Introduction: Retro Storage Bench (extra Tips for First Timers)

I was looking for a great gift to give my brother and his new wife for their wedding and decided it has to be something handmade that they can keep forever. I consulted with them on the type of project they would like, the general style of it and shared some Pintrest pins before making my decision. After a few sketches of different configurations I landed on this design for a retro looking bench that also serves as a storage space for linen, towels and whatever.

In this instructable I will guide you through the different stages of the planning, assembly, painting and upholstery of my bench. This project is not extremely complicated but may be too difficult for beginners, make sure you have all the right tools and machinery before starting.

I added some extra tips on each step for those doing a project like this for the first time and don't have all the practice or tools required for the project.

Step 1: Plans and Materials

The plan:

take a look at the plans, make sure you understand the way it all comes together before you start. remember this is a rough plan and the small details were later adjusted to fit. If you choose to use store bought baskets like me find your baskets first so you adjust the plans around them, make sure you leave enough room around them when planning so they slide in and out easily.

What you need:

  • basket *2
  • wood-see next step for details on the different sizes of all the pieces. I used pine since its cheap, easy to find and easy to work with. For the big boards I used MDF 10 mm thick
  • hinge*2
  • leg ends*4 (example)
  • thick foam mattress - about the size of the top
  • thin foam mattress - a strip as long as the the circumference of the top
  • upholstery fabric - size of top + about 20 cm each side to fold over (you should wait to buy this until after painting)
  • inside upholstery - I used black cotton (the cheapest), size of top +5 cm each side
  • paint and brush (optional)
  • wood dowels (8 or 10 mm diameter) (example)
  • wood glue


  • table saw
  • drill
  • staple gun
  • clamps*
  • sander*
  • router*
  • planer*
  • safety - I never work without the proper protection. Any time you operate an electric machine use sound reducing headphones or earplugs and protective glasses. If needed, use a respirator (i.e when sanding)

*optional- these are recommended to have but you can manage without. Read the tips on each step for more info

Step 2: Cut Your Wood

There are a few different pieces, I broke them into 4 types:

A. The corners - 50*50 mm with rounded corners. 4 pieces cut to the height or your bench (500 mm for me)

B. The beams - 100*20 mm. 5 pieces cut to the width (1100 mm) and 4 cut to the depth (280 mm).

C. The fillers- 100*10 mm. you will need 17 long ones (~340 mm) and 11 short ones (~60 mm). wait with the cutting until you have the frame ready so you know exactly how long to cut them (the length will be determined by the space between the beams+the depth of the groove on each beam. You might want to get some extras for this part.

D. The boards - MDF boards 10 mm thick. one cut to fit under the baskets, one cut to fit at the bottom of the top storage space, one cut to cover the top

Cut all you pieces to make sure you have everything before you start. I found out the wood I bought was just above 90 mm wide and not 100 like I planned for, this meant I needed some extra wood for the fillers (C)


  • make sure you have all the pieces before starting, I find that it can get confusing otherwise and could cause mistakes.
  • mark the pieces.give each one a name, letter number or symbol you remember so that you know what piece goes where. the marks should be small and in pencil, try to have a system for the location of the marks (such as the front top left) so you always know if your piece is facing the right way.
  • Part C is designed to be only 10 mm thick to reduce weight and to fit in the grooves made in the 20 mm beams (B). You might not be able to find 10 mm thick wood (like I did) so you'll have to get more 20 mm and make it thinner on a planer. If you don't own a planer you can also do this on a table saw like in this video.

Step 3: Drill Dowel Holes

Drill all the dowel holes at the diameter of your dowels that will attach the corners (A) with the beams (B).

I used a jig we had in the shop to make identical holes in all the sides of the beams, this helped them be evenly spaced and at a right angle. If you don't have a jig and don't feel like making one just mark the center line and drill holes a third of the way from each edge.

according to the spaces you used on the beams mark and drill matching holes on the corners.


  • make sure to have at least 2 dowels per joint so that the beam can't pivot
  • always double check you're markings before drilling
  • make sure you drill at a right angle and just deep enough (just over half the dowel's length)
  • always reference the center of a hole (not the edge) when calculating it's location

Step 4: Cut Grooves in the Beams

Make the grooves in the beams (B) to house the fillers (C). I made mine 10 mm wide and 5 mm deep.


  • If you don't have a router and a matching bit for it or any heavy machinery, you can make these grooves on the table saw. Just lower the blade to 5 mm above the surface of the table and remove a little bit (as wide as your saw's blade) at a time. (example video)
  • Hold the pieces together with dowels (NO GLUE) and mark exactly where you want the grooves so there is no confusion.
  • Remember, your cutting grooves on 4 out of the 5 long beams. One will remain groove-less (the bottom front one)

Step 5: Put It All Together

Now that the frame is ready you can put it together with dowels and check it out before you glue it. Make sure everything lines up as you expected. The wood might bend a little out of shape and not remain completely straight, its okay if you need to use some force.

Now you can check the space left for the fillers and cut them to the right length (don't forget to account for the groove's depth). When you have all the pieces ready prepare to start gluing.

I found that it is hard to fit all the fillers in the beams and clamp it all together. What I suggest is to attach 2 beams to one corner with glue, smear some glue along the grooves, then slide the fillers in one by one. You may have to use a hammer (a rubber one is better) to push the fillers all the way through. I would start by gluing the front and back, let it dry, then glue the sides. When you have all 4 sides you can put the together into one piece.


  • Don't be stingy with the glue, put some in the holes, on the dowels and in the grooves and smear it around.
  • Work fast before the glue starts to harden. That's why you should make sure to have all the pieces when starting.
  • Make sure to wipe off any excess glue while its still wet.
  • Use leftover pieces of wood as spaces between your bench pieces and the clamps to avoid leaving marks.
  • If you don't own clamps another cheap alternative you can use is ratchet tie downs

Step 6: Add the MDF Boards

Here you will install the bottom two MDF boards, the top one will only come in later after upholstery. Start by cutting off the corners so the board will fit, you can use any saw blade you have for this. Put the boards in place to make sure they fit before you glue them permanently. I used shelf studs to keep the board in place and help support them.


  • Make sure the bottom board is flush with the bottom front beam so that the baskets can slide easily in and out.
  • To maximize the depth of the top storage space I lined up the bottom of the board with the middle front beam. The back is held in place with with a strip of wood I screwed in place and the front is held up with some extra wood I glued to the bottom of the beam.
  • Glue the boards to the frame to help keep it in place and keep the wood from deforming over the years

Step 7: Sand It All Down

Sand down the entire bench in preparation for the paint or varnish. Start with a relatively rough paper (lower numbers, 80 or so) and work you way up to the fine papers ( the higher the better)


  • If you don't have an electric sander you can either buy one of these and attach it to your drill or simply glue some sanding paper to a flat block of wood (including the sides) and cover more surface with an easier grip. make a thinner one for those tight corners

Step 8: Paint or Varnish

This step is completely up to you, you can paint the bench solid or styled, you can paint certain parts or the whole thing, you can use as many colors as you want or you can leave the wood completely exposed. Whatever you decide remember you should at least apply a couple of coats of something to protect the wood.

I chose to paint the frame in a light blue for some positive color, gave it a retro worn down look and left the filler natural to keep the warm feeling wood gives to furniture.

To get the same look as me you should first tape off any part you don't want colored, this is very important because wood will absorb the paint immediately and you'll have a tough stain you'll need to sand out. Once that's done take a wide brush and dip it slightly into the paint, start brushing on a piece of paper or cardboard until the lines aren't smooth but choppy. When you get the right pattern on the paper move on to the wood until the brush is dry. remember to start slow with little paint, it's easier to add paint than to remove it.

After you covered all the part you want to paint use sanding paper to improve the "used up" look. sand down any sharp corner almost completely and lightly sand everything else to help the patches blend in.

Once the paint is completely dry (24 hours) apply a couple of layer of sealer or varnish to the wholes bench (let dry a couple of hours between layers and dry completely for another 24). Make sure to soak up any varnish drippings so that you don't get drip stains.


  • Whatever you choose to apply to your bench always try it out first on some scrap wood that will simulate your bench. Make sure you like the actual dry color and the way the paint/varnish works with your wood. Use this opportunity to practice your chosen brushing technique.
  • If you choose to use varnish that will be enough but if you use paint (or nothing at all) you should apply some sanding sealer or clear matte varnish for protection.
  • Choose oil based paint or varnish over water based.
  • Be patient when letting paint/varnish dry, it makes a huge difference
  • Don't use a really big brush, a 1" brush should be perfect for this kind of project.

Step 9: Upholstry

The upholstery is also a step where you can make this project your own. You could use different size mattresses and many fabrics in many colors and patters. You can also exchange the top MDF platform with something a little nicer and just cover it with pillows. There are many ways to upholster furniture, but here's what I did:

First cut out strips of thin mattress wide enough to cover the edge of the board and then some (about 4-5 cm wide). Staple the mattress on both sides so the board edges are completely covered. this will help protect the fabric from ripping over time and give the hard wood corner a softer touch.

The second mattress should be cut to the size of the board. trim the top edges of the mattress at an angle to avoid distortions when applying the fabric. Glue the mattress to the board (just a little glue should do) so it stays in place when you stretch the fabric on top of it.

Place the fabric upside down on your work surface (a clean one!) and place the board with the mattress upside down in the center of it. Start by stapling one long edge with a few staples (not too many, just to hold it) then stretch the opposite edge and staple that a few times. If it looks good to you do the same on the shorter edges. Turn the whole thing over and check it out, if it looks good add staples along the whole thing whole stretching before each staple. Your staples should eventually be about 2-3 staple's length away from one another.

When you're done and happy with the top upholstery you can add an inside upholstery to make the inside look nice too. Fold the edges of your inside fabric over a couple of cm and repeat the same method as earlier: one long edge with a few staples, opposite edge with stretching, shorter edges with stretching and if everything looks good add a lot of staples (even closer to one another than before).


  • Buy the fabrics after painting so you pick something that matches your actual bench and not what you imagined it would look like. Take pictures to help you find the right match.
  • Use a strong fabric fit for upholstery. Ask at the fabric store if you are not sure.
  • If you are not sure about the size of fabric you need always buy a little extra, you can always cut it off later.
  • When stapling any edge I recommend you start from the middle and stretch outwards to avoid ant crimping of the fabric.
  • Start with only the minimum staples required to hold the fabric in place so that if you make a mistake you don't need to pull out a lot of staples.
  • You should leave the corners for last. Use this video to help you do them nicely.
  • Staple the first fabric relatively far from the edges to leave lots of room for the second fabric which should be stapled nearer the edge

Step 10: Final Touches

All that's left to do is to add the hinges and leg ends.

Position the hinge in the designated location and give the lid a test. Make sure the lid opens and closes without any disturbances before screwing it in place.

Turn the bench over and hammer the leg end in.


  • You can pre-paint the tops of the screws to match the hinge's color so they don't stick out as much.
  • Mark an X on the bottom of each foot to help locate the centers.

Congratulations on your new bench!

Feel free to ask questions in the comments and share your own projects with us.

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