How to make your own contemporary sofa

Written by j.e. myers
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How to make your own contemporary sofa
Contemporary sofas present few complications for do-it-yourselfers. (sofa image by romman from

Clean lines and a lack of ornamentation are the hallmarks of a contemporary sofa. Because contemporary sofas are so simplistic and present few complications, it's possible to build one yourself . A cast-off twin mattress, ordinary building materials and basic woodworking and sewing skills will get you started.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Measuring tape
  • 3 sheets of MDF ¾ inch thick
  • 3 sheets of 3/4-inch plywood (alternative)
  • Circular saw
  • 1½-inch angle irons and screws
  • Power driver
  • Finishing nails
  • Hammer
  • 1-by-4-inch dimensional lumber
  • Compass (optional)
  • Pencil
  • Sabre saw
  • 1-inch-long wood screws
  • Mouldings or trims (optional)
  • Paint
  • Paintbrush or roller applicator
  • Foam rubber bed bolsters
  • Electrical carving knife or manual bread knife
  • Upholstery fabric or vinyl
  • Seamstress measuring tape
  • Sewing machine (optional)
  • Needle and thread

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  1. 1

    Measure a twin bed mattress for width and length, using a measuring tape. Measure and cut two sheets of medium-density fiberboard (MDF) into two long front and back panel boards the same length as the bed mattress--minus 2 inches. Cut two shorter end boards the width of the mattress---minus 2 inches. Cut two shorter centre support boards the width of an end board. Cut all these boards to 14 inches tall if your twin mattress is 4 inches thick, or 12 inches tall if your mattress is 6 inches thick. Cut the boards with the circular saw.

  2. 2

    Balance one of the end boards on its edge--inside the front panel board that is also balanced on its edge. The end board should be at a right angle to the front panel board. The end board should be on the inside of the front panel board, not spanning the end of the front panel board. Enlist an assistant's help if necessary to keep the boards balanced on edge.

  3. 3

    Connect the two boards together, along the inside of the joint between the two boards, using 1½-inch angle irons, small wood screws and a power driver. Use three angle irons placed at the top, the middle, and the bottom of the two boards.

  4. 4

    Connect the other side of the end board to the long back panel in the same manner. Make sure the end board is sandwiched between the two longer panels, not "capping" the two longer boards at the ends.

  5. 5

    Add the other end panel to the other side in the same manner. When you're done, you should have a rectangular box.

  6. 6

    Insert the two centre support boards in the middle of this box. Space these support boards evenly to divide the "box" into thirds. Use angle irons to connect the support boards to the front and back panels.

  7. 7

    Cut a sheet of MDF to the size of the rectangular base box. Place this board on top of the rectangular base box and align the edges carefully. Use a hammer and finish nails to nail this lid to the base box.

  8. 8

    Cut a sheet of MDF the length of the base box and 8 inches wide, using the circular saw, to form a backrest.

  9. 9

    Trace around a dinner plate or use a compass to scribe 1/4 a circle on two upper corners at opposite ends of this backrest board. Use a sabre saw to cut around this pencil mark and create rounded edges on the backrest.

  10. 10

    Cut four 1-by-4-inch pine boards (or MDF) 14 inches long, using the circular saw. Use these support boards to mount the back rest to the back edge of the base box. Space the boards evenly across the back of the backrest, about 6 inches in from each end and then evenly through the centre of the backrest. Connect the upper part of the supports to the backrest with 1-inch wood screws and a power driver and use more wood screws to connect the lower part of the supports to the base.

  11. 11

    Decorate the base box with moulding or trims if desired. Apply paint to the base box and the backrest with a paintbrush or roller applicator and let dry.

  1. 1

    Set two or more wedge-shaped foam rubber bed "bolsters" on the base box against the backrest, end to end. You want the bolsters to cover the entire length of the base box. If two bolsters aren't long enough, use a electric carving knife or bread knife to cut three bolsters down to even lengths to fit this overall length in three sections.

  2. 2

    Measure the foam bolsters with a seamstress measuring tape. Make slipcovers for the bolsters out of upholstery fabric or vinyl. Sew the slipcovers together (with a thread and needle or a sewing machine), but leave one long side open so you can insert the bolster inside the slipcover. Whip-stitch the flap shut, using a needle and thread, once the bolster is in place. Cover both or all of the bolsters.

  3. 3

    Measure the mattress with a tape measure. Make a large slipcover for the mattress out of the same material, sewing it together as you did the bolster slipcovers. Make this slipcover approximately ½ inch bigger than the actual mattress for ease in inserting it into the slipcover. Leave one end of the slipcover open so you can slide the mattress into the open end like a pillowcase. Whip-stitch the flap shut.

  4. 4

    Place the mattress on the base box. Arrange the bolsters along the back.

Tips and warnings

  • Dress your contemporary sofa with plenty of soft, "squishy" accent pillows in contrasting colours, patterns, or textures.
  • If real wedge bolsters are beyond your budget, take sheets of foam rubber and roll them up into big rolls about 14 inches in diameter. Secure the roll shape with duct tape. Wrap the rolls in fabric and tie off the two open ends with velveteen roping or ribbons like a piece of wrapped candy. If sewing is not your area of expertise, you can also purchase fitted slipcovers for twin mattresses. Substitute 3/4-inch plywood for the MDF if you like: MDF is less expensive, however, and normally does not need to sanded. MDF also presents a smoother finish when painted.

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