Have you ever seen a beautiful piece of furniture in a boutique or design magazine and decided you'd sell your soul to make it yours? I recently saw a woven bench online with the most perfect caramel-colored leather and couldn't stop thinking about whether or not I could make my own. I searched online to see if it would be more cost effective to just buy one instead of DIYing it and quickly realized this was easily going to be the more affordable route!
I was able to source a wooden bench for my base (thanks IKEA online shipping), and then found my leather hide at a local leather shop and put it together in the span of a Saturday afternoon! It is one of those projects that exceeded my expectations. It has some of that old world Cuban charm but with a modern California vibe. I love how it pairs with this oversaturated pink rug in my studio, but I imagine it might one day find its place at the foot of our bed. Versatile furniture is always a bonus at our house, and this one is surely going to be around for awhile!
-solid wooden bench similar to this one from IKEA (A smaller bench will mean a smaller cut of leather or pleather.)
-side of leather at least 4" longer than your bench with enough leather to also cut enough straps 4" wider than your bench. Essentially you will be covering the same square footage twice as you weave your straps together. To cover the bench I used from IKEA, you'll want between 22-23 sq. ft of leather. I'll cover some leather choosing tips below.
-5/16" (8mm) staples
-24" metal ruler
Walking into a leather shop can be overwhelming with so many choices and such a large range in prices. So I'm here to give you a few pointers for what to look for with this kind of home decor project.
Color: I'm the first to admit that the color is my biggest deciding factor. So I do suggest you purchase a leather hide in person if it's a possibility. You can find leather sides in all kinds of colors, but those subtle differences between a rich caramel with an aged look and a flat orangey brown are harder to spot when purchasing online. Most leather stores carry a range of natural colors as well as hides dyed in a range of colors of the rainbow. You can find prints, metallics, patent leather with a bit of shine, or even white. Avoid oiled leathers as they're likely to rub off on clothing.
Thickness: This kind of home decor project will need a leather thin enough that it won't create a lot of bulk when woven together but also thick enough that it won't stretch too much or rip near the staples. Stick with cowhide and make sure it's between 4-6 oz.
Consistency: Once you find a hide you're interested in, be sure to unroll the whole thing to check for random holes, creases, or discoloration in the dying process. Since you're going to be using the majority of your leather, you don't want to come home and find a quarter-sized hole in the center.
Price: A side of leather for this type of project can range between $100-$200 depending on your store and their selection. If you're not in a rush, keep an eye out for sales when you can get a significant discount. With Tandy stores, you can purchase a membership at different price points and it will pay for itself with a large hide, and then you'll get a discount price (20% or more depending on your membership level) on each future purchase.
If you love the look of this kind of project but want something a little more affordable, go with a smaller bench size and a smaller cut of leather or check out the scrap leather for a few pieces from the same color lot that would work together. You could even use vegan leather in its place and still get a lovely woven piece of furniture.
The size of your bench will affect how much leather you need to purchase. You'll need a hide that will yield enough straps to cover the length of your bench plus 4" as well as enough to cover the width of your bench plus 4". I suggest figuring out your bench measurements (strap thickness as well as lengths) before purchasing your hide so you can ensure you're purchasing the correct amount.
Step One: Measure the width of your bench top and then decide how wide you'd like to make your leather straps so that they are evenly spaced. The length of your straps will be two different sizes, but the width of your straps should be consistent for the most pleasing effect. Be sure to allow for about 1/4" of space between each strap so there is room for the weaving to breathe without bunching up. Also, be sure to allow about 1/4" from the edges of your bench before you start your measurements to make sure your leather straps aren't slipping over the edges. This part takes a little math, but you can do it! Use a ruler and pencil to mark out your measurements before cutting your leather, and then triple check everything before you start cutting into your leather. Otherwise you'll end up with an expensive mistake!
Now that you've measured how wide your straps should be, you'll need to measure how long the straps will need to be. To do that, measure the width of the bench and add another 4" to ensure your straps will wrap around the bottom side of your bench top where you will staple them down.
For this IKEA bench, the seven straps that ran lengthwise measured 2" wide x 58" long. The twenty-six straps that covered the width of the bench measured 2" x 19".
Step Two: Unroll your hide and measure out a rectangle that is equivalent to your seven longer straps. For this IKEA bench, that measured out to be about 14" x 58". I made sure to draw my rectangle with chalk as close to one long side of my hide as possible so I wouldn't waste any space.
Then place your cutting mat under your hide and carefully cut the rectangle out from your leather hide using your rotary cutter. Once it's cut out, set your leftover hide aside. Then cut your long rectangle into long 2" strips so that you have 7 strips that measure about 2" x 58". The more consistent your cuts, the more beautiful your bench will be, but there's also beauty in the imperfections. So if one of your straps ends up slightly thinner than the others, don't fret. Just be sure they are long enough to wrap around the bench top.
Once you've finished cutting your long straps, cut out the rest of your shorter straps. Use the same method of cutting large rectangles and then cutting them down into strips or just cut one at a time using up the rest of your hide. I ended up with leftover hide that I'll use for another project down the road. It's always better to have extra than to run out and have to try to find another hide that looks the same!
Step Three: Place your long straps on top of your bench and make sure you like the spacing. You want the smooth side facing up. This is just a precaution to make sure everything fits correctly before stapling it down. You may want to make a pencil mark along the short edge in between each strap to mark your spacing, or you can just live on the wild side and eyeball it.
Step Four: Flip your bench top over and place your straps underneath it, one at a time, so that the ends wrap around to the bottom side of the bench (facing you). Use your staple gun to staple them in place. Be sure the suede side is always facing the wood so you don't accidentally staple the wrong side down with all of the flipping.
Step Six: Repeat step three and four with your short straps along one of the long edges. Again, be sure that your shorter straps are evenly spaced out before stapling them to the bottom side of the bench. Your corner strips will likely need to overlap just a bit as shown. Leave the other side of your short strips free for now.
Step Seven: Carefully flip your bench top so the right side is facing up and fold all of your short straps over the top of it. Then start with the long strap on the top edge and weave it under and over and under and over each of the short straps. These don't have to be perfectly straight at this point, as you'll be moving your straps a lot before you're finished. You can make adjustments as you go.
A short cut for this is to lay your long strap down over the top of your short straps and then pull every other short strap up and over your long strap. Just be sure you are doing the opposite from the long strap row before the one you're working on to create a checkerboard type pattern.
Step Eight: Once you've woven all of your straps together, gently adjust your spacing so that things are relatively straight. Even if they feel like they're a little bunched up where they meet, you'll be pulling them tighter in the next step and this will help things spread out just a bit more.
Step Nine: Carefully flip your bench top over again so the bottom is facing you. Starting with your long straps, gently pull one at a time and staple the loose ends in place on the bottom of the bench. Check your tension on the straps as you work until you get a good feel for how much to pull on them. You don't want one strap to be stretched super tight and the rest to be floppy, so shoot for consistency. Once your long straps are stapled down, repeat the process with your short straps. You can work from the center out or from one side to the other, but be sure you're lining your straps up as closely as possible with the end that it stapled on the opposite side of the bench for the most consistently straight lines.
When you're finished stapling, use your ruler and rotary cutter to trim off any excess leather.
Step Ten: If you're using an IKEA bench such as this one, attach your base to the bench top. It should easily rest on top of your leather strap ends in some or most places as long as your leather isn't super thick. Flip your project back over, adjust any of the straps for more consistent rows, and enjoy!
Another great option for a similar mid-century style bench would be to use 1" precut hardwood in your preferred width and have it cut down to about 4'. You could then attach a set of sturdy hairpin legs to the bottom of your bench top and have yourself a lovely entryway bench.
Excuse me while I go lounge on this beauty and pretend I'm in Palm Springs for the afternoon. Anyone want to join me? –Rachel