How to DIY a comfy tufted ottoman – From overhead to underfoot

View of the finished basement lounge area with the fireplace and built-in reading nook, along with the new giant, super sturdy tufted ottoman.

A large, sturdy tufted ottoman was on the list for our basement re-do. Large for our game nights with 4 or 5 couples gather around for a rowdy Apples to Apples. Tufted for ultimate cozy comfort. And sturdy for the herd of teenage boys that hang here. And with our budget, it would be a DIY Tufted Ottoman!

So does anyone else wander through their local Habitat ReStore, relishing the DIY high? Yeah, I knew I wasn’t alone.

So on a recent ReStore treasure hunt, I came upon this solid oak “box” – really just four walls with reinforced corners.  I’m thinking it hung out over a kitchen island in its first life camouflaging an exhaust fan or fluorescent lights. But, really I’m thinking for $5, it’s mine!

The original oak ceiling box for tube lighting with the cut newel post feet and the paint.

With a girth of 26 x 50-inches, this big guy definitely qualifies for hefty!

Since the frame is 9-inches tall, I didn’t need legs, but just some substantial feet to lift it a bit off the floor and provide some toe clearance. Across the way in the lumber department I salvaged 2 horribly dated, but hefty solid wood newel posts – just what I needed.

Shows newel posts now cut and painted to become the four feet of the ottoman.

I sanded the oak box and the newel posts. Then used my favorite gel stain to get a rich, dark finish. I love gel stain followed up with a coat or two of paste wax. It produces a smooth finish with depth and a hint of the grain remains.

View of the shortened newel post that serves as the foot of the ottoman. Shows how the newel post is attached under the frame of the ottoman.
Closeup view of the otttoman corner with the bun foot, all  painted and ready for the upholstered top.

I cut the newel posts so that the long squared ends fill the corners of the box with just a single round “bun” foot extending below the box frame. I used 4 wood screws for each leg. From the top of the box frame lip, I screwed down into the top of the legs. Be sure to countersink these screws so the particle board top lays evenly against the frame.

Ottoman base with plywood top, with foam and then batting and staple gun to hold it all in place.

I cut a piece of particle board the size of the frame. With spray adhesive, attached a piece of 4-inch foam. Then a layer of batting is stapled all around and trimmed.

This particle board top is then set on top of the box frame and attached from below with wood screws through the box lip.

Closeup of corner of tufted ottoman, showing the folded corner and the herringbone trim and nailhead detailing.

On the under side of the top, I marked where I wanted my button tufting and drilled a small hole through the particle board.

Then I placed my fabric over the batting, centering and pulling taut I stapled the fabric lining up the plaid with the edges. I stapled carefully making sure that the staples lined up in the top 1/2-inch of the box frame. The staples were then hidden under a band of twill tape and decorative upholstery nails at 2-inch intervals.

Time for Tufting:

I used large shank buttons, but it doesn’t absolutely have to be a shank button. Paired with each decorative (top) button, I used a 2-hole backer button. Fabric stores sell clear, thick 2-hole buttons for this purpose, but you can use others as long as they are strong (thick) and the holes are large enough for the eye of the upholsterer’s needle.

Upholstery thread, a super long upholsterer’s needle and a bit of masking, painters, or scotch tape and we’re ready.

Turn your ottoman on it’s side. With a very long piece of heavy upholstery thread doubled in your needle, work from the underside.

1) Tape a lengthy amount of the doubled thread tail to the particle board, close to the hole.

2) Start the thread by going through one hole of the backer button. Let that backer button just dangle resting by the tape holding the thread.

3) Now push your needle through the hole, foam, batting and fabric at a straight angle so your buttons will be exactly over the holes. It’s easier if you recruit a helpful hand on the fabric side pushing in the foam for you.

4) Once you pull the needle through, thread through the shank of the decorative button, then back down through the same hole. Don’t pull it tight yet; let the button dangle close to the fabric.

5) Now on the underside you will have 2 pieces of thread going through the backer button and into the hole and 2 pieces and the needle coming back out of the hole. Thread the needle through the empty hole of the backer button in the opposite direction (so the button will eventually lay flat against the underside) and then back up through the original backer button hole just like the first time.

6) Then again through the foam and through the decorative button in the same direction as the first time.

Clear backer button holding tufting thread on the underside of the upholstered top.

7) Back down through the foam and the drilled hole. One more time through the backer button. Now you should have two lengths of thread coming out of each hole of the backer button and four threads going through the shank of the decorative button. Cut the looped thread by the needle so you have two pairs of long, loose thread. Remove the tape and holding a pair of threads in each hand, pull gently (I find using a rocking motion of one hand pulling, then the other works great) until you get both the decorative button and the backer button in place against the fabric and the board. Now have your helper push the decorative button down into the foam while you firmly pull the threads taut and tie off in a square knot.

Repeat for each button.

Finished tufted ottoman

Ta! Da!

Our DIY Tufted Ottoman

What I would do differently the next time around:

If my box had not been damaged around the top (probably where some trim had been glued and nailed), I would have wrapped the fabric under the particle board and tufted it before attaching on top of the box frame. But given the rough condition of the top 1/2-inch of my box, I went this route and love it.

DIY Tutorial to make a tufted ottoman out of a ceiling box used to house tube lighting in a dated kitchen.

Yes, quite a few more projects for the basement reno, but definitely getting there.

Loving the results so far – AND the process!

Fireplace install made the biggest difference and I’m thrilled with how the Faux Cast Concrete surround turned out. Here’s the tutorial for how I did that one.


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Diane Sudhoff
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