I need an urn, but don't want it to look like an urn

Updated Oct 12 2015
Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter.
I don't know, does this scream "URN!" to you?
Help! I'm trying to find a suitable urn to keep some of my father's ashes in, that isn't, like, totally weird and all: "THIS IS AN URN."

I just don't want this… sculpture-type thing sitting around my house that yells "URN!" Why are all urns so damn creepy?

I mean, I guess I could put it in any container, right? But what have other Offbeat Homies done with their urns? -Colleen

Based on the number of requests that we get to make an Offbeat Funerals website, we're pretty sure you're not the only one of our readers to wrestle with this kind question. While we have no plans to launch Offbeat Funerals, we do have a pretty extensive section of Offbeat Home devoted to the issues of death and dying… and all those conversations have been pretty amazing.

So let's see what we can do when our Homies put their virtual heads together to come up with some urn alternatives…

The one pictured here is one that's easily found by searching Amazon. There's something about the wood grain that gives it an Earthy feel… somehow, that makes this urn feel less creepy than others. But still… there's that ol' "I'm an urn" shape to it…

Editor Catherine recently lost her father and found a way to integrate a non-urn into her decor with this decorative box bought from a craft store. She added a little photo inside and it now sits on her shelf without looking too creepy or out-of-place.


Homies, when you found yourself in need of an urn, or a vessel in which to keep your loved ones' ashes, what kind of non-creepy, non-traditional non-urn-like containers did you find?

  1. My in-laws are currently residing in a beautiful, ornate wooden box in our home. It could be a box for anything and the only way you'd know that it has their ashes in it is that we have engraved name plates with their names and dates on the top and the crematory has it sealed shut so that no one can accidentally open it if they mistook it for a jewelry box or something.

  2. Hopefully this idea will be taken in the light of pets being beloved family members too. I have a relative who had her longtime dog companion's ashes placed in a small piece of polished granite with a plaque on it. It is clear what it is but it is a pretty piece of stone on the mantel and not an urn.

    • My girlfriend's deceased cat loved pink and sparkly things and was the princessiest princess who ever did princess, so her ashes reside in a sparkly fabric-covered heart box, which is glued shut. We make sure it's displayed prominently because she's still a beloved member of the family, even though I never met her.

  3. Do a search on Amazon for "wooden box urn." They have a good number of options from plain wooden box, to intricately carved ones. We have two family members in these boxes, which were options in the catalog the funeral home gave us. Ours have their names, DOB, and DOD engraved on the face. To me they are much less creepy than the weird vase like variety.

  4. When my grandfather passed away, my aunt created a clay manatee with a hollow section that could be plugged with a rubber cork. To any observers, it just looks like a clay manatee, but it is inscribed with my grandfathers name and years of life.

    Of course, my family, with permission, "released" the manatee off the side of a giant sail boat as part of our celebration of his life. He really liked manatees and sail boats. But if we'd kept it, it would have been a lovely sculptural item.

    • This sounds like a great Etsy [or what have you] shop idea for some of the more crafty among us. Custom offbeat urns/sculptures? Lovely.

  5. I have the opposite problem. My mother-in-law gave me a vase…we displayed it (as part of the Great Compromise on Mother-In-Law Gifts of 2014 ;-))…and everyone asks us if it's an urn. We keep peppermints in it so we can freak people out.

  6. When my aunt died we put about half of her into an urn designed for pets. It looked like a statue of a cat (she was a crazy cat lady, for real). It was lovely and didn't say "hey, I'm an urn" I would try a google search for "pet urn" and see if that turns up anything you like.

  7. We use this little cheapo tree trunk container I found at Target a while back, and it was just the right size for our portion of the hub's dad's ashes. It is nice, and tree is all nature-y so feels right.

    Aslo, if you google "rock urn" there were some neat chunks of rock that would be inconspicous on a mantel, if you left off the plate.

  8. I actually have a friend that designs urns for get job – het name is Ashley Wallace and get website is ashletjeneeceramics.com. She does them custom made and they're beautiful. She also had a pinterest that you can view her work on.

  9. I realized that my post was filled with typos! "Her name is Ashley Wallace and her website is ashleyjeneeceramics.com"
    However the website seems to be under construction. I'd look her up on Pinterest. She really does amazing work. She does came – decorating techniques on ceramics. She has done ones with octopus, peacocks, flowers, and much more. She is a recent graduate but does amazing work.

  10. Try http://www.cosmicball.com and urne.ch. The artist is Thomas Schar, and he is based in Zurich, Switzerland (he speaks English, though the websites are in German). I found him when I was researching/writing an article about alternative death practices. (If you're interested in a bit of background on the cosmicball, and some other non-urn ideas, you can read the article here: http://www.swissnews.ch/fileadmin/daten_Swissnews/PDF_Archiv/2010/11/100829_sn11__024_26_.pdf)

    What I liked best about the cosmicball was its non-urn-y-ness. It actually looks like a contemporary art object (which it is), and wouldn't be out of place as a beautiful (and non-morbid/creepy) showpiece in your home.

  11. I guess i shouldn't be surprised that the Offbeat world is the first place this has actually come up in conversation for me. Thanks for keepin' in real, everybody. My dad passed away last year, he was cremated, we scattered half of his remains on a mountain where he spend 100's of hours watching (not shooting) bears, and the other half in a stream in my hometown where he spent decades fishing. Before we scattered his remains, each of the remaining immediate family members took a few spoonfuls of his remains. My uncle put his in a film canister, my step-mother and grandmother have shiny silver heart pendants. I chose this brass acorn necklace from etsy: https://www.etsy.com/listing/71288125/acorn-necklace-an-acorn-with-a-secret?ref=sr_gallery_16&ga_search_query=acorn+necklace&ga_order=most_relevant&ga_ship_to=US&ga_ref=auto1&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery

    I filled it and super glued it shut. I wear it quite often, but my husband and family members are the only ones who know what's in there. I get compliments on it all the time. I smile and say thanks, knowing my dad is still a charmer. I imagine someday the necklace itself will go out of fashion, and then it will hang on my bedroom mirror.

  12. Many great ideas, i would maybe suggest that if it is not easily identifiable that there are ashes inside to make sure it is not easily openable. I can forsee some akward moments, if someone, accidentally makes it fall on the floor and it opens. Or you ask a friend to get the thing on the other thing, and the friend misunderstands and opens the box that looks like a jewel box and meets your father!

  13. When my dad died, I found a company in Santa Barbara, CA that will incorporate ashes into blown glass sculptures. The company is called Memory Glass (http://www.memoryglass.com), and the sculptures are stunning. The guys who run the place are super sweet and considerate, and if you're in that area, it's worth stopping by their workshop. Even if you're not located near there, they can ship worldwide. Worth checking out!

  14. My mom took a metal pitcher vase that my dad had given her as a gift to keep his ashes in. She had it sealed, and it's travelled with her ever since. You would never know it was an urn. I think most things could be an urn, you just need to make sure to seal them properly a lot of the time.

    Personally I may ask my mom for some of those ashes someday, though I'm more inclined to get them mixed into tattoo ink and tattooed on to me.

  15. Ok I'm just going to let a secret out here. COOKIE JAR! seriously, whenever I need a container I go for cookie jars. I've used them for planters, keepsake boxes and yes, an urn for a beloved cat. They are relatively inexpensive and come in a large variety of materials and decor styles!

    • I was just coming to say my friend has her cat's ashes in a cat shaped cookie jar. She sealed it herself with silicone. It sits on a bookshelf, and just looks like a cute collectible. If they were my ashes I would be quite pleased to associated with cookies.

  16. http://musesdesign.ca/

    A new business from Montreal that design with you an unique urn for your loved ones (or for you!). Their website is under construction, but maybe it's worth an e-mail to see what kind of design they can offer and their price range. 🙂 (I have not work with them before, but in the last year, they won several entrepreneurship awards)

  17. This is what happens when you don't know what to do with ashes . . . When my grandmother died, it seemed like neither my dad nor my grandfather could really deal with it or process it. Her ashes were in whatever box they came in from the funeral home, inside a blue paper shopping-type bag given to carry the box. My dad and grandfather never did anything with the bag or the box. So her ashes sat in the bag and the box in the attic of our house. I slept in the attic for many years, so the ashes were unceremoniously keeping me company, in their blue bag. My family no longer owns that house, and I don't even know what happened to the ashes 😮 I hope my dad and grandfather finally did something with them, but I'm afraid to ask! (she died at least 20 years ago!)

  18. When my cat Buddy passed away, I found a small desktop shadowbox picture frame that was roomy enough for his ashes and his old collar, plus a note with all my favorite old memories of him. I put a photo of him on the front of the shadowbox, and it's now the perfect memorial that isn't an urn.

  19. Not really related to urns, but did you know you can have ashes pressed into diamonds? I'll try to find the link later

    • One such site is http://www.lifegem.com/

      I have thought about wanting to have this done (maybe mentioning in a will or something) if I should die, for my mother and sister if they wanted. It sounds morbid, but I think it might be something they may appreciate.

      • My FIL swears that when he dies he wants to be turned into four diamonds and be dispersed among his children. Only because he wants it to be a competition to see who is responsible enough to not lose him.

  20. If he was an avid read maybe get a hollowed out version of one of his favorite novels and enclose the ashes in a bag so that there are no accidents later….

  21. When my girl-cat died last year, I found lots of urn options on Etsy, in all kinds of shapes, materials, sizes, & prices. I wanted a ceramic container in a small size with colors similar to her fur & found that easily & very affordably.

    Unfortunately, my boy-cat is now dying so I'm looking again, & something that I've found is you can have pendant gems made of glass & ashes &/or fur/hair, also by many Etsy sellers. Not sure if I want that, but it's available & not super expensive (much less than the ashes "diamonds" I've also heard of).

  22. My mom is a potter. When my dogbaby died, she made me a beautiful jar to keep his cremains in. Maybe contact local artists. You might even find a student who would be willing to make something for you. Potters, woodworkers, glass blowers…. the options are endless.

  23. I was visiting my mom when my dad's cremated remains came in the mail. I was surprised at what the container looked like: it was a gold colored metallic box that looked like a box of See's chocolates!
    I don't see why you couldn't use any container at all; I would just make sure that it can seal securely and won't break open if you drop it, like what happened at the end of the movie Chocolat'.

  24. I don't really need to add anything, but this topic is a source of poignant amusement for me. I tell good stories about it but the short version

    1) my dad is in a brass metallic sealed box like the one Naomi mentioned. He sits on my bookshelf and it is awesome. The funeral home gave us that option when my mom mentioned she might want to put him in the crypt at her church. Luckily, I busted him out. Btw, it was very inexpensive.

    2) my dad's dad is in the cardboard box the funeral home sent us when my dad never bothered to pick up his ashes. He is in my attic but for years he was in a storage attic and discovered when I cleaned it out. He was supposed to be sent to Ohio to be spread next to my grandmother, but that never happened because

    3) my grandmother' ashes are in a Manila bubble envelope from 1972 that we seem to have lost track of. Not in Ohio. For reals.

    I'd look around for option one if you want something totally classy, not creepy and can inspire the following…

    "Is that a book? What's that box?"
    "Oh my dad's in there…" (Gleeful pause, then mercy) "His ashes, I mean."

  25. I don't know if you are stuck on a container, or what your budget is, but my mom and her 2 sisters turned my grandmother into art glass (something like this: http://www.memoryglass.com/touchstones.asp , but not from that company, because our funeral home knew people who did it). My mom then had it mounted into a piece of stained glass shaped like a celtic knot (my grandmother was Irish). No one knows but us, and this way it is always looking over us at dinner (in a non-creepy overt way).

  26. A former coworker had mentioned wanting her ashes placed in a really fancy book box – sort of like the ones at the craft stores, but made of sturdier/more expensive material.

    If I wasn't going to do the Decomponaut (mushroom bag) burial, I would opt for being cremated and placed in a fancy book box as well.

  27. My grandfather's ashes were kept in an antique tool box, after a life time of being a general contractor/all around handyman. I honestly don't know if they were scattered after the funeral, but the toolbox stood in the place of a casket at the funeral.

  28. Totally non-traditional: a friend of ours was a rock climber, and he had his ashes mixed with climbers'/gymnasts' chalk. We ordered a bag, put it in with the regular chalk, and now he'll continue to climb with us for years.

  29. My father collected whiskey jars… Jim beam ones… And so I picked my favorite and put my dad in it until I was able to go where I wanted to spread his ashes

  30. My father is a woodworker and artist and sells beautiful boxes made of turned wood and found objects (usually stone or metal) that have often been used as urns. They're very unique looking and don't scream urn at all. If you're interested, please email me (blaze2242@gmail.com). He doesn't have an online presence, and predominantly sells at the Oregon Country Fair, but I could put you in contact with him if you'd like.

  31. Seriously, my great graandparents are wrapped up like beautiful presents. Fancy embossed, high qaulity paper with gold/silver ribbon, the works. They look like the cream of crops gifts. Is it creepy? Maybe. but in my family is symbolizes that their lives and memories were a gift and we should all be greatful for them. It also serves as a reminder that our own lives and memories are precious gifts.

  32. I just buried my best friends grandmother in a popcorn tin. She had picked it out before she died, and she wanted her ashes mixed with her late husbands, and they both fit nicely in the tin. We had a good laugh about it later because her Daughter had forgotten to take the price off the bottom before they buried it.

  33. My father is a Tardis-shaped coffee mug which has a lid. Every Saturday night they watched "Doctor Who" together and it's pretty perfect for him. He was also a huge coffee drinker with a dark sense of humor. When my mom passes she'd like her ashes mixed in and then to have it sealed shut. She bought it online for a less than $20. http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/e5c5/?srp=4

  34. Thanks, everyone, for your creative ideas. A friend of mine is faced with a challenge. She lives in a state that doesn't allow pets' ashes to be allowed inside a person's coffin. This is a difficult subject for her. She has two beloved cats that lived over 17 years and the love went both ways. I figured that I would do a search on her behalf. She would love some solid metal boxes for each of her beloved cats that could be permanently sealed, and would not look like urns, and would have her family say that these were her personal time capsules…I'm open to other suggestions. I'm going to follow=up on the suggestion pertaining to brass boxes….can brass be permanently sealed? So that is the scenario. Any practical suggestions are desired. Thank you for creating this wonderful website!

  35. On Facebook, search 'Artful Ashes'. They make them into beautiful glass sculptures, and they certainly don't look like ashes.. but each is unique and very pretty.

  36. My Dad just passed, it was expected so we planned ahead of time. He really loved old trucks, so we got a cookie jar, a 1940 Ford F-1 truck to use as his urn to be buried in the cemetery, I will save some ashes for urn jewelry for my brother and myself and my step-mom is saving some to put in some old car Avon bottles my Dad held onto. We are way out of the box. To keep the cookie jar safe we were going to make a capsule out of pvc pipe, but it would have taken an 8" pipe so we got a plain white 5 gallon bucket and I put his name and DOB and DOD on the lid and around the sides of the bucket I drew pictures of his interest, an old Ford truck with the Ford emblem below, a catfish, rooster and hen and several tools. Everyone so far seems to like it, we will see how it is received at the memorial. Oh and to keep cookie jar in place we are going to use the spray expandable foam (Dad loved the stuff) and put Duct tape around the top just because he also loved duct tape.

  37. Some of my grandparents' ashes were mixed in with concrete to make stepping stones. We used stamps to put their name on the stone that held their ashes, and they sit under a tree that we planted in their honor.

  38. My mom has picked out her vessels for my brother & I. One is a clay jar with a lid that can be sealed. The other is an old decorative liquor bottle, it's actually porcelain so it's not totally strange. However the funeral director told her there will still be more so we need something else to do with the extra, I'm thinking of either planting a tree with them or having a fired glass sun catcher made with them.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.