Thursday, February 2, 2012

Tufted Coffee Table

When you think living room furniture, what typically comes to mind? I imagine some combination of sofa/loveseat/chair seating, of course, but my best Family Feud-style guess beyond that would definitely be a coffee table. There's just something so essential about a wide, flat surface the perfect height for feet, drinks, books and TV dinners. How can you live without it?

Well, we have been living without it. The accent table set we brought from Texas was way too big for our downsized house, and its sharp corners were surely an ER trip waiting to happen anyway. So we ditched the coffee table and have made do with a tray perched on the ottoman ever since.

But then I saw this.
It's a padded, upholstered ottoman (on casters!) from Ballard Designs. Perfect for a coffee table! Gentle on a toddler's head! And also, $500. Boo.

Of course, in this age of Pinterest, you're never far from a knockoff. Here are a few other inspirations that really set my wheels turning:

Diamond Tufted Ottoman from Less than Perfect Life of Bliss

Mid-Century Modern Bench from Salvage Love

DIY Tufted Ottoman from Five Days Five Ways

Some folks make them from scratch, while others retool existing coffee tables. I went the full DIY route for mine.

First I needed the goods. By far the most expensive part of any upholstery project is foam. I purchased 4" thick, high density foam from Joann. That crap costs $60 per yard! Thankfully I had a 40% off coupon. (Never buy anything expensive at Joann without signing up for the mailing list!)  My original plan was a 40 inch square table, but when I discovered that the foam is sold in 24" widths, I decided to go 24x42 instead. The room and furniture are set up in more of a rectangle anyway, so it was for the best.

At the fabric store I also purchased covered buttons, long upholstery needles for tufting, high-loft quilt batting, and of course the fabric for the table itself. I decided not to add piping to keep it low-stress and make it a no-sew project. I chose a sand-colored uncut corduroy for the feel of velvet with a lot more durability. Jeff rather wisely talked me out of burlap.

Then came a trip to Home Depot. I chose 3/4" MDF for the base. It's sold in 2x4 planks, so I just had them cut six inches off one end (one cut is free) and left with the perfect size board (and a whimpering one-year-old who is terrified of saws).  I also bought 4 tapered bun feet and 4 casters. 

Now, for the nitty gritty details. 

First, I measured and marked out the button placement on the board. I decided on 11 buttons, which meant the tufting would take on a more rectangular appearance. I found the center of the board and determined the horizontal row placement, then carefully measured to offset buttons on the diagonal. I then drilled through each hole.

I laid the board over the foam and stuck straight pins through the holes to mark their exact placement. You need to make holes in the foam for button tufting, so I just jabbed my scissors in each hole. Done, right? (Wrong. You'll see.) 

Next it was button covering time. If you know of a better covered button than Dritz, please let me know, because I loathe them.

And then it was tufting time.  I learned some lessons here.

I placed my board on two chairs. The foam went on top, then the layer of batting cut to size, then the fabric. 

For my first attempt, I used embroidery floss. I pushed an 8" needle up through the hole and all the layers, passed it through the button, and back down. Then I pulled both ends through the holes on a regular plastic button and tied them in a tight knot to anchor it in place. 

When I was finished I pulled the edges of the fabric tightly around the sides and stapled it to the bottom of the board. It was hard, taxing work. And it did not pay off.

When I finished, there was no tufting. Just loose, sad buttons and fabric sitting atop a chunk of foam. Ugh.

So I did the prudent but unpleasant thing to do when you've just spent close to a hundred dollars and several hours on something that looks terrible. I ripped it apart and started over. 

It turns out that when they say to make holes for the buttons, they do not mean to jab a sharp object into the desired location and call it a day. You actually have to excavate the appropriate diameter and depth of foam for your button to nestle down. There are special tools for this exact job because it's that important. I used my fancy paring knife instead.

Now for round two. This time I simplified my technique. Instead of looping up through the layers and back down, I simply tied a length of grosgrain ribbon tightly to one end of the button and punched my needle down through the foam and the bottom hole. The button anchor was out since I didn't have two ends to tie off this way. Instead I pulled the ribbon as hard as I could to make the tuft, then stapled the ribbon in several places while still pulling, and then tied it off around the last staple. Then pulled the edges tight, wrapped, and stapled to the bottom as before.

So much better!

Unfortunately, 4 inch feet + 1 inch casters + 5 inches of table = a 10-inch-high coffee table. Good work there, math teacher. Not gonna happen. 

So I scrapped the idea of the cute, chubby bun feet and wheels and instead purchased some 12 inch tapered legs with metal caps, MCM-style. The silver lining is that this brought my leg cost to $12, down from $30.

I stained the legs with Minwax Red Mahogany and applied three coats of Polycrylic, sanding with 220 grit sandpaper between each. 

Now, when I bought these legs, I had a passing thought of "hey, wonder how those bolts in the top are supposed to screw securely into a piece of MDF." 

And then I found out that the answer is not "drill a hole and stuff them in and plug with a little super glue." And by found out, I mean I sat on it and it collapsed. 

I had to look at the description of the legs on the Menards website to learn that you need to attach these plates. Thanks, poor packaging! Live and learn I guess.  

All's well that ends well!

And just to give you an idea why I chose a color that matched the sofa, floor and rug, I tried it out on a blanket the color of the rug we have on order. This is what it will look like in a month or so.

Here's Jeff giving it a test run. It works!

And for less than $500--no, less than $100!--that's good enough for me. 

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