Refurbishing a 1970’s Ottoman

Sometimes you see an item on Freecycle and you just go for it, without a clear idea what you’ll do with it. So it was with this 1970’s style Ottoman, with its green gold vellure and fringing. Now, we hear fringes are coming back into fashion, but I’ll bet it will be nothing like in this period piece.

Once you remove upholstery you learn a few useful things. First, the techniques they used to make it, some of which may be useful later. Second, the furniture’s structure, how much to keep, how much to junk. In this case the ottoman was melamine covered wood chip board,plus a hardboard base with casters set into wood cross struts. Naked without foam or fabric it looked awful . Wood chip board is only slightly more robust than polystyrene. Prone to fracturing if a screw goes in badly, getting easily chipped and bashed around the edges. Even the layer of melamine didn’t hold its structural integrity. We reinforced the top and bottom edges with a D shaped stripwood as the wood beneath was pitted and gouged. The stripwood gave the edges a softer curved feel.

On a trip through Lincoln we dropped in on an excellent Haberdashery shop we know called Fabric Quarter, and found two fabrics we thought might suit the ottoman. The fabric for the base is a thin red stripe printed on a light tan background. On its own it didn’t feel substantial enough, you could feel the cold hardness of the melamine beneath. So we placed a thin layer of fibre lining over it, fixing it in position with double sided tape.

When we came to covering the fibre lining we realised we were fractionally short of having enough top fabric. Scouring the Haberdashers of North Norfolk didn’t turn up a supplier, so we ordered direct from Fabric Quarter. The original vellure had been sewn together at two corners, so we adopted this technique too. However, sewing together two pieces of fabric that are only striped on one side, is shall we say, tricky. Sewing one edge with a sewing machine and invisibly hand sewing the other. We lined the interior with stiff cardboard panels covered with pure linen.

Once the fabric was stapled in place top and bottom we fitted two new strips of wood across the base, placed a hessian covered plywood sheet over it, made four cube shaped feet painted red and drilled, dowelled and glued them into position.

We didn’t reuse the original lid as its excessive weight was the main reason the wood chip in the base got trashed. The new lid was made from plywood making it considerably lighter. We are, by our own admission, not yet experts at cutting deep foam to size, but we made it good enough before stapling the deep red patterned felt fabric over the seat pad. As this upholstering was visible on the underside of the lid, we made a plywood panel covered in a pure linen fabric to conceal it. Which required a lot of repositioning of upholstery staples so they couldn’t be seen.

The original lid hinges couldn't hold the weight of the lid. Instead we chose a piano hinge to bear the weight evenly across its length. Never fitted a piano hinge before, but with a bit of trial and error we worked out the best way to do it. Likewise the stay hinge. Now the ottoman is finished we are very pleased with the result. The cube base was in the end the only bit of the original ottoman we ended up reusing. Considering the paucity of the material it was made from, we could probably just as easily make a better quality one from scratch ourselves. You live and learn.

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