Thursday, July 31, 2014

How We Made a Homemade Couch That Doubles as a Shoe Box- For Pennies

 photo IMG_0985_zpsacf20dc0.jpgThe first time I ever thought about making my own couch was when I was 17, living in New York on my own. I'd rented a furnished apartment with a friend, and there were three beds but no couches. I decided to turn one of the beds into a couch, with pillows, a bet skirt, etc... I must admit, it wasn't super successful, and it ended up being, pretty much, a bed with a bed skirt and pillows. Oh well.
The next time I tried making my own "couch" type thing was when I attempted to make a large "bean bag" type seat, only filled with clothes.
Another flop. Wasn't comfortable, wasn't the right shape, was super heavy, and just looked ugly. So that was that.
When we first moved into this apartment, we thought about paying a carpenter to build us a wooden storage box, which we'd top with cushions and make it into a semi comfortable seat since we had no room for a couch in our apartment. That never happened.
But after successfully building a loft bed for our kids from scratch, Mike and I realized that we were able to build our own furniture, and didn't have to pay someone else to build it for us.

Why build furniture instead of just buying it? If cost is the issue, why not just look for second hand furniture being sold cheaply or given away for free?

Two reasons.
We have a tiny apartment. We live with our family of 6 in a 484 square foot apartment. There's a limit to how many things we can fit here.
For example, when we lived in our old apartment, twice the size of our current one, we had a couch. We got rid of it when we moved here, since we realized that if we put it in our home, it would take up so much of the floor space since it was so wide and long.
Dimensions are very relevant- not just any furniture can fit here. When we custom build furniture, we're able to fit it to fit the precise dimensions of the room, no more, no less. For example, when we built our boys' loft bed, we made it wide enough to sleep on comfortably, but narrow enough to not take up too much floor space in their very small room.

On top of that, because space is limited, we wanted our furniture to be multi-functional. Instead of just having a couch filled with more and more padding and wood and whatnot, we said if we could make our couch also be a place to store shoes, it's perfect.

I don't have an exact tutorial, because while Mike and I discussed the project, planning each step of the way together, giving ideas as to what we thought would work best, the project was completed over a long period of time, with many steps, and I wasn't always present when Mike was working on it. [For the most part he did the actual building with the wood, while I mainly helped planning it, and did the final touches (padding it and sewing it).]

The entire cost of our project was roughly 30 dollars.

 photo couch2_zps4ef4a825.jpgIt first started out as a shoe box. While I was in the US in January, Mike decided that our shoe situation was getting out of hand, and decided to use some wooden boards we had in the house, left over from another project (possibly scraps from the loft bed), to make a storage box for shoes. He made a long rectangular frame, and on the ends, filled it in with wooden slats, but the other sides were empty. He put it against the wall, and the front he covered with large thick-ish plastic bags to keep the shoes in. The top he made from two discarded cabinet doors he found in the trash.

I don't have a picture of the entire thing, but here's the end of it.

As you can see in the picture... it ended up being piled up with stuff, used as another storage surface, more than anything else.

And obviously, the plastic bags ripped not long after. So my husband took a thick plastic canvas he had (an old municipal banner that he found in the trash) and cut it to size, and stapled it on to the side in place of the plastic.

We had it sitting like that in our house for a few months.

Then not long ago, we found some wooden pallets in the trash, cut them up and planned a bit how to use it to turn the shoe box into a couch. I suggested to Mike that to make it into a couch, he should turn the box on its side, otherwise it would be too tall and too narrow; flipping it onto its side enlarged the seat and made it at a more comfortable height.

While I was out of the house one day, Mike went to work, and when I came home, I saw that he'd built a back and arms for the couch out of the pallet wood. He laid two long pieces of pallet wood inside the shoe box, on a diagonal, and screwed it together at the top of the seat part. He took the cubes from the pallet, and leaned the front of the arms on it, and cut a notch in the diagonal wooden beams to rest the arms in/on. He took two pallet boards and screwed them in to the diagonal boards to be the back of the seat.
He lay the cupboard doors across the top to be the chair, and this provided a little space to sit on, but not enough.

I suggested that Mike make the front be a solid wooden front out of pallet wood, and use hinges to open and close it. Mike secured the three pallet boards with two narrow wood scraps at the side, and it fit perfectly into the shoe box.

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Then he went and bought 2 hinges from the hardware store- our first expense so far- less than $3, and attached hinges at the bottom of the wooden frontal piece. The front swings open and downward. Mike added 2 L hooks which turn to open and lock the front door to the shoe box part of the couch.

After a few weeks, Mike and I cut and pieced together more scraps from the pallet to fill in the empty spaces at the side of the seat of the couch, cutting notches in the wood, and it fit perfectly and snugly. These were secured with screws.

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My friend picked up 2 pillows for me from a swap she was at, since she knew I was looking for them, and then I got a few more pillows as hand me downs from family members, which, temporarily, we put on the bench as cushioning, and covered it all with blankets to give it some padding and a uniform look. We did that for a few weeks, until we got a chance to finish it. It was ok, but not super soft, and wasn't even, and the pillows slid out of place frequently. But it was comfortable enough that my sons have fallen asleep lying down on it. (The biggest down side was that there was no padding on the arms.)

Yesterday, I was in the city and picked up some foam cushioning. It was sold only at a set, pre-cut length. My husband measured our couch and the cushion was a little less than twice the length of the seat, and wider than the seat, so I figured I could cut it and piece it together to fit the couch. It cost me $27 dollars. I could possibly have gotten it cheaper, since I saw someone selling a foam mattress second hand for $7 dollars, but I wasn't able to get there soon enough so someone else bought it.

Today, I took the two pillows from the swap, folded them over the arms, and sewed them together underneath the arms.

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There was a bit of cushion in the front that I couldn't sew together, since the wooden block was in the way, and the cushion was standing out to the side over there, so I used a thumb tack to tack it into the wood.

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I then cut the foam cushion to size- I first cut it to reach over the entire seat part, side to side, and then cut off a long narrow strip from the front. I wedged this in place between the pillows on the arms and the wooden seat of the couch.

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The large piece of foam that was left covered most of the back of the chair. From the piece I got off the front, I cut a shorter piece of foam to fill in the rest of the space.

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From the foam meant for the back, I cut away foam from the area that would be overlapping with the padded arms.

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Doing this, it fit snuggly, without any overlapping parts.

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I took two old pillows that weren't the softest or most comfortable and put them on top of the foam padding for extra cushioning on the seat.

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I then took a hand me down faux down blanket and put it over the entire seat- back and bottom, and partially over the arms. It was too long to cover it, so I folded it over and had the doubled area of blanket be along the back of the couch, because the bottom already had the cushions as extra padding.

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Because I didn't want the blanket flapping around or bunching up, I sewed the sides of the blanket down onto the pillows on the arms.

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Here's the finished padding of the couch. (Yes, I know the blanket is stained- who cares? It's just the padding.)
Now for the cover!

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We have this pink thick weave blanket/couch cover type thing which I put on and tucked it in around the edges, and voila- a comfy couch. It's short, and leaves the door to the shoe box exposed.

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With throw pillows, to make it more inviting.

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And with my princess Anneliese sitting on it. She didn't want to smile for the picture- she wanted to go do something else...

For now, I covered it with this maroon, larger couch cover, that I bought for our old couch in our old apartment. This one covers the wooden door to the shoe box. I'm not sure which I prefer. I don't have to decide for good, because I can change couch covers whenever I want (or whenever one needs to be washed).

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See the shoes?


I'm really excited about this! One of the hardest things about living in a small apartment is that I feel its hard to entertain, since there wasn't really a comfortable place to sit. Now we have a comfortable couch to offer our guests. And it doubles as a shoe box, and doesn't take up too much space- it fits perfectly between our stairs and the door.

Next project- an ottoman for this couch, in case people want to put their feet up.

Have you ever made homemade furniture? What furniture was it? Do you know anyone else who made their own couch? How did they make it? Have you seen a couch/shoe box before?


  1. This looks great! My husband is pretty handy. He's made bookshelves, a coffee table, shelves for our closet, and pretty much all of our kitchen cabinets except for two.

    We have a couch that is also a sofa bed. We also have four people now. As the boys get bigger, I can already see that our couch isn't big enough. I thought about buying a new couch that has an "L" shape, for extra seating. The problem is that then we lose the sofabed aspect, which is great for the 1 time a year that we have guests.

    So I decided that we should make a chaise lounge that will sit on the side of the couch, and come outward. So it's like a L-shaped couch. We haven't done it yet because we are busy with work and the kids. But I pinned the instructions and we've gone over them. We've decided to make some adjustments for our space. The plan is to have the cushion be 30x72, which is available on line for under $30. I already bought some fabric off an almost empty bolt for about $25. We have some wood already, will need a little more. All in all, it should be exactly what we need for $100.

    1/2 of it will hinge up from the top to store blankets. The other 1/2 will be open on the side to store my weights and workout gear. I'll share if we ever start/finish.

    1. That sounds like such a cool chair! Have you found a plan for exactly that, or are you making it up yourself?

  2. A few years ago for Mother's Day, at my request, my hubby and kids built me a large, custom couch. I had wanted to include a storage feature but that part didn't happen. Still, I love the big, comfy spot where we can all sit, lounge, curl up with a book, or use a computer with a lap desk. I am grateful to have folks in the family talented enough to make my vision come alive and can very much relate to how happy you must be to have a fabulous functional piece that fits your space!

  3. I have furniture that other people have made, but no couch! I have a bench/coffee table from an ex-boyfriend. And a stereo cabinet and deacon's bench my parents made. And a small bookcase my mom made. And two big bookcases my boyfriend made. These are ALL just made of wood and fasteners. And the materials were all new, so far as I know. For the deacon's bench, a king sized pillow makes the perfect cushion, so that's what I use.

    Nice job on your perfectly fitting couch with extra storage space! The best thing about making things for yourself is that they can be personalized for your exact wants and needs. Admittedly, most of my stuff was personalized for someone else's needs. The most hilarious is the stereo cabinet which has one shelf the perfect size for a receiver, one perfect for a turntable and reel-to-reel tape player, and two for 33 record albums! I love it so much that I use it anyway. (Shoeboxes fit on the receiver shelf, notebooks on the turntable shelf, and craft supplies on the other two.)

  4. OMG. What a hard, exhausting life you lead. All that work for a tiny couch that looks obviously home made. A small couch isn't that expensive- I would much rather buy a nice- looking piece of furniture that wasn't stuffed with someone else's urine-stained blanket. And getting a pair of shoes from there looks very inconvenient. You have to bend down to floor level and rummage around inside. Nope, not something I would ever do.

    1. Hi, Kara.

      I'm wondering how hard YOUR life is, you poor, spiteful creature.How twisted and lonely are you, to write something like this? Are you even capable of making something like this, or do you have everything in your life made for you?

      Luckily for you, you will never have to do this. Go ahead pay for what Penny can get for free. While spending time with her fantastic husband and kids.

      Do you have a husband? Or even a friend? Or are you sad and lonely, and sitting venom on good people is the only thing that makes you feel better?

    2. Kara, thank you for your concern, but my life isn't hard or exhausting. (Not that I don't have my exhausted or hard days, but so does everyone. And they're not connected to making a homemade couch/shoe box. )
      It may be small and look homemade, but it was that or nothing, since we have very little space available for any furniture, so this fit the size perfectly and also doubles as storage space. A bought couch wouldn't fit there, and would mean we'd have to find somewhere else to store our shoes.
      As for the stained blanket- I don't know what its stained with, but its clean, and I don't really care what it looks like since no one is sitting on it directly.
      And as for the shoe box- do you have a shoe storage space that is more convenient, that you don't have to rummage around in? Our shoes are rubber banded together so we can find pairs easily, and the ones we use most are in the front/at the top, so I find it actually quite convenient to find shoes that I want in this.
      Didn't your mama ever teach you "If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all"?

    3. Seriously, why would you be so mean? Is it your nature? Do you just enjoy saying hurtful things? Sis your cat die last night? Did you have a tough childhood?
      I feel sorry for you, you can't possibly be a happy person. Happy people don't treat others like this.
      PS- the couch is totally awesome, and multifunctional

    4. Dear Kara,

      Your assumptions and insults say it all. You lead a privileged life, one where convenience is the ultimate desirable, perhaps second only to looks. Perhaps you fancy yourself a connoisseur of beauty or an arbtrar of good taste in furniture and home decor. You have the ability to say, freely, to others, that the products of their labor are ugly and displeasing to you, strike you as senseless, and declare that better standards could be met for mere trifling expense.

      You are blind to your own privilege, arrogance, and condescension. Shame on you. Shame on your ignorance, and shame, shame on whomever raised you to be so entitled!

    5. Awesome Post Penny! Poor Kara seems to be confused. One of a kind custom furniture is vastly superior and classier than something that was clearly mass produced. For those of us with taste, the purchasing of mass produced products is not really a main goal. That is like saying that you feel bad for the kid who has a birthday cake made from scratch in their favorite flavor, decorated with their favorite themes and made with love by a mom who is a fantastic baker because you can tell that it wasn't made in the Walmart bakery. A generic "inexpensive small couch" wouldn't fit the space in a custom fashion and wouldn't store shoes - plus one would have to work an "exhausting" job away from home to earn money to buy something that doesn't even meet the need. It doesn't sound to me like Kara is someone of privilege. Kara seems like someone who is spending money to make herself look "fancy" when she doesn't even understand concepts like custom, hand crafted, convenient, art, wealth building, or working for yourself vs working for someone else.

    6. Come on, y'all. If you're going to call someone out for being rude, DON'T BE RUDE WHILE DOING IT. Yes, Kara could've expressed her opinion in a more politic manner, but she is entitled to that opinion. It's not spoiled to want ready made furniture from a store. A huge percentage of people in the Western world buy their furniture ready made from a store and have a very understandable expectation that it's the norm. Kara hasn't ever had to live on so little. No one can really understand what it's like to live in poverty until they've actually had to do it. I agree generally with her sentiment that a person have the best that they, personally, can reasonably afford. That's how I live my life. Instead of buying 4 cheap shirts that I don't really like and that fall apart after two washings, I buy one good one that I love on clearance or at a thrift store. Instead of buying a bulk sack of bland shredded factory cheese I buy a piece of delicious cheese and savor it slowly and sparingly. That's not entitled or spoiled or selfish, that's making room in my life for beauty and pleasure by cutting back on quantity in favor of quality. I think Penny did a wonderful job with what was available to her. That took a lot of patience and resourcefulness. It's a great base to customize as desired. Whenever she wants she can paint or stain the base, add contrasting fabric or trim, experiment with tufting or patchwork, and easily and inexpensively repair or modify it as needed! I can't do that to my couch. Good job! I'm also enjoying your recipes. I can't wait to try the fish and pumpkin tacos!

  5. I love it!! I'm so impressed - it looks great ;) I don't know if I could ever do this myself, I would probably end up drinking wine on the floor and crying like I usually do when I try to put furniture together.

    1. This comment made me laugh because that is probably how I would end up, too. On the floor, crying, with a glass of wine. But, I would really like to try to start making small furniture (shelves, little tables, etc), my friend even bought me a jigsaw for my birthday but I had no courage and now have to postpone it anyway because I'm on a recovery from a surgery. But I hope that soon I will be adventurous as Penny and Mike. Though, I doubt I could ever build a couch! Really good job, Penny. :)

  6. Nice! We build a lot of our furniture, too--mostly bookshelves.

    We solved our shoe problem by 1) cutting back on the number of shoes we have and 2) getting a matching shoe-rack/bench and overhead shelf/coat-hanging setup from IKEA. Admittedly not the most frugal of ways to go about this, but I was 8 months pregnant at the time. Now the bench doubles as a bookshelf for kidlet's books and his toy stove. I joke to my husband that we need to have a second child now, because otherwise the chest-shelf unit (to store kidlet's toys and books) I've had planned since he was born is never going to get made :-D

  7. Funny, my husband and I had been talking earlier about how so much of our home is furnished with second-hand or free furniture. I find that making something custom-made brings the most joy. Home-made may not be for everyone but for those of us who embrace the "make do and mend" philosophy it brings a warm glow that" store-bought" can never match. The recession forced me to learn to sew and re-cycle. I send a warm" Well-done" to Penny and Mike for their ingenuity. Enjoy your custom-made and designed sofa!

  8. wow, made-to-order seating space and storage too. you are very talented! looks very comfy! and your daughter is such a sweet model. a sofa fit for a princess! :)

  9. I love, Love, LOVE multi-purpose storage furniture. If I were allowed to get rid of the big, tired, old couch, I would gladly replace it with a homemade storage solution (or two). I live with a "collector" in the home he grew up in, which still houses most of the stuff his dear mother has "collected" over 60+ years. In other words, the house I live in is HUGE but I still feel cramped because it is bursting at the seams with stuff I can't get rid of because it's not mine. As is stands now, every bed and every couch feels like a waste of precious "Hide-stuff-I'm-tired-of-looking-at" space.

  10. Just catching up on your posts and love the custom made couch. Having the skills and imagination to be able to build something to suit is great, and the double duty with the shoe storage is even better. We have built bookshelves and such but never a couch, great job :)

  11. Hey, you guys are really creative and thrifty. That's empowering!
    I'd also like to mention, since I blog too....that it is possible to moderate your comments, so that you get an email before a comment is posted publicly...that way you can choose which comments wind up on your blog and which ones are not worthy.
    Peace and Prosperity.


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