By Kellie Wachter
So… I was cruising Pinterest one day as you do, and there it was; a magnificent chair made out of an old suitcase. You gotta know I am sucker for repurposed things, I think they are witty and fun and that chair was the wittiest most fun repurposed thing ever and I HAD to have it. The trouble was a woman in South Africa made it, and even if she would make me one for free I doubt very much that she would treat me to free shipping as well, so the hunt for a DIY tutorial began. I found several but none of them quite fit my vision for a suitcase chair. I wanted mine to be like the one in the picture, a proper piece of upholstered furniture that just happened to be made from an old suitcase, not a slapdash arts and crafts experiment, but a REAL chair. After more and some reading up on upholstery I came up with this, my DIY tutorial for a suitcase chair.
1. Gut your suitcase. If you are lucky (read smart) the suitcase you have chosen will be completely bare on the inside, void of hardware or fittings that might interfere. I was not lucky. My suitcase was full of steel brackets and snaps meant to hold long lost accessories. They were attached with rivets and were not coming off without a fight. To remove them I used an electric drill fitted with a bit the same diameter as the rivets and I drilled the rivets from the hollow side till the flange that held the rivet on was shaved off and then I easily popped the steel brackets right off. The next obstacle, the snaps were no match for a large pair of bull nosed nippers. 2. Build your seat frame. This frame needs to fit snuggly into your suitcase with very little room around the edges. Take your suitcase measurements and cut 2×4 lumber to those measurements and glue and screw the pieces together to create the frame. Again if you are lucky your suitcase will have perfectly squared off edges and again, I was not lucky. My suitcase had rounded corners on the front sides of the top and bottom so the corresponding front edges of the lumber had to be rounded off so I could get a snug fit. I used a wood file to remove the bulk of the material, and then finished with an electric sander. 3. Upholster the seat. You can find the upholstery supplies you will need at most stores that sell Home Dec and upholstery fabric. You will need jute webbing, a webbing stretcher and upholstery grade foam. This part can get expensive, so watch for a sale. I got all of my supplies during a 50% off sale so I saved a bundle. Fold the edge of the jute webbing under and staple it to the top of your wooden frame with a staple gun. Use the upholstery stretcher according to the package directions to pull the jute very taught then staple it down. I cut my webbing a little long and folded the edge under and stapled it down so I would not have raw edges. Once you have stapled the jute webbing on the frame one way, weave and staple more webbing running the opposite way. 4. Add the foam cushion. Lay your finished frame onto your upholstery foam and draw around it with a marker. Using and electric carving knife you can easily cut through the foam to fit your frame. 5. Add the fabric. Because my chair was going in my sewing studio I wanted to piece together and quilt my upholstery fabric but you can use and old cutter quilt or purchase some upholstery fabric. Measure the length and width of your frame and cushion together. You will need a piece of fabric at least that big to cover your seat. Drape this fabric over the cushion and frame wrong side out. Pin the corners together with straight pins then carefully remove the pinned fabric from the cushion and frame. Use a straight edge to mark a sewing line where you pinned the corners. Sew the corners and test the fit. If you are happy with it, trim your seam allowances and turn the whole thing right side out. Pull the cover over your cushion and frame and staple it to the frame starting in the middle and pulling it taught as you go. Fit it into your suitcase. 6. Repeat steps 2 through 5 to create the back cushion for your chair. Make sure you measure the depth of the lid of your suitcase. Mine was much more shallow than the bottom so I used 2×2 lumber instead of 2×4. The only other thing I did differently was to use the carving knife to shave off a wedge of the foam along the bottom third of the back cushion to accommodate the seat cushion and allow the two to fit together more easily. Dry fit your cushion to see if this needs to be done on your chair. 7. Add the legs. I repurposed some old table legs for my chair. I used the existing hardware and after cutting the table legs down to give me an overall height of 18 inches to the top of the chair seat, I screwed the legs on through the suitcase and into the wooden seat frame. If you don’t have old legs to repurpose you can buy chair legs and the top plates needed to attach them to the suitcase at the hardware store. 8. The last thing you need to do is screw in some “L” brackets to the back of your suitcase to support the weight of a person sitting in your chair and leaning back. I added 4 to mine; yours may need fewer depending on how sturdy the original hinges are. That’s it, your suitcase chair is complete, now take a load off and admire your handywork!