Introduction: DIY Storage Benches

About: I'm an IT professional with a master's in library science. I enjoy woodturning, film making, and being frugal. Sometimes I make stuff that isn't horrible.

In the fall of 2014, we bought our second home and were excited to have a separate room for our daughter's play area. Excited until we realized none of our furniture worked with the space, leaving us no storage. With a little DIY ingenuity, some Ikea baskets we already had, and a couple sheets of MDF, we were able to turn it into a functional kid's room and living space. Read on to see how we did it.

Step 1: Before

The previous owners had done a fair amount of painting. Unfortunately, they'd done it with a golden/mustard/yellow paint from toe molding through to the ceiling. You can even tell in the pictures that, even if you white-balance a photo for the lighting, the yellow is so overwhelming that everything looks sickly. This was our first mission (after mounting the TV!).

Basic interior paint was applied in two coats with standard rollers/step ladders. We chose a light blue for the wall color. With only a white ceiling reflecting light down, the room doesn't make anyone look jaundiced!

With a beautiful room, we needed a plan for storage.

Step 2:

We'd previously purchased the Ikea Expedit 5x5 TV cabinet and 4x4 bookcase/desk. With that, we'd gotten several banana leaf baskets (Nasum; discontinued). We initially looked at the 1x4 shelves to lay on their side and act as bench storage, which can be found on lots of diy blogs. We didn't like that route due to perceived difference in cost and the lack of customization in size. 4 baskets per bench was not going to be enough!

Since we already had the baskets, they were an easy reference point for the design of the benches. Also, the height of the benches needed to be below the large windows in the new space. These would meet at a corner, so rather than the space being wasted, we needed to account for some discrete storage.

My dimensions:

  • Baskets: W12.5"xD14.25xH12"
  • Benches: L70.5xW16"(16.5" w/back brace)xH14"


  • 2 4"x8" sheets MDF, 1/2"
  • 50ish screws (I believe these were leftover from an aluminum shed)
  • wood glue
  • Spackle
  • 1 4"x8" sheet OSB Sheathing, 7/16"
  • Foam @ 2"x16"x69"
  • Spray Adhesive
  • Staples


  • Drill/Driver
  • Corner Clamps (strongly recommended)
  • Circular Saw/Table Saw
  • Non-Corner Clamps (for holding spacers)
  • Staple gun
  • Razor/Hot Knife (depending on foam sizes available)
  • Framing Square
  • Tape Measure

Step 3: Build

We picked up 2 sheets of MDF and had a store clerk make identical cuts using a panel saw. Actual size on these is about 49"x97".

The length was crosscut to 69.5". After the first cut, the 48" side was ripped twice at 16" to make the tops, and bottoms. Of the remaining 2 16x69.5 panels one was used for dividers, and one was ripped in half for the back bracing. The 27"x49" piece was also used for end pieces and dividers, but our layout was pretty sloppy. We also had a 4x8 sheet of OSB cut to 16x68 or so for the base of the cushions.

Since we were using 1/2" MDF, all of the measurements were easy to calculate. Pilot holes for screws needed to be made in the center of the thin dimension of the board. Subtracting the sum of the width of the dividers(4x.5"), divided by the number of baskets(5) gave us the length needed for each space. We cut a spacer board from scrap to make the layout easier, both for marking the pilot holes and for the placement of the uprights for clamping into place. For marking from one pilot hole to the next, add the thickness of the material to the spacer (1/2 the width from center on each side). We'd done the math, albeit loosely, based on the actual width of the existing baskets (12.5") and a gap for some play -- their intended user was 2 years old at the time, so it had to fit without too much requisite precision.

Step 4: Build (cont)

After laying out and predrilling one of the horizontal sheets, we used it to mark and drill the remaining three, as they'd be identical. We did a dry fit/mock up first so that we didn't have to make another run to the home center, but everything worked out.

I don't know that we could have done this without some sort of clamping strategy. By the end of the project, we'd broken 2 Irwin light duty corner clamps (they're garbage). As it turned out, the scrap spacer and a speed square were sufficient when used with a few squeeze clamps. The last piece to add to the structure was the full length piece we'd ripped in half - approx 8". 1/2" happened to be the thickness of our baseboards, so screwing this to the rear of each bench kept it at the same off-set from the wall and kept there from being a gap behind the bench.

For the corner, I cut up sections of a 4x4 piece of scrap to make 4 posts and screwed panels around them to make a box just a hair shy of 16.5, square. This kept the corner section within the depth of the two benches. The height of the panels/uprights for the corner was set to 13.5 so that a 1/2" panel would rest level with the benches. The panel here was cut from scrap.

Step 5: Joinery

We alternated countersinking and driving the screws as we went. All of the joints were glued as well. Butt joints are in no way the strongest/smartest/best method, but the distribution of the load meant that they were more than adequate. One might find pocket holes to be better here -- I didn't own a jig for that at the time, but would certainly consider it here. I'd also considered dado's in the beginning, but after settling on the 1/2" material, I didn't think they'd be as effective.

I do consider part of the design to be flawed -- the end pieces screw into the horizontals, so the downward load transfers through the screws instead of through the uprights. It hasn't been any kind of problem at all, but from what I read, it's not "proper." Having those pieces inside the horizontals would have also simplified the cut list just a tad.

Step 6: Prettying Things Up

Once the benches were assembled and glue was dry, we double checked that all screw heads were below the surface and commenced with spackling. MDF does quite well with spackle! Like drywall, once this was dry, it was sanded by hand until the surface was reasonably flat and smooth.

We used the same paint as the ceiling before, with standard cheap rollers and some crappy brushes for the thin edges.

We didn't price cushions beforehand, but thought we had an idea on how to do it. It ended up being much more expensive than we'd planned. Foam is astronomically priced. We were able to buy slightly over the length and width we needed, but only at half the thickness. So, we doubled up, using spray adhesive. Just a note -- make sure your spray adhesive and cushion material are compatible if you have to go this route. Measuring and cutting the foam was not intuitive -- a hot knife and a large enough workspace would have helped, but a large framing square, sharpie, and scissors/razor knife were able to get it done.

An additional frustration here was discovering how little rigidity the foam had, at least from what we were able to locally source. To remedy this, we purchased another sheet of plywood, this time OSB sheathing (the cheap stuff). The foam was connected to the substrate with spray adhesive. Our upholstery fabric (another hefty expensive, if done traditionally) ended up being pre-sewn curtains from Wally World (around $7 each). This was laid out on the floor, the cushion flipped over it foam-first and centered. the materials were pulled over and stapled in place.

Step 7: A Year and Some Time Later

The benches have now gone through a full year, plus some. The seating has been invaluable when our guest total goes past our living room's two couch capacity, and the storage is subtle, plentiful, and effective.

The paint has held up well, especially considering all the baskets getting pulled in and out. The fabric is not particularly good with stains -- water spots remain visible more so than upholstery grade fabric, but come clean with a portable steamer (with kids and pets, it gets used fairly well).

As you can see, it's also a favorite seating space for our daughter, even if it's not how we envisioned it being used! If you enjoyed this instructable, please favorite, comment, follow, and vote. I have other articles on things from sock puppets to pallet yard décor. Build something similar? I'd love to hear from you and see photos!

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