How to Build a Sofa

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When you're trying to decorate your home, you don't always find exactly what you're looking for, which is especially true when shopping for sofas. If you have -- preferably -- advanced carpentry and upholstery skills, building one is a way to get the sofa you want, in both style and finish. Such a project is a major undertaking, but exploring the basics can help you plan a design and get started. If you aren't handy with power tools, or decide that furniture making is too involved, look at putting together a few basic elements to make simple sofa-like seating.

The Bones

Maple, pine or walnut makes a durable sofa frame or base, but how you put one of these woods or other sturdy kiln-dried hardwood lumbers together helps ensure the furniture's longevity and stability:

  • Dowel the joints, adding wood glue for increased strength. 
  • Include bridges to support the seat's jute webbing, which must be stretched and nailed along each side.
  • Affix corner blocks into place with screws or bolts to counter outward force from years of high-energy game watching, sprawling or everyday relaxation; threaded fasteners have holding power -- smooth nails can't compete. 

Tip

  • The frame's shape determines much of the sofa's style, from its traditional rolled or rounded arms, or contemporary sloped or square ones, to its low, high, curved or winged back. Attach screw-in ornate or simple legs to the frame after contemplating the style you're after -- curvy legs tend to present a more old-fashioned vibe, while squared versions have a modern edge.

Cushions: The Cheat Sheet

Hand-tying the springs to the sofa's webbing and securing them around the edges and over the top with wire and waxed twine, so that the cushioning flexes properly when you sit down or get up, and getting the lumbar support just right are major steps in constructing quality deep seating. This is an art that may be best left to furniture manufacturers, but don't let that derail your sofa-making efforts. Cheat a little, if you like, scavenging seat and back cushions from quality used furniture:

  • Build the frame to accommodate the recycled cushions' size and shape. 
  • Remove old or unattractive fabric and worn underlayment, such as batting, wool or animal hair. 
  • Wrap the bare cushions with new materials

    ready for your choice of upholstery-grade fabric

    -- stuff them with down, if you're after a luxurious feel.  

Alternatively, pad the webbed frame with relatively simple-to-construct box cushions:

  1. Cut the 5- or 6-inch-thick high-resilient foam to size and shape with a sharp knife.
  2. Cover the foam with underlayment.
  3. Size the squares for upholstery. The higher the foam quality, the longer it'll last.  

Upholstery Tips

The type of fabric you choose is imperative to the sofa's lifespan; the cover material may have to stand up to years of not just wear but spills and sunlight. A pattern should be woven in rather than printed on for staying power, and the upholstery should be tightly woven with a high-thread count that's durable yet soft. Some materials to consider:

  • Cotton
  • Linen
  • Wool
  • Olefin
  • Microfiber or microsuede

The upholstering process is another art that takes years to master, but if you have at least some sewing skills, and plenty of patience, time and DIY spirit, go for it -- you can always hide a botched attempt under a slipcover. What to consider:

  • Tufted or plain finish -- the former has a classic look 
  • Zippered or closed cushions -- think about laundering
  • Piping along the edges 
  • Pleats or straight hems 
  • Dust ruffle or exposed legs -- the latter offers modern sleekness 

An Easy Day Sofa

If you're after a simpler approach to building a sofa from the frame up, make one from a twin bed. Dress the mattress -- on a box spring and metal frame or legs -- with a color-appropriate bed skirt and sheets, complementing the room's scheme.

  1. Push the bed against the wall. 
  2. Prop floor pillows, upcycled sofa cushions, upholstered box cushions or plenty of throw pillows in place as a back. The thicker the pillows, the narrower the seat, so choose these carefully for comfort; overlap small ones, if needed.  
  3. Position stylish rectangular pillows along each end as effortless arms. 

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