One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2017 was to make time for more creative stuff. I decided I will do one project a month, ideally small enough to do over a weekend. So for January, kicking off in grand style… I upholstered a bench.
I will tell anyone who will listen that I re-upholstered the headboard on my bed a couple of years ago. It justified the expense of the chunky craft stapler I bought, but it has been languishing in my drawer for a while, so here we go…
You will need:
- your bench top
- foam block(s)
- fabric to cover the top
- a big ol’ stapler
You may possibly need:
- A second pair of hands
- cushion pads
- fabric or craft glue
- your vacuum cleaner
- ribbon or other trim (bench style dependent)
- A method of making your new upholstery flame-retardant
- Your tunes and snacks of choice
I have had this bench in my lounge since my parents dropped it off when I moved in to my current flat. I think my dad put it together from the old legs of a table or bench, and a random shelf, or cut off of ply. As you can see, the colours are totally different between top and legs. It sits under the living room window, so someone (totally not me) can sit and look out the window and watch (judge) passersby. It usually has cushions on it, which is fine, but I wanted a more permanent solution. As this is an existing bench, all I had to do was undo the screws my dad had used to put it together (he did it in a super handy way which meant very little faff – thanks past-dad!) but I have no clue about your potential benches (potenches?) so in however way it works, stage one is to have the top bit of the bench separate from the legs. Then measure the length and width of it, so you know how much padding/foam block to buy.
I bought a 4” thick foam block from a high street craft shop, in its standard size. I even put it on the floor and sat on it to see how much it would compact when sat on. Thankfully it was a quiet day and no one challenged me about it! The block I found was quite dense already so it didn’t sink too much. I also bought a couple of cushion pads to help give the top some shape and make the direct bum-to-bench feeling a little cosier. See what feels right for you!
I had to cut the foam to the dimensions of my bench top, which was easy enough with big scissors and a serrated knife. As you can see, it left my block a little rough on the edges but I’m OK with that. If you want the cut side to match the factory cut, the internet suggests either a foam cutting saw, or an electric carving knife. I also bevelled the edges to give a smoother line for the fabric to go over, rather than all the corners, especially given the density of the foam. No one wants lumpy corners! You will likely end up with foam bits all over the floor, so be careful if you have small kids or pets. This is why vacuum cleaner is in the materials list.
Now for the fun bit. This is where you may need a second pair of hands to just keep stuff steady. I didn’t have that option, so I had to take out some staples and adjust as I went. I put the cushion pads on top of the foam, giving them a fab of fabric glue underneath for luck, though how it will fix to the foam I have no clue. Even if it only stuck temporarily, it ain’t going anywhere now it’s contained in a fabric prison! Then I stapled along one long edge, on the underneath side. I stapled far enough in from the edge to give me good stretching room. My top tip is to start with the centre and work outwards evenly. This helps to stop the fabric all shifting one way so that you don’t end up with too much at one end and not enough left to cover the other.
NOTE: My bench already had screw holes, so I made sure not to staple over them! If you’re making your bench for the first time, it’s up to you if you cut holes for drilling, or just fix through the fabric as well.
I used my fabric on the bias, which means at an angle to the edge. Depending on what fabric you’re using, this may be a good idea to help you get the top really tight. Using the bias of most traditionally woven cottons will give you the stretch that you just don’t get if you follow the grain lines. Depends on your fabric/pattern though! Mine is peacock feathers so I think it looks good at an angle. If you’ve got stripes or something really straight and regular, it might look weird at 45 degrees. You do you!
So, one long edge is stapled. Sure would have been good to have a second person help me for this bit! Ah well. I rocked the top over, pulling the fabric tight over the top, smoothing out the cushion pads and foam into a vaguely dome shape (and for bonus points, symmetrical!). Because the fabric is on the bias – and this is the downside – it was a little harder to stop wrinkles and bunching in the fabric. Just keep adjusting until it’s even on both sides and not totally pulled to one side. Staple the other long side!
Now is the time to do a little trimming of excess, so that the ends aren’t too bulky. Be careful though – it’s better to have to keep trimming little by little, than hack too much off at once and then have gaps. To do the ends, I tucked a little around the corner and pulled the end over before stapling. Not a proper parcel or hospital corner, but enough to get a little pleating at the ends, because I like that effect. If you want your ends smoother or more like envelopes, tuck in like you would a birthday parcel before pulling the end over, to hide that excess. Trim out some bulk if you need to.
Put your bench top roughly on top of the legs and step back. Is it as symmetrical as you want it? Have you got one baggy corner? I had a baggy corner, so I did a bit of emergency stapling. There’s always one baggy corner…
Once you’re happy, fix the top to the base/legs/box (whatever!). I was lucky – I just had to screw it back in. I bow to your own judgement on wood glues, different types of screw/nail or however else your project is going.
OPTIONAL EXTRA: I decided to glue a complementary coloured ribbon along the upright edge of the bench board, just to add a finish and cover up any little wrinkles along the edge. I didn’t have the patience or skill to do this with those big stud nail things, but that’s another option that looks really good.
Now sit back, admire your bench with a brew and something tasty. Then vacuum again. I vacuumed, sat down to write this up, and immediately noticed a piece of foam I’d missed.
SIDE NOTE ABOUT FIRE SAFETY: Depending on the fabric you’re using, you may wish to treat it with a flame resistant/retardant spray. It may not be fabric originally designed for furniture, but now you’ve made it into a furnishing! Just be aware if you’re making this bench as a gift or for sale – there are laws about this stuff, people!