra cotta pots with the rich wood, and this is such a fun and simple way to display a few favorite plants! The best part is that since the ladder is already sealed with Spar Urethane, you can even keep the plants in place as you water them. I’d still make sure that there isn’t any water that just sits on the wood for a long time, but it could easily handle day-to-day waterings!
Idea 3: Use as poolside storage
- FINISH: Rust-Oleum Chalked Paint in Linen White and Serenity Blue, sealed with Varathane Spar Urethane
- Extra large S-Hooks
For this final idea, I had to take a field trip to my sister’s backyard to show off how one of these ladders could be used as a functional piece of storage (and decor) poolside!
I wanted a beachy feel for the finish, so I taped off the ladder and painted the top half with Chalked Paint in Linen White, and used Chalked Paint in Serenity Blue for the bottom half. I love the matte finish that the Chalked paint provides, and the colors are just so beautiful too. I sealed the ladder with Varathane’s Spar Urethane, and then it was ready for a new life by the pool.
I took the same S-hooks and baskets from idea #1 and styled this ladder as storage for an outdoor shower area. Filling the basket with some soap and shampoo, along with sunscreen, towels, and a few other little supplies allows it to do double-duty as storage for both the pool and a poolside shower, and it is way cuter than basically any other storage option.
Side note – is my sister’s yard not the most beautiful backyard you’ve ever seen in your life?
I love that between the Spar Urethane and the wire baskets that allow for drainage, this option is totally water-safe and can just live outside all the time. It can be tricky to figure out how to store things in an accessible and beautiful way in the backyard, especially near the pool, so I just love the idea of adding a ladder with some baskets and filling it up with everything you could possibly need!
And those, my friends, are three simple ideas for how to use that cute blanket ladder in your outdoor decor. I could keep going with ideas for days, because this is such a functional little project.
Bottom line lessons that I hope you learn from this post?
- Blanket ladders are incredibly versatile, and you can DIY one (or a couple) for your your home to use outside in about a zillion different ways.
- If you have an outdoor project that you are hoping can survive the elements, be sure to seal it with some Spar Urethane from Varathane. It’s the stuff we’ll be reaching for to finish off our DIY outdoor sofa (in progress – eek!), along with all of the other wood projects we have planned for the backyard this summer. It’s the only thing I’d ever recommend for protecting your exterior wood decor and furniture!