Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How to Build a REAL, Furniture-Quality Ottoman, Part I: The Skeleton

This post has been in the works for, what, 8 or 9 months now?  It was certainly on my brain well before I set up my blog.  I had a tough time finding any directions on how to build an ottoman when I set out to construct mine last year, so I figure I'll share the love with the interwebs now in hopes that it'll help one or more frustrated souls!

So... shall we begin?

When we moved here 4 years ago, we were faced with furnishing an extra living space on limited funds.  We found a great CraigsList couch that has since died.  RIP CL couch!  You were comfy and high-end and oh-so-soft and I miss you everyday.

But this lonely little couch needed a comfy ottoman to go with it.  We scoured CL for awhile with no luck, and we (and by "we", I mean the munchkin and me because my husband has better sense than to go ottoman shopping with me) finally wound up at The Dump.  If you have no experience with The Dump, it's sort of like a Marshall's for furniture.  I found this, um, beauty there:

Never you mind the mess, the dog, the mismatched pillow, the laptop cord.  OK?

Now, before you get a poor first impression of my pitiful ottoman, it wasn't initially all torn up like this.  It made it a whole 18 months before it virtually disintegrated before our eyes.  Needless to say, I was less than thrilled at the quality of this piece.  it may have been from The Dump, but it still set me back $150!  All was not lost, though -- the ottoman had a nice, big piece of foam on top.  A piece of foam that was still in good shape.  Did you know that the price of foam fluctuates with the price of oil?  True story.  That's why foam has been so high the past few years.  But I digress...

Our craptastic ottoman yielded a very nice piece of foam that I knew I wanted to recycle and use in the new ottoman I had decided I would build.  I knew that would save me a nice chunk of change!  So off I went to search online for directions on how to make this happen... FAIL.  They did not exist.  So I set out to figure this one out on my own!

I decided to build a box out of plywood and 1x4s for my foam to sit upon.

I measured my piece of foam and subtracted about .5 - 1" from each of the measurements, and built a 1x4 frame with cross support to match those measurements.  I had a sheet of 1/2" plywood cut to the same size as my frame at Home Depot.  I screwed the plywood down to the frame.

It was a box without a bottom.  A bottom isn't needed for a project like this.  1x4s turned on their sides plus the single sheet of plywood makes for PLENTY of strength.  Here's the bottom view, to give you a better idea of how it all went together.  The piece across the middle gives it extra support.  Since the munchkin tends to bounce off the furniture when we're not looking, I figured this was a good idea.  Not to mention, I've packed on a couple of pounds since college, and we tend to use our ottomans as extra seating...

Now that the frame for the ottoman was built, I had to decide how I would attach the GORGEOUS legs I found for it.  More on those later.  I decided to chop up some left over scraps of wood (2x4s) to make blocks at each of the corners.  In each of these blocks, I drilled a hole to screw the legs into.  If you're following along at home, give some thought about the placement of the legs; you don't necessarily want to screw them right in the middle of the block.  You might want them set back from the edge more (or less).  And you certainly don't want the legs to stick out on the sides!


Pardon the batting laying on top; that will come later...

Next, I took a belt sander and knocked off all the sharp edges.  I learned from experience on a previous ottoman project (not a from-scratch one) that this is a NON-OPTIONAL step!  If you fail to make these edges very dull, you will feel them through your batting and upholstery, no matter how thick you lay it on.  So -- use that belt sander, bust out that router, use your power tool of choice.  Or use a big chisel.  JUST DO IT.

WARNING:  do not attempt the following steps without an electric stapler at a minimum, preferably a pneumatic stapler.  Using a manual stapler on a project like this is guaranteed to land you in a doctor's office with hand and/or wrist injuries.  For realz.  You can get an electric stapler for like $25 at the hardware store.

Now, you need to take some batting (I like this thick cotton upholstery batting; you'll have to get it from an upholstery supply), cut it to be about 6 or 7 inches wide (to wrap around both edges of your 1x4) and long enough to wrap around the perimeter of your frame.  Staple in place on the top and bottom of the box rather than on the face of the 1x4 frame -- if you staple in the middle of your batting, you'll get a big, ugly, uncomfortable dimple in your ottoman!  Also try not to overlap your beginning and end points too much, or you'll have one spot that's too puffy.  Not good.

Notice how the batting wraps underneath and is stapled along the underside of the 1x4 (above) and along the top side of the plywood (below)

Next, get your slab o' foam ready.  Can't you see it starting to come together?  I just sat mine on top of the frame so I could get a feel for what it would turn out to be, size-wise.  Swoon!

I told you our old ottoman wasn't good for nothin'!  That foam would've set me back quite a bit if I had to buy it new.  Probably not as much as the crappy ottoman did in the first place, but you know -- silver lining and all...

You'll need to find some nice, smooth batting as your final layer.  I chose king-size cotton quilt batting from JoAnn's, with  40% off coupon thankyouverymuch!  I doubled it over and laid it flat on the ground (on top of some tarps 'cuz I was working in DH's garage -- ick).  Place your slab o' foam on top of the spread out batting, with the top side of the foam facing down.  Then, place your frame on top of the foam, plywood side down.  Make sure it's all nice and centered.  Basically -- your ottoman guts should now be sitting upside down on your batting.

Next, you'll need to pull the batting up and staple it to the underside of your 1x4s.  Try to staple it as far back from the visible edge as you can to avoid puckering.  You'll have to kind of work with the batting to get it to staple well.  I like to start by stapling the middle of one side, then move to the middle of the opposite side, pulling tautly.  Then I'll kind of work my way back and forth on those two sides, making sure I'm also stretching the batting lengthwise as I go.  You've got to figure out what works for you here.  I've found it easiest to get all of the pieces secure with 6 or 8 staples before I go back and get crazy with my staple gun.  Can you see how much fun I have using the pneumatic stapler?

Keep going until your batting is fully secure.  Don't do anything crazy by trying to tuck and pleat the batting at the corners.  I never could do this and NOT have a lumpy result.  I stapled everything flat on the bottom and cut off the extra material at the corners.  Picture hospital corners when you're making your bed.  That vertical crease you make at the corner of the mattress is the line you want to cut on.  Be careful to leave enough that you won't have gaps, and cut enough that you won't have a big overlap!

After you've cut away the excess material, use some strong thread to hand-stitch the corners shut.  Yes, this looks kind of Frankenstein-ish, but that's one benefit of me choosing a somewhat thick fabric for this project!  No one will ever know, except for the two of you who read my blog!  BRILLIANT!

Looky there -- it's a completed ottoman skeleton!

And while you're working on part I of this project, you can also be working on staining or painting your ottoman's legs.  I found mine on eBay.  You need to put some thought into what height you'd like your ottoman to be.  Take into account your frame height, your cushion height, and your desired overall height to arrive at what size legs to order.  I found the best selection on eBay.  In fact, I consider eBay seller MegaSmitty to be one of my BFFs, and he has no clue who I am.  ;)  He was the only seller I found with the turned legs I had envisioned in my mind (thanks for ruining me, Montecito collection from Pottery Barn!), in an acceptable height.  I bought these beauties from him unfinished and worked my, erm, magic.  Truth be told, I'm too impatient for most staining projects, but these were a breeze.

Unless you are a masochist, you will want to buy legs with a double-ended bolt thingy already attached.  If you want to sound cool when speaking to carpenter guys, call the double-ended bolt thingies "hanger bolts".  You want legs with hanger bolts because a) they're easy as pie to attach to your project; b) you can hold on to the bolts while you're staining the legs to help maneuver them; and c) you can use scrap 2x4s with holes drilled in them as a stand for your legs while you're letting your stain dry.  I am not as dedicated as a lot of bloggers are because I wimped out on getting pics for you while I was staining; I didn't want stain on my camera!  What you do, though, is hold these by the hanger bolt with your non-dominant hand, popsicle style, and use a shop rag soaked in stain to wipe the stain on as you turn the leg by the bolt.  Have a fresh shop rag ready to go back over and wipe off any excess.  You'll get more even results by holding the rag sort of stationary and spinning the leg itself.

For deep stains like mine, you might have to do 4 coats to get it right.  But TRUST me when I tell you that four light coats are WELL WORTH THE EFFORT.  Don't try to make up for time by applying heavy coats of stain.  It is not a good look...

After each coat of stain, pop your legs into your homemade leg stand and let dry.  OH, and unless you dig having manly hands, use some latex gloves through all of this, for the love of monkeys!  Buy a box of disposable ones at the grocery or hardware store.  They're a must for me when I spray paint, too.

And there you have it!  The structure of your ottoman is now complete, and your ottoman's legs are well on their way to being beautifully finished.  Come back later in the week, and I'll show you how to upholster this thing!  ***UPDATE*** Yes, I realize I'm running behind.  SO sorry!  Will get post #2 up as soon as I can!!!

I'm linking up to Shanty2Chic's I Made it Without My Hubby party!


  1. Love it! Thanks for the link to Smitty's!! I will be bookmarking that guy!!

  2. Now THAT is a project! You did great! I can't wait to see the finished product. Thanks for stopping by my blog.