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Sitting Right (An Elaborate Tutorial On Comfort)

June 20, 2012   //  Posted in: Decor, DIY, Sunroom   //  By: Emily   //  16 responses
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Squeal! Today’s post is super photo-heavy, so to make the whole project more digestible, I’ve broken it into a few scrollable sections. Even I have a short attention span when it comes to DIY projects, so I also went back to formatting photo galleries instead of using big-ol’-full-screen images all over the place. Just remember that you can click on the images to view the entire slide show full-size! Enjoy.

I special-requested a set of wooden folding chairs from my parents about a month ago with a great DIY project in mind:

Go head, pin your little heart out.

Background:

These perfect little sunroom chairs are a great height for our new table, light enough to move about as we wish, perfect for extra seating without being too formal, except they are a little hard on the tush when you’re sitting and working all day long. You’d know this if you’ve been to weddings or VFW events or 4-hour high school graduations where these wooden chairs are often brought in as rentals.

New sunroom chairs, perfect height for the table.

The inspiration for these chairs stemmed from a favored design sold by Anthropologie, which I had pinned on Pinterest to keep them more top-of-mind:

Anthropologie chair as inspiration for the new wooden folding chairs.

Priced at $198, they’re more than a little bit out of my price range, and dropping $800 of my own seemed especially impractical considering that they’d be placed in a 3-season room that is beaten by extreme heat and extreme cold. Around my dining room table, maybe, but not in this secondary space so much.

So, as you already saw in the image at the top of this post, I set out to make my own. And I succeeded, keeping the budget below $50 for a set of 4.

Step 1: Make a base for the cushion.

I considered a few methods for seat cushion assembly before I really got started, but decided that instead of attaching the foam and fabric to the original seat of each folding chair, I would create a new wooden seat using leftover underlayment from our bathroom renovation last winter. Because it was scrap, my wooden bases were f-r-e-e (!) but you can pick up a small piece of plywood that’s about 1/4″ or 3/8″ thick for <$6 at the hardware store.

Starting with a simple newspaper template, I mapped out the surface area of the seat (fortunately, all four wooden seats were identical despite coming from different manufacturers and suppliers, so I only had to make one template). I did drop $4 and pick up some new jig saw blades at the store, opting for the finest blade in the store. That’s finest, in the sense of being capable of making fine cuts, not finest as in the finest/fairest jig saw blades in all the land. At 21 TPI (teeth-per inch), it’s well-suited for making really smooth cuts and curves, especially when you’re working with splintery wood like this underlayment or other thin plywoods. The thinner boards tend to reverberate a lot while you’re cutting, and in my experience, that seems to make the situation worse.

  • Template makin': scissors, tape, newspaper.
  • Template makin': scissors, tape, newspaper.
  • Use high TPI jig saw blades when you're looking to make fine cuts through thin wood. Bazinga, these worked swell.

With the template transferred to the piece of scrap underlayment, I set up shop on the back deck and carefully carved out all four seats. No in-progress photos of this, mostly because I was driving the saw with one hand and using my other hand and my entire body to keep the board from reverberating uncontrollably, and more importantly, from reverberating myself right off the edge of the deck. It worked though, they turned out really nice.

You’ll want to take your templates back to the seats themselves as you cut and make sure that they fit on top of the seat with absolutely no overhang.

All four chair seats.

*Note: You’ll see later in the post that I do go back and rip an extra 1/2″ from all edges of these seats; in testing out wrapping the fabric, it seemed like the wooden edge would rub against the fabric and potentially damage it. 

Step 2: Choose and chop seat foam.

There are plenty of foam options at the craft store, this you probably already know. You also probably already know that to get anything substantial, you have to pay up big time. One thing I really like about the inspiration chairs at Anthropologie is that they’re firm when you plop on them. There’s no chance of your rear hitting the wooden base of the seat, and no sense that you’re gradually going to leave a butt impression over time.

I held my breath for a few weeks until the foam selection at JoAnn’s was marked down 50% and then layered on the savings with an extra 10% off coupon, so my first-choice of 3″ high-density foam (2’x2.5′) cost about $24.

Make it easy on yourself and use a sharp serrated knife to saw through the foam. As shown here, I lined up the seats onto the foam, and then cut through to make the foam seats.

  • Organize the seats onto the piece of foam, and then cut the foam to size using a serrated bread knife.
  • Organize the seats onto the piece of foam, and then cut the foam to size using a serrated bread knife.
  • And voila, the foam should be matchy-matchy to the size of your pre-cut wooden seats.

This is where I started to wonder about whether the always-a-little-rough edge of the wood would want to rub unfavorably against the tightly wrapped seat fabrics (they would wrap over the foam and under the wooden seat templates). I decided to use the foam as a buffer to prevent the fabric from rubbing against the seat and wearing thin, so I took a 1/2″ sliver from each underlayment board so that it was scaled like this:

Best be safe and make the wooden seat surface a little smaller to prevent the fabric from wrapping directly around the edge.

The foam received a little bit of retrofitting too. I didn’t want a boxy square seat cushion, I wanted a nice beveled gradation to the seat cushion. To help the seat take this shape, I did a little DIY bevel using the same serrated knife to add that gradual grade to each side of the foam seat.

I added a little bevel to the edge of the chair cushion to lessen the chance of it looking "square".

Step 3: Buy fabric.

My fabric arsenal is becoming larger and larger these days, but what I had in mind for the seats of these chairs was a little more eccentric than anything I’ve used before. Scouring Etsy, I finally landed upon a shop out of the UK that sold African wax cotton fabric. The shop, Chilli Peppa, offered fat quarters measuring 18″x22″ for (what felt like fair) prices, so I selected three patterns. Yes, it was one of those “the shipping is more expensive than the product” moments, but each cost between $2.70-3.50, and with shipping the set came across the Atlantic for <$18.

Chilli Peppa wax cottons on etsy!

They took a few weeks to arrive thanks to customs, but when it did they were wonderful. Vibrant, bright, happy, but still holding some common ties to the olive and orange colors that flow throughout the rest of the house.

African Wax Cotton from Chilli Peppa on Etsy.

The fourth fabric, I decided I would pull from my own scrap stash. I had some leftover fabric from my first round of ottomans that would work well, and I knew I could tap into the vintage fabrics that I brought home from this garage sale earlier this spring.

Assorted fabrics to be used for the seat cushions.

Step 4: Sew, Sew, Sew, Assemble.

One more twist in the planned design of the seat covers: I wanted to combine a couple different fabrics on each seat. Shown in that above picture, I hand selected different textiles that would compliment the busier patterns when used on a chair seat.

I cut pieces of the chosen fabric to size, keeping them roughly 22″x15″ so that there was plenty of fabric to wrap around the seat and secure, and then sewed the complimentary pieces together. Once the pieces were sewn together, I ironed each seat cover and then sewed back over the seam for reinforcement. Maybe the pictures tell the story better, I’m no technically-articulate seamstress. Fire away questions if this is totally unclear.

  • Sewing together two complimentary pieces of fabric to form one of the four pillow seats.
  • Sewing together two complimentary pieces of fabric to form one of the four pillow seats.
  • Sewing a reinforcement along the pillow seat.

Once the four seat covers were sewn and ironed flat, it was time to wrap the seat and each piece of foam with its own piece of fabric. To secure the fabric tautly to the piece of underlayment board, I used some 1/4″ staples that we already owned (but if you need to buy them new, they only cost about $5 at the store).

1/4" staples for our electric staple gun: Long enough to reach through the fabric and the wooden underlayment seat, but short enough to not come in contact with our butts when we sit down.

Using my own body weight to compress the foam and staple the fabric in place, the process was pretty simple:

  • #1: Position the foam on top of the fabric.
  • #2: fold over one edge. staple it in place.
  • #3: double check the fabric's alignment.
  • #4: fold over and staple the other three edges.
  • #5: fold and staple corners of fabric.
  • #6: Voila! Your seat cushion is finished.

Here’s a better close up on how I worked the corners. Rather than wrap the corners with sharp, crisp edges like you’d make when you were wrapping a present, I bundled the fabric cleanly so that there we no severe creases on the top of the cushion. The whole bunch was secured with a smattering of staples. It worked really well, despite it looking sloppy.

Securing the corners of each cushion tight.

At this point, the fabric still feels a little bulky on the underside of the wooden board, even spilling overboard depending on how you tuck the excess. So trim it down.

There's likely to be excess fabric at the bottom when you position the seat in the chair. Remember to trim it down.

It’ll sit much nicer without the added bulk.

Step 5: Secure that puppy.

It didn’t take much to secure the new seat to the original folding chair seat. Instead of using adhesives or staples, I predrilled a hole from underneath the chair through the original seat and through the underlayment board, and filled it with a 3/4″ wood screw. The screw was long enough to securely attach the two seats to one another, and because I kept the chair stationed upright and my hand on top of the cushion to keep it perfectly in place, the seat was perfectly centered and locked down.

Wood screws are really secure, but an added benefit is that they’d also be easy to remove if I ever wanted to remove the cushions to rewrap them or eliminate them all together.

Yes, working at this angle is a great forearm workout. Call me Popeye.

Predrill and screw into the bottom of the seat, with the cushion perfectly positioned and held in place with your hand.

Once one screw was secured, I went back and added 3 additional screws to the bottom of each seat, so there are four total holding the cushion to the original seat.

It’s secure. They’re not wiggly, only entirely cushy. So there’s only one thing left to do:

Step 6: Sit and enjoy.

How to make Anthropologie inspired seat cushions.
How to make Anthropologie inspired seat cushions.

Make anything inspired lately?

Coastin’ Through Summertime Condensation

June 19, 2012   //  Posted in: DIY   //  By: Emily   //  Leave a comment
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I’ve never really been much of a girl who mandates herself and her houseguests to use coasters on the tables. How often are we drinking in a condensation-inducing environment? Rarely. Plus, coasters are usually weird looking and always in the way. At least in my experience. The coaster exception has to be made this time of the year, when even my can of root beer can go from chilled to matching the air temperature in <5 minutes. Much of the furniture we use right now is accepting of the water rings left behind, but working at home in the summer months has made us witness to a few pieces that don’t bode as well.

And so, I sucked it up and made some coasters. Portland cement coasters, to be exacting. That’s right, skim past the ceramic tiles, pour past the cork squares, forget about the collection of cardboard circles I could have easily borrowed (indefinately) from the bar. Instead of all that, I wanted to try and make some rough little cement coasters for, specfically, the laminate dining room table and the painted sunroom table.

How to make portland cement coasters.

I followed through on this project in a cheap-o way. I had the portland cement (from when I made the cement pots last summer and the heart doorstop in February), but in order to create round coasters, I needed a good mold. I considered using the inside of a masking tape roll, but the rolls I had were a little too small. Cookie cutters, too irregularly shaped. Everything else, too nice to ruin with cement. Instead of something obvious, I turned to a different department (on our basement supply shelf) and pulled out this half-package of vinyl foam weatherseal, a 3/8″ wide and 3/16″ thick strip of tape that’s used to help insulate doors.

Voila, using weatherseal to create a mold for round coasters!

With a manufactured tendency to want to coil perfectly, the weatherseal seemed like an obvious answer. It was strong enough to stand upright, and it would be flexible enough to be easily removed from the dried coaster. To lock the weatherseal in place, I overlapped and wrapped the ends with a pinch of masking tape.

I wrapped the weatherseal with a piece of masking tape to keep it locked in shape.

I retrofitted the flattest and smoothest surface I could find, that being a few pieces of marble that was scrap from the bathroom shower shelves, and wrapped each piece with Saran Wrap. How domestic. The portland cement itself is smoother than a lot of rockier/grittier formulas, and therefore it’s more prone to pick up every last nick and bump in whatever surface it dries against, so the marble really was a perfect solution for ensuring that at least one of the sides of the coaster was really smooth, not wonky and bumpy.

Preparing the coaster molds on a smooth marble surface.

With the cement mixed (in a old dirty piece of tupperware), I began spooning it into the forms gently, letting it flow however it wished and level out a little bit before adding the next scoop.

Spooning portland cement into the coaster molds.

The cement wasn’t very runny, kind of like the consistency of thick relish. Nothing else comes to mind, we picnicked all weekend. The best resulting coasters were from the molds that I filled to the brim. You’ll notice when you’re working with cement at home that within just a few minutes, the heavier mixture sinks to the bottom of the mold and the moisture levels out the top. You can already see it happening in this next picture even as I continue to scoop in more cement.

Spooning portland cement into the coaster molds.

For the most part, the molds held in all the moisture really well. The one on the right in this next picture was a gem. The one on the left was a little leakier, but not detrimentally, and probably only because it wasn’t assembled to sit as flush as its counterpart.

Letting the portland cement coasters cure.

I did a few batches of three over the course of a few days. I found that the coasters were best left untouched for at least 12-hours, and then left sans mold in the sunlight to finish curing throughout for another day or so. A few batches were thick, a few batches I experimented with thinner coasters in which the cement only filled about half of the 3/8″ height of the mold.

Little cement coaster vs. thicker cement coaster.

And the thin ones were all well and cute, kind of like the crispy “snow cookies” we feed Cody after heavy snowfall, but their fragility was very apparent. First it was one.

Little cement coaster vs. thicker cement coaster. Thin ones cracked.

And then, once I got sanding them lightly and gently, two more joined.

More broken thin coasters.

*Note: Breathing in cement powder isn’t good for the lungs. Work in a well-ventilated area and wear a mask and goggles. I am, it’s just not shown because the moisture-inducing-behind-the-goggles combo makes me look ridic.

You’ll find that sanding them down doesn’t take much muscle. Any bumps and divots are leveled out pretty easily, eliminating any irregularities and making a nice smooth surface for your bevvy to sit upon.

We tested them out while we worked in the sunroom yesterday. Verdict? Excellente. And easy on the eyes too. The coasters. And Pete too, I mean.

Finished coasters.

Side note: New tumblers. From Target. Happy dancing.

Overall, I had 5 coaster fatalities 4 survival stories. All three of the thick coasters made it through wonderfully and would probably only break if I slammed it against the edge of the table. The thin one that survived is a little fragile, but seems fine in use.

As evidenced by the number of water marks on the living room coffee table/trunk, I think the new coasters will get a lot of wear.

Simple portland cement coasters.

Try them for yourself!

Geometric Planter: Part Deux

June 18, 2012   //  Posted in: Being Thrifty, Decor, Sunroom   //  By: Emily   //  4 responses
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Another Monday, another new hanging planter for the sunroom.

Who’d have thunk that I’d find the twinsie to my mini-hexagon planter at a rummage sale right around the corner from our little house?

?! That's almost exactly like the planter I just made.

The green sticker meant 50-cents, and the planter as a whole was in good condition. Solid hardwood, decent construction, no rot or weakening from years of wear or weather. Bingo, home it came with me, tucked between my feet on the scooter.

It’s not completely identical to the planter that I made using the scrap hexagons from the bedroom headboard:

  • It’s bigger. 12″ diameter and 6.5″ height, whereas the little one is just 6.5″W x 5″H.
  • And it’s octagonal.
  • It’s construction is a little more organized. No random placements, the rotation of each octagon is more aligned than my little hexagon assembly.
  • It’s stained red, with a bit of existing water damage that makes the base look darker/blackened.

Handmade planter vs. garage sale'd planter!

It didn’t require much work to make it usable immediately, and I had the perfect space in which to hang it (because I decided it was strong enough to be hung). I blasted away some dirt from the nooks and crannies with the hose sprayer, and then restained over the existing stain with the same Rust-Oleum English Chestnut stain that I used when I refinished the mid-century buffet. I didn’t bother trying to sand off or roughen the existing stain because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do it evenly by hand or with a power sander (too many tight spaces) so I just applied the stain with a foam brush and wiped off excess with a rag. It ended up being just enough to gently tint the finish and tone down the reds. No make-up, messy hair warning.

Staining the old new planter.

I planned to hang the newbie in the same exact fashion that I had hung the smaller planter in the sunroom: right over the new buffet. And I even had the perfect plant, a portulaca that my dad recently added to my collection.

Because I really wanted no water dribbles down onto the new buffet, I doubled up on the moisture barrier, using a new plastic planter with a built-in tray and a plastic 80-cent tray that I picked up The Home Depot. The bottom to this planter is solid with two drainage holes, so the likelihood of anything falling through all barriers seems minimal.

Planting the portulaca.

The pot itself, I had to trim down a little since the height of the wooden planter was considerably squattier than the height of the walls of the pot. I had to do this same thing with the dining room planter and outdoor planters this spring, so I already knew that hacking it down with a utility knife was a fair option to retrofit what I already had.

Just trim down the top lip of the pot to make it fit more flush into the planter.

Any unevenness of the upper lip of the pot is completely disguised by the portulaca which is young, but mature enough to overflow the edges in a really nice way. Thanks Dad! 

Planting the portulaca.

To hang the planter, I used a trio of 1/4″ x 3-3/4″ eye hook lag screws (they were just 50-cents a pop at the hardware store), and importantly, 3-3/4″ meant they were long enough to go through more than layer of octagon for added reinforcement. I was reluctant to use the smaller eye hooks in such a heavy planter even though it feels pretty well-constructed; seemed like there was no point in trusting all of the weight on that top piece of the construction if I could find some screws that would extend through at least two layers of wood.

Eye hook lag screws used to reinforce the hanging planter.

Even with pre-drilled holes, these things were rough to get in place. Quick tip: Save your finger muscles and use a screw driver as a lever and twist it around to make this step really easy.

Eye hook lag screws used to reinforce the hanging planter.

I still had an extra ceiling hook from a package I bought for the first hanging planter, so I installed it in the ceiling directly next to where the smaller plant hangs. I’m crossing all 10 fingers hoping that the hook that promises to hold up to 100-lbs isn’t a lame marketing ploy that the marketing manager made up, and that all three strands of twine will be strong enough to keep the basket hung securely. It’ll probably be upgraded to chain when I find some that I like but for now seems to be secure.

Set of new planters.

It looks pretty charming in the sunroom now. Much different from what we were living with last fall thanks to the the refinished buffet, table, chairs, beach glass and assorted plants.

Set of new hanging planters.

Come across any great finds over the weekend?