Make A French-Style Bench From Old Chairs

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As promised, here is a tutorial on how to make a French-style bench from old chairs in a classic French/European style. Our chairs were 50 or 60 year old knockoff Duncan-Phyfe style chairs (meaning, thin wood, cheaply made) that were falling apart. Though started awhile ago, we finally finished the bench enough to photograph for you after I saw people pinning the unfinished version I posted earlier. We’re calling it a “French-style” bench because I saw a similar bench from Ballard Designs based on a French antique, but I’ve also seen this style simply called a “window bench” as well.

What I really want to emphasize in the title, though, is that this isn’t one of those benches I’ve seen where they line two or more chairs up side-by-side and add a plywood seat to make a bench. Personally, I think those look kinda odd (sorry!) and this is a more classic style to me.

This how-to isn’t super thorough – I don’t have pictures of every single step – because Brian did it himself without my help (how dare he?), but we’ll try and provide enough detail to be at least a starting point if you’d like to make one. Also, we are not woodworkers, carpenters, or craftsmen – just DIY-er’s figuring things out as we go along. There might be other (better?) ways to do this, but hopefully, you will be inspired and use this as a springboard to think about what you can do with old, broken chairs!

Last May I wrote about how we started with a set of these these fake Duncan-Phyfe dining chairs that, being all fake and poorly made, began to fall apart on us – literally. After I revamped our new, sturdy  ($5!) Craigslist dining chairs, these were relegated to the shed, waiting for…what? I don’t know, we just couldn’t get rid of them.

Then one fine day, Brian up and decided to make a bench from the chair backs, with no help from me. This is odd, ’cause usually our DIY projects go like this:

Me: “Wouldn’t it be cool if we did __________ (fill in the blank with crazy, time-intensive diy or remodeling project)?”

Brian: “No.”

Me: “But we could __________ (fill in way to do it cheap or easy) and all you’d need to do would be ___________.”

Brian: “Well…”

So paint me surprised with this project – and happily, since it’s turned out to be one of my favorite projects ever!

Step One: Find Two Chairs

  • Look for chairs that look good from the side. Chairs that have a slight curve to them are best. The backs need to be one piece from the top down to the back legs. Also think about the height of the chair backs (ours are 16″ from the top of the bench seat) and if they have a cross-piece spanning the back legs where the wood for the seat can easily be attached.
  • Remove the front legs and seats. These knock-off Duncan Phyfe chair seats were held on by four screws. The legs were falling off and just pulled apart – the glue no longer held the dowels tightly.

Step Two: Create The Bench Seat

  • Make a rectangle box the length you’d like the bench to be and secure the ends with two wood screws each, as pictured above (ours was 36″ x 12″). Use a sturdy hardwood and long screws (3.5″ screws on each corner) to make the box as immovable as you can. We salvaged the wood for our box from a portion of an Ikea oak countertop we didn’t need when we remodeled our bathroom. Brian cut the sides into 1″x 2-1/4″ pieces.
  • Attached the box to each chair back by screwing from the chair into the short ends of the box. It’s hard to see in the above picture, but the dark slat of wood is the part of the chair back that the original seat was attached to. Brian drilled holes and then used three screws spaced evenly across this slat to securely hold the ends of the box to the backs. He also drilled through the legs of the chair to be able to insert two 3″ screws into the box from the back of each leg- for a total of seven screws on each end. Whew- you can probably guess why I’m emphasizing secure at this point- our whole goal was to actually be able to sit on the bench!

Step Three: Create A Bottom Shelf

  • Even after making the seat bench as secure as possible, the bench was still too wobbly for anyone to sit on, so Brian made another box – this one is smaller and made from stock pine 1″x2″s. He carefully measured each piece, attaching first the long pieces to the chair legs and then the short pieces to the ends of the long pieces (clear as mud? Hopefully the picture above helps clarify!), as opposed to the first box, which was made first and then attached (our measurements: 12 3/4″ x 41 1/8″ – so it fit exactly between the legs as they curved). Again, use the longest screw you can without going through to the front of the legs.
  • Make a “top” for the shelf using flat molding. We didn’t want the heavy look of a full plywood top, so we used some 3/4″ x 1″ molding we had. It’s the kind that is flat on one side and has rounded edges on the top (sorry, I’m not sure of the name of it- or even what we used it for originally!). Brian just measured, cut, and used small finish nails to attach them to the top of the shelf, 7″ apart on center. They probably would’ve looked more finished if they were set into the shelf (rather than sitting on top), but this was easy and looks fine to us.

Step Four: Fill Holes And Paint

  • Fill all the holes with wood filler, allow to dry and then sand them smooth, as well as all of the surfaces to prepare them for paint. You may have noticed from the pictures that Brian put many large holes into the bench in his effort to make it sturdy. He does this whenever he makes something because he knows I’m the “queen of putty” around here and can usually fill whatever he sends my way. We’re pretty much a team that way. It also helps that our mantra is “cottage = imperfect.” {wink}
  • Paint the bench. You probably should start with a primer, but I didn’t {gasp}. I used my nifty new paint sprayer and put three light coats on of my favorite color – Behr’s Creamy White.

Step Five: Make Plywood Seat Top

  • Cut a piece of 1/2″ plywood to sit on top of the bench.
  • Cover the plywood with quilt batting (cut about an inch bigger than the wood) and your choice of material- cut at least two inches bigger all around than the top. Turn the raw edges of the material under, pull the batting and material tight around to the bottom and used a staple gun to secure. I used a piece of dropcloth to cover our bench top.
  • As you can see, our top is not yet attached to the box (uh-em). We’ll use L-brackets and attach from the bottom with small screws, though it sits there pretty securely without them.

Then all you’ve got left is to decide if you want to leave it as is or add a cushion.

The cushion I’m going to make is one of those french-style mattress cushions and it will be nice and thick – about four inches. It will be made out of dropcloth (of course) and I’m thinking about making it look like a French grain sack by adding striping.

It does look fine with just pillows, too. I’ve just always wanted a bench with an old-fashioned mattress-style cushion.

And you know how Brian took extra steps to make this really sturdy? This bench doesn’t have one wiggle at all, so not only does it look good, it also feels secure when we sit on it- yeah!

What do you think? Is this a great way to rescue broken chairs, or what?

This is linked to Furniture Feature Friday, Show and Tell Friday, Shabby Nest, Saturday Nite Special, Weekend Wrap-Up and Show Off Your Cottage Monday. Also Furniture Feature Friday’s 2012 Year End Best.

Comments

  1. says

    What an awesome idea! I totally love this – now I have to add broken chairs to my list of garage sale items. That list is growing longer by the day!!!

    I’m totally pinning this!

  2. says

    Fantastic idea! I have a few old chairs and the seats are broken. Was almost going to send them to the rubbish tip. Now you have me thinking!! A beautiful job, well done.

  3. says

    I’ve been dying to see this finished since you first posted it … well done …. I’ll have mine finished soon. You inspired me to go out and find those cool cheap chairs.

  4. says

    So sweet. I have always wanted one of these and I think I could do this! Now to find the chairs that would be perfect…

  5. Anonymous says

    Love this idea! Saw it pop up on pinterest, but people aren’t linking it correctly. I had to google to find it. Crazy cool! I pinned it correctly. Hopefully others will.

  6. Diana says

    Could maybe put a bottom piece of plywood under the seat box…storage for a couple of books or writing paper, hats, scarves and gloves, etc. Just a thought.

  7. Diane says

    Love the bench. I was working on a similar design but it was so unsturdy I was afraid just having my cat jump on it would cause it to fall apart. But the box on the base was just what it needed.
    I do have a question, though. As you’re the “queen of putty” I wanted to know what you use. I’ve used the wood putty for years, but it’s not intended for exterior use. Those that are for the outside are outrageously expensive. I have a lot of holes to fill, too!

    • says

      Well, you’ve found me out, Diane – I’m only the queen of putty for indoor projects. I think a true queen would probably know about both, huh? :) Sorry I can’t be of more help, but I’ve not used it outside except for a pew I re-did that sits under our porch. And I do see that the regular putty pulls apart after a season a bit, so it might be worth it to buy the expensive stuff if you want it to last.

      • Diane says

        Thanks for responding, Jami! I had heard Bondo recommended for outdoor projects, but I tried it and it’s sticky and difficult to use – at least for me. Maybe I’ll have to ask my husband for some help with it.

  8. Kim says

    Found some nice kitchen chairs that someone was throwing away as the bottoms where out of them. They are going to be recycled into a bench. Thank you for the wonderful idea. The legs are very nice and my hubby says he is going to use them for the legs for our night stands. So just about all parts of these old chairs are going to be recycled.

  9. Cassandra says

    This is the most awesomest thing I have seen! This is on my to do list (with the help of my husband) before the snow flys this year! I dont even know where I will put it, but I will sure find a place near the garden! Thanks for the wonderful idea!

  10. Amy Black says

    This is a great idea. But FIRST make sure you are not using old Lair back chairs that are not broken and that can be repaired, like the ones in the picture shown. I just happen to have some and checked on the prices of antique Lair back chairs. They can go from $150. to $500. a chair depending on age and condition!!

  11. mattydee says

    This bench is really nice. Thinking it would be great at the foot of the bed and the bottom shelf could be used for extra blanket or for the throw pillows on the bed while sleeping. Great idea

Trackbacks

  1. […] where they line two or more chairs up side-by-side and add a plywood seat to make a bench. This DIY French-Style Bench is much more appealing and decorative and it doesn’t look at all like something you just put […]

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