A DIY Ottoman Makeover—With a Twist

Resident Design Wiz Nicole Crowder finds upholstery inspiration in unexpected objects—in this case, a woven basket.

May 27, 2021

As a designer, the question I’m asked most often is where I get my inspiration. And the answer is: from as many sources as possible—from fashion to food, music, and cinema. But some of my favorite inspirations have come from decorative objects I’ve acquired from local markets on my travels: Spanish tiles sourced from Valencia, brightly woven textiles bought at tiny shops in the side streets of Mexico City, and beaded necklaces from the beaches of Thailand. I love spotting the little details on some of these objects that I now have at home, and using those to spark ideas.

Over the past few years, I’ve been collecting mini woven baskets from bazaars as far as Spain and Thailand, and have wanted to design a piece of furniture around them. Well, actually one basket in particular—bought from a market in Brooklyn and made by a Ghanian weaver—that boasts a glorious color combination of deep yellow and teal. A few weeks ago, I came upon the perfect vessel for the project: an old ottoman in need of some love and repair.

There are a few things to consider when dreaming up a piece of furniture around another object. First, you’ll want to consider what the base of the furniture is: Is it made of wood, chrome, or metal? Does it have certain features that speak to its history or era? Next, think about a fabric, color, or print that will speak to the object you are referencing. In this case, I knew I wanted teal to anchor the ottoman and be the base for a pop of yellow. The coils on the woven basket mimic piping, and so I decided to interpret that with a contrast piping. Finally, of course, it’s important to always pick a project that’s commensurate with your skill level.

Here are the steps for how you can reupholster your own ottoman at home using the inspiration of your choosing:

Step 1: Start by stripping off the piping, if applicable, from around the trim of your piece of furniture. You do not need to save the piping.

Step 2: Remove the staples to release the fabric from around the base of your ottoman.

Step 3: Your bench base should now be fully stripped and any lingering staples removed. Set the cushion portion of your bench aside. (We will measure and cut a new pattern for that soon, but let’s tackle the base first.)

Step 4: Taking the base of your ottoman and your measuring tape, you want to measure how much fabric you’re going to need to cover the base as well as some slack to be able to staple it onto the frame. To do this, you’ll measure both the length and width of ottoman—from where the staple line starts and ends. If you just measure the top portion of your ottoman and don’t account for the sides, you will not have enough fabric to cover the full ottoman. I like to add an extra inch to this measurement, because you’ll need to account for the fabric that you’ll be folding around the corners of the legs.

Step 5: Taking those measurements, cut the fabric of your choice. Lay this piece over the base of your ottoman and staple on to the base. Depending on the base style of bench you have, you might be required to staple directly onto the frame of your ottoman (like the one featured here), or underneath the base of your ottoman. Once you have stapled everything in place, trim off any excess below the staple line.

Step 6: Turning our attention to the cushion itself, we’re going to use it to trace the pattern on the fabric we are using. Lay your cushion on the fabric and trace up to about an inch away from the sides. You’ll need this extra space to account for the ½-inch seam allowance when it’s time to put the side paneling on).

Note: If your cushion has a shape other than perfectly square or rectangular, you will need to flip the first pattern that you cut over so that the “wrong side” is facing up, and then trace and cut your second pattern. The reason is because you want the “right side” for your cushion facing out when your cushion is done being sewn.

Step 7: Cut a strip for the side panel that is as long as the perimeter of your cushion, and is as thick as the depth of your cushion. The cushion on the bench here is four inches high.

Step 8: Sew the cushion bottom and top to your side panel piece by lining up their edges with “right sides” facing outward, and with a ½-inch seam. Once your cushion sham is fully sewn, stuff the cushion inside to be sure it fits, and hand-stitch the opening shut. (I used piping on my cushion for a decorative touch to mimic the weaving on the basket, but piping is totally optional.

Step 9: Add your desired trim to the base of your ottoman to cover up the staples, plop on the seat and enjoy!

Photo by Nicole Crowder

Where do you find your design inspiration from? Tell us in the comments below.

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Nicole Crowder

Written by: Nicole Crowder

Nicole Crowder is a furniture designer and upholsterer creating custom one-of-a-kind pieces. She has a lover of mixing vibrant color and bold textile patterns. Nicole and her work have been featured in design publications, including Architectural Digest, Domino, Martha Stewart Living, and Better Home & Gardens.