I wanted a comfy place for people to sit if they were visiting my studio, but the space is so small that the piece of furniture needed to be an odd size and visually lightweight. Figuring out this little conundrum was not on my radar at all--the studio still needed a lot of work, so furnishing the new space seemed far off. BUT THEN I found these gross chairs.
The chairs came from the following craigslist posting: "FREE on the curb: furniture. 1950s stuff." No pictures and no specifics were included, but as a lover of mid-century I hopped in the Adventure Mobile (our mini-van) and drove two neighborhoods over.
When I arrived, the owner of the house was outside piling pieces to the already gargantuan haul of freebies on the side of the road. She ran a local antiques store that was closing, so the stockpile of inventory from her garage had to go. While the Eames lounges and Tulip chairs were destined for the store's final sidewalk sale, furniture that needed refinishing was getting tossed (into my van).
These chairs seemed like a great foundation for creating a seat to meet the needs for my studio. The scrap wood pile was plentiful that day. My other projects had reached a bit of a pause. It was sunny outside. Work began.
Here are instructions to make a couch, sofa, settee, bench, loveseat, or whatever you want to call it using two old chairs. Does this piece of furniture have a real name?
The tutorial is specific to the chairs I had--with a bit of tweaking, this DIY can be applied to pretty much any two chairs (even if they don't match).
Tools and Materials
Remove Seats and Arms
If your chairs are covered in a layer of nastiness like mine were, give them a quick wipe-down. It will make your hands much less gross moving forward.
Remove the seats of both chairs by locating the screws underneath the seats. I've noticed that most old, solid-wood chairs use flathead screws rather than phillips-head. Keep the screws handy--we will use them to attach the seat later.
After getting the seats taken off, remove the opposite arm of each chair so that if they are placed next to each other there are only arms on the outsides of the chairs . My chairs had arms that were simply screwed onto the chair seats and backs, so removing them was a breeze.
If you have one chair with arms and one without, it is easy to remove an arm and attach it to the outside of your previously armless chair to create the same functionality.
Strip and Finish
If the finish or paint on your chairs is already to your liking, you can skip this step entirely. Otherwise you will need to do whatever it takes to get the old varnish scraped away. The finish on my chairs was flaking off already, so I just ran a sander over the whole thing to get down to bare wood.
Once your chairs are down to lovely, lovely wood, you can apply a finish. I chose to just rub in wood block oil so that I could keep all the stains and character that had sunk into the wood over the years (plus I had some laying around, so, you know, that made the decision really easy).
Make the Seat
While the oil is penetrating the wood (or stain or whatever), get to work making the seat. Measure one of your old seat cushions front to back and mark a big sharpie line across a scrap piece of wood that is large enough to cover the entire area of the seat. Measure across the back of your chairs and mark your seat depth on the wood with sharpie.
Grab the seat cushion you removed from the chairs. Aligning the seat with your measurements, trace the outside edge of the seat onto your wood with sharpie. Repeat for the other side. Use a jigsaw to cut out the wood for the seat.
Make sure the wooden seat fits snugly into the base of the chairs.
Cushion, Cushion, Cushion
Place your bench wood on top of a piece of high-density foam. I used 2" so that it would be somewhat cushy. Trace around the edge with a sharpie and cut using a serrated blade. The cutting part sort of sucks--little bits of green foam ended up everywhere. Yuck!
Spread out the fabric face-down on the floor and stack your cushion and wooden seat on top. Fold the fabric over the foam and wood, stapling along the edges. Don't pull the fabric super tight--just enough to squish things together and keep everything in place.
If your fabric has a pattern with lines like mine does, focus on keeping things straight as you upholster the cushion.
Once the whole seat is covered, flip it over and admire your work. Imagine how lovely you will feel sitting on this soon-to-be-completed bench, sipping some tea and reading on your kindle! Ah, how welcoming this seat will be to your studio guests! Think of all the crap you will inevitably pile onto the spacious seat!
Screw it (all together)!
Put your cozy cushion upside-down on a table and position your chairs on top of the bench. Drill pilot holes into the bench by going through the holes on the bottom of the chairs and into the wood of the bench. Using the screws you saved from the old seats, attach the new bench to the chairs. Flip the whole thing over and you are done!
I will totally come sit on your awesome new old-chairs-new-thingy couch-seat and revel in how cool you are, possibly without invitation. But I will bring tea, so that should counteract my unannounced visiting.
As a special treat, here is a picture of the finished settee in my FINISHED STUDIO. That's right, the Art Laboratory has been completed, unpacked, and organized. There are still a few final touches to be addressed (for example: my box of bones is at a friend's house, and what art space in complete without a box of bones, you know?). Right now you are probably like "Whaaaaaat?!" Yeah, it's that exciting.
So...You can probably guess what the next blog will be about.