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Work continues on the patio in fits and starts and something always seems to pop up as a road block to completion of projects. Tools break, we run out of screws (for my birthday I’m asking for at least two boxes of screws in every size known to hardware stores), we don’t have the right tool, a project has to be completely rethought (the hanging bed) and we don’t have the right lumber, we run out of time, high winds, other chores have to be done, boy you name it and it can, and will, get in the way of the fun patio projects. When working on a budget as tight as mine is, however, the problem that crops up most often is how to find less expensive alternatives to what we need.

We had started this storage bench two months ago. My son got the frame built, I sanded the reclaimed cabinet doors and, once they were attached to the frame, I painted the bench with one coat of yellow and one coat of green, re-sanded it all, then stained and then applied 3 coats of spar urethane. It was time to upholster the lid. That’s where the project ground to a halt.

storagebenchBecause this bench will be on the patio and exposed to the Arizona heat, sun, and desert dirt, I had to be careful what I used to upholster the lid to provide comfortable, attractive and functional seating. If you have an unlimited or at least a decent budget you can find outdoor upholstery materials, but my budget is such that I need to find seriously inexpensive or free materials. The project ground to a halt because foam sheets and fabric marketed for outdoor furniture use is too expensive for my close to zero budget.

After a good bit of research and a lucky insight provided by my son who makes ragtops for cars, I discovered much about foam and alternative upholstery fabrics. I learned that polyurethane foam is naturally mildew resistant and it is marketed for a number of uses. The uses it is marketed for seem to be the driving force behind the prices, even more so than the dimensions. I have discovered this phenomenon before when a 20 gallon plastic bucket at the feed store cost me almost 20.00 and I subsequently found the same type and size bucket at Lowes for 8.00. The only difference in the buckets were that one was marketed for use with pampered horses and one was marketed for use in household cleaning.

Armed with my new knowledge, I went to Walmart and found polyurethane foam bed toppers. They’re only an inch thick, they have a molded pattern on one side but are completely smooth on the other side. While the thickness and the molded pattern were unsuitable for my needs, the sheets of foam were the size of a full sized bed and only 11.00 each. I could work around the thickness problem and the pattern for that price! I walked out of the store with two of the full sized foam bed toppers. All I needed to find was the weather resistant fabric.

Enter my son who makes ragtops for cars at a local fabrication business. I was showing him the projects we had going and explained the problem with this bench when he told me of the properties of the canvas cloth used for convertible tops and sliding ragtops. The material is highly flexible, has to be extremely durable and it also, of course, can’t let water in to the interior of the cars. BINGO. The choice of colors is pretty limited, although I suspect you can find it online in almost any popular car color. The colors most often used, however, are black, tan and grey. Grey wouldn’t go well with the bench color and I am trying to move away from desert beige, so I chose the black. The fellows at the fabrication shop graciously donated a piece of their canvas cloth that was large enough to cover the bench top with enough left over to upholster a couple of ottomans.

benchupholstery1First, I cut the mattress toppers in half, then stacked three of those halves to make a 3 inch thick foam pad, with a smooth side facing up as well as smooth against the lid. Then I laid the lid on top and trimmed around the edges, leaving just enough overhang to prevent anyone feeling the edge of the plywood while seated. This doesn’t have to be a perfectly straight edge, just as near as you can manage. Once the fabric is pulled taught around it, the foam will, to a fair degree, conform.

benchupholstery2The next step was to lay down the fabric and measure to see how much I would need to cover the lid and the foam. You will want to pull the fabric taught on each edge before you mark your cuts and have a firm, unwrinkled cushion when done. Using a staple gun, staple the edges first and save the corners for last. Corners take a little patience but there are a lot of techniques on YouTube to help you manage them. You’ll need to make several pleats to get around the corner and make it look neat. The number of pleats/folds you’ll need to make on your corners depends mainly upon the type of fabric and how much of that fabric has gathered at the corners while stapling down the straight edges. Staple each pleat down until you have a nice tailored corner.

benchupholstery3Turn it all over and admire your handiwork!

benchupholstery4Take it outside and attach the hinges. An exacto knife to cut through the fabric under the holes of the hinges helps here so that the material doesn’t pull and get tangled in the screws. Just lay the hinges over the material where they will be attached and make a few slices in the holes with the point of the knife. Don’t sit there trying to cut out a perfect little hole, an X sliced through works just fine. Then, have a seat on your lovely, comfortable new bench. Enjoy a glass of tea and try to pretend that there are no other building materials junking up your patio chi. Congratulate yourself on ticking one more project off the list that will end when you have a beautiful and relaxing, junkless patio one day.