Make an Ottomon Out of an Old Suitcase





Introduction: Make an Ottomon Out of an Old Suitcase

About: Unsurprisingly, I like to make stuff.

I can't remember which blog I first saw these chairs on (maybe Treehugger?), but I instantly wanted one of MayBe Product's Sit Bags. Since I was not going to go to Turkey any time soon, I thought about making my own. Well, less than a week went by when I happened to stumble upon an AWESOME vintage suitcase just lying in an alleyway! The cover was a bit torn, which is I guess why someone threw it away. I quickly snatched it up, shocked at my fantastic luck, and set about collecting the rest of the ingredients.

Here is what I came up with.

Step 1: What You'll Need

This is really easy to make and, if you have the right scavenging abilities (and luck), then you can find many of the ingredients at little to no cost. Recycling is always good! You can likely get the fabric, suitcase, plywood, and possibly the plumbing stuff all used/found in an alleyway or thrift store.


Staple gun - I got the cheapest one they had at the hardware store, but a bigger one might be helpful depending on the weight of your fabric. My fabric was on the heavy side, so I probably should have been using bigger staples.

Jigsaw - This you'll use to shape the plywood base to fit snugly into the suitcase.

Screwdriver - This can be electric or manual. It is not too hard to drive screws into plywood, but it is a lot quicker to use a power-tool.

Utility knife - to cut the foam


Suitcase - clearly, this is the most important part. I used a soft suitcase (well, semi-soft, I think it's made of cardboard-reinforce naugahyde). The original Sit Bags are made of hard suitcases, which may hold up better in the long term, I don't know. The rest of the instruction will assume you're using a soft case.

Upholstery Fabric - I used a heavyweight, vintage upholstery fabric, but you could really use anything. An old wool coat might be nice. If the fabric is lightweight, you may have to reinforce it with iron-on interfacing. If you have questions about this, you could probably ask at your local fabric store.

Foam - The main structure of your seat will come from the foam you use. The type of foam you get depends on your preferences, what is available, and how deep your suitcase is/how high you want the upholstery to stick up from the suitcase. The

Plywood - just enough to fit in your suitcase (should be slightly smaller than the case).

Muslin - This is optional. I used a base layer of muslin to shape the foam base-layer so that the corners take a softer look, but this can be done with the main upholstery fabric too.

Bamboo fiber - This is also optional. I used a top layer of bamboo fiber on top of the foam so that it's a little softer. Adding the bamboo fiber layer yields a seat with more give, as the foam tends to be a bit firm. I used two bags of the stuff. I used bamboo rather than cotton mainly for the eco-benefit, and the fact that it is anti-microbial (as I'm sure the suitcase I found in the alley is full of microbes!).

Plumbing fittings and nipple - For the legs, I chose to simply use 4 pieces of 1/2 inch by 3/4 foot steel nipple and the associated plumbing fittings. They are cheap and easy, and I think they look nice, though it would be nice to find some screw-on feet for the bottom of the nipple, which leaves marks on my carpet. I tried to find miniature claw-and-ball feet, but then I thought that might be a little over the top, so I left it simple.

Step 2: Remove the Top of the Suitcase

The first main step is to remove the top of the suitcase. I was trying to think of a way that I could keep the suitcase intact and use it for storage space as well as an ottoman, but I could not think of any way for a soft suitcase like this one to maintain sufficient structural integrity.

Here you can see that the top of the suitcase was coming apart, so I just ripped the rest of the stitches that held it together, and the top came off quite easily.

I had also thought of just removing the whole top, latches included, but I think the latches add a lot to the look. I left them unlatched, so theoretically the top side of the suitcase could open up, but it turns out that the upholstery fits in there so snugly that there's no way it could open.

Step 3: Cut the Plywood and Upholster It

The plywood will give the ottoman the structural integrity to withstand being sat upon. It is to the plywood that we will be affixing the plumbing fittings.

1. Cut the plywood to the right size - that is, an inch or so smaller than the suitcase on all sides. You need to leave some room so that when the upholstery is wrapped around the plywood, it will still fit into the suitcase.

2. Cut the foam to the same size as the plywood.

3. Place a generous amount of muslin on the ground. Put the foam on top of it, and the plywood on top of that.

4. Pull one side of the muslin up and staple it to the plywood, using the stable gun. Then do the same thing on the opposite side. I think it helps to work symmetrically in terms of the fabric tension. If you start all from one side and then just go around in a circle, the foam can get squeezed in one direction or another and you end up with a lumpy cushion.

5. Once the muslin is affixed, do the same thing with your upholstery fabric, placing the bamboo fiber in between the muslin and the fabric, if you are using that.

Step 4: Add Legs

Drop the upholstered cushion into the suitcase. The fit should be quite snug. Push or sit on it until it is all the way in.

Next, turn the Suitcase over and place the plumbing fittings where you want them. Drill them into place. Keep turning the screws until you feel the plywood pulling up to meet the screw. The fittings should feel tightly attached to the suitcase, and the suitcase surface should not bend too much.

Finally, screw in the pipes.

Voila! You just made an ottoman!

People might feel nervous about sitting on the ottoman, but it is really amazingly sturdy!

I'd love to try making a "sit bag" with a back next, but I don't think I'm skilled enough to figure out how to make the back strong enough. If anyone wants to make me one, though, I'd be a very happy recipient!



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    21 Discussions

    Brilliant! I need a shop stool, and I was going to try to scrounge one from the local salvage yard, but you've inspired me to make a variation of your ottoman. Thanks a bunch :)

    Wow, it looks like I'm hogging the comments page-I actually left comments at various steps of your instructable-I thought they would appear there and not all on the same page-sorry everyone :0( re coasters-Yah that's what I meant-kind of a retro Jetsons space look, also they wouldn't scratch the floor :0)

    O.K....just thinking to myself...Do you think that a large "marble", AKA "alley", AKA "boulder" could be used as cool coasters? You've done a fab job on this instructable. Thanks for sharing!

    1 reply

    Thanks for all your comments! Glad you like it :) By "coasters" do you mean like attaching marbles to the bottom of the legs? If so, I think that's an awesome idea! I would be even cooler if I could make wheels out of the marbles. I guess I know what my weekend activity will be. Thanks!

    It's me again (I can't help myself-you've created such a fun piece of furniture, I wanna join in the kudos conversation) The colours you've chosen are really "retro" lol-guess that makes me "Retro" since these were standard colours when i was a kid ;0)

    I love this project, I do have a possible idea for improvement. Since it is a suitcase and used when traveling, what if you can possible disassemble the legs and pack them inside the suitcase or fold the legs into the suitcase. Maybe you can leave space inside the suitcase for packing items for you can travel and when you cant find a place to sit at the airport or bus stop, transform the suitcase and sit.

    1 reply

    Yeah, that would be good. At the moment, the legs unscrew easily, but there's no good storage for them. The only downside to this idea is that the ottoman is actually fairly heavy (heavier than it seems like it should be, actually). I like the idea of folding legs. Are there any good cheap methods for making sturdy folding legs?

    Very 1970's looking I like the possibility of storage too. Now everyone is going to be running out to find old suitcases to make furniture... on that note upholster the inside of the suitcase and attach a piece of nylon webbing to both the plywood base and a second piece of plywood in the lid so it could stay open and you would then have a chair with back rest, just a thought and it might look good for vintage matched luggage to have a chair and ottoman. I personally would like to see the inside of the case more and you might want to add some rubber "Cane ends" to protect the floor from getting scuffed by the metal legs.

    2 replies

    Yeah, matched luggage would be fantastically cool. Not that my living room could handle any more furniture... I have carpeted floors, so the scratching isn't such a problem, but rubber feet is still probably a good idea. Thanks!

    Nice one. I wonder if it could be made so that the suitcase could be used to store things?

    1 reply

    Yeah, I think you could do that if you had a hard-walled suitcase, but I couldn't figure out a way to do that. It really irked my dad, who had his mind set on storage space. The one thing I thought of is if you attached the legs to the top of the suitcase, running through the bottom so that the bottom of the suitcase could open downward. That might be a cool visual effect too. The other thing I thought of was reinforcing the insides with plywood, but then the ottoman would be really heavy.

    This is a great project, and the final thing actually looks really good. Your steps are good, but you really could do with a few pictures on the upholstering to complete the instructable.

    3 replies

    Thanks for the suggestion. I'm trying to scrounge up some pictures of those middle steps.

    I put some pictures up! It was not my best documentation effort ever, but there you go.

    Thanks! Yeah, I love the original, which is way more shiny than my version, but it's still more satisfying to make this yourself.