I've briefly alluded to this project before, but seeing as it's now basically complete (unless I decide to modify it in some way) I figured I would post in a bit more detail about the window seat / storage bench that now sits in my living room, providing a lovely view out the large picture windows at the front of the house.
For starters, here are some pictures of the finished product:
The bench, without cushions (to show the structure and paint colors more clearly).
...and a view of the living room, showing the placement of the bench in front of the window.
I got the idea in the first place to make a bench like this when Matt and I were in the process of gutting the old kitchen for renovation. This operation produced a lot of scrap wood, and while some of it was so thoroughly damaged by either water, layers of old cooking grease, or both that it wasn't worth salvaging, a decent amount looked fine. So we disposed of the nastier bits and kept the sturdier-looking pieces, which mainly consisted of long (90"-plus) and medium-sized (40"-ish) solid pine planks, about 11 inches wide and 3/4" thick each. These boards (shown below) sat next to the dining table for several months until I figured out my design:
I liked the idea of re-using as much as we could of the old wood because (a) sustainability win!, and (b) doing so would mean we were keeping the wood in its "home" (something that I imagine might not make sense to everyone, but which for me just seems kind of nice). And I'd wanted a "window seat", or something like it, ever since I was little.
Wood for the back, doors and some of the internal framing ended up being purchased due to not having pieces on hand appropriately sized for those elements, but the bench seat, sides, and bottom are all made from bits of the old kitchen. I also used a few pieces of random hardwood (additional support for the back and sides) salvaged from a neighbor's junk pile during Cleanup Week.
I probably spent less than $50 in additional wood and hardware, which is not "nothing", but a heck of a lot less than you would pay for a mostly-solid-wood bench of this size anywhere these days. And the paint I used was all left over from previous house-related projects. So it ended up being a really economically-friendly project as well as one that led to something guaranteed to match the existing decor (which, in this house, is sort of evolving into a bizarre mid-century/craftsman/industrial mutant hybrid done in shades of green, brown, white, and metallic, if that's even possible).
(image below shows the bottom and internal frame-support pieces for the bench, during the build process):
The doors on the front were probably the trickiest things to design and implement. I didn't even have a clear sense of what style of door would work (and look) best for this bench until the whole main structure was finished.
My first idea was to have the doors swing outward from hinges, but I nixed that plan after realizing that if I used hinges at all I would have to worry about somehow creating a "locking" mechanism, so the doors would not swing shut (creating either an inconvenience or a safety hazard, depending on where the hinges were placed) while one was rummaging around in the storage section. And I decided I did not want to deal with either the expense or the liability (if my locking mechanism didn't work) of that method.
In the end what I settled upon was sliding doors. I cut out three pieces of 1/4" plywood, painted them an olive-military green, and installed basic brushed-nickel circular closet door pulls in the result. Then, I installed two pieces of aluminum "U-stock" (with a 3/4" clearance between the inner sides of the "U") along the top and bottom front of the bench, and I pretty much had instant sliding doors at that point.
Since the bench was a completely "custom" item (it was specifically sized to fit in front of two of the three large windows in the living room), I did not figure on being able to find a cushion of precisely the right dimensions, let alone of a preferred color and fabric type. So I decided pretty early on to just make the cushion myself, as that sounded a lot more interesting and fun than endless hours trying to find one at a store.
To make the cushion I employed several yards of cotton "duck cloth" canvas, a long piece of 1" thick foam, the strongest upholstery thread I could find, and some fluffy "batting" material (which I wrapped around the foam in order to add extra squishiness). All the textile and stuffing materials were purchased at Jo-Ann Fabrics.
To sew it, I used an old (well, circa 1968) Singer FashionMate sewing machine, which had previously been gathering dust in Matt's mom's garage (inherited from a deceased great-aunt, nobody had used it in years, and it was thought to be inoperable; turned out it just needed to be oiled).
(Image below shows the sewing machine. It's actually VERY well constructed and I feel ridiculously lucky to have been able to acquire it for free! It is nigh impossible to find decent cheap sewing machines these days made from all-metal parts as this one is, and I really needed something this sturdy to be able to handle canvas fabric.)
(Image below shows the sewing machine all folded up into its stand -- it makes quite an attractive little side table when not being used for sewing! Plus, the cats like sitting on it.)
The machine was a little bit tricky to set up at first, as the thread seemed to need to be wound in a positively circuitous manner, but eventually I got it working and had the cushion finished within a day.
Then, while I was at it, I made a fluffy throw pillow (out of some very fuzzy brown fabric I'd also picked up at the fabric store, after having found myself enamored with the texture) which can be seen on the left side of the bench in the "...with cushions" image above.
The larger brown cushion on the right of the bench I did not make -- that one is actually a cat bed that my brother and his wife gave the kitties this past Xmas. Originally I had it on the bench only "temporarily" (while I was busy sewing the main cushion) but the cats seem to really like having it there, so I am guessing it'll stay there a while. There is still plenty of room for several human rears along the rest of the bench, after all.
- Probably the most important bit of machinery employed was the humble battery-driven power drill. I lost count of how many screws I used to hold the bench together, but trust me, it's a lot!
- A chop saw was used to initially cut the longer boards (Matt did that part -- I don't yet trust myself to operate something that moves so fast and is so capable of separating one from one's fingers.)
- A non-powered (bench-mounted) miter saw was used for most of the smaller support boards.
- I used a jig saw (powered, but far less scary than the chop saw) to cut the plywood for the back. It doesn't cut as straight as the chop saw, but I was able to use a small hand plane to even out the edges after cutting, so they turned out fine.
- Various manual screwdrivers were employed to tighten and install screws in places where the power drill (which doubles as a powered screwdriver, given the right bits) would not physically fit. Primarily I used Phillips type, since the wood screws I was using had Phillips heads.
- From the "interesting things I didn't know existed until recently" department, I used a doweling jig to make smooth, consistently-sized columnar holes into which small wooden dowels were placed, to help hold the seat and bottom boards together (each consists of two long boards, attached side by side).
- BAR CLAMPS. Seriously, I cannot express enough how much I have come to appreciate these adjustable, irrepressibly grabby wonders. They make so many things that would just be ridiculously difficult in their absence extremely easy. If you are going to start DIY-ing stuff involving wood, I HIGHLY recommend you invest in a number of these, preferably in a variety of sizes. I ended up using them to hold the doweled surfaces together (while the glue dried), keep boards sturdy while planing, hold one side of a thing together while I placed a screw into the other side, secure things to the work-bench during various forms of processing, etc.
- A paint scraper (vital for removing the layers of white paint and old shelf paper on many of the boards)
- Paintbrushes and rollers
- Pencils (for marking boards)
- Measuring tape
- Framing squares
- Level (during planing)
- Hacksaw (for cutting the aluminum door slide tracks to size)
- The aforementioned Singer FashionMate sewing machine (which IS a power tool, after all!)
Anyway, I realize what was actually built turned out being more of a storage bench that happens to be placed in front of a window than a true "window seat". Originally what I had in mind was something more like a built-in style bench, with bookshelves somehow incorporated into the sides, but that simply wasn't feasible given the fact that the entire front of the house basically consists of windows. There's simply not enough solid wall there to build anything into the structure of the house.
Nevertheless, I am still really pleased with the result. It blends seamlessly with the rest of the room, provides a wonderful sunny napping/bird-watching spot for the resident felines, and I definitely feel like I've taken a level in DIY following completion of this project. That aside, at the very least, making the bench was a whole heck of a lot of fun. I learned to use a number of tools, got better at using the tools I was already familiar with, and overall, the entire endeavor was a nice reminder that I do indeed have the ability to follow a project through from idea, to design, to realization-in-reality. And I did end up using a goodly portion of the leftover wood I'd saved.