Upcycled Storage Ottoman


About: I'm a designer, writer, and artist based in upstate NY.

Let me first say that I know this isn't the most practical ottoman.

Will it last forever? No, of course not; it's made out of cardboard and cans. But does it look cool and is it incredibly functional? Heck yeah it is.

Ever since I finished this ottoman, my two large dogs have been standing on it, cats have been jumping on (and inside) of it, and, of course, feet have been rested upon it on a daily basis. It's been holding up just fine. In fact, it still looks just like it did the day I finished it.

This project was special for many reasons: I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could make a storage ottoman with stuff I already had in my apartment. I was also able to flex my creative muscles and think outside of the box. It's definitely one of the weirder things I've made, and I'm proud of it.


  • Lots of cans. Think canned vegetables, fruits, beans, etc. I used 60 cans, but your number may differ based on how large you want your ottoman.
  • Lots of cardboard. I probably used seven or so large cardboard boxes for my ottoman.
  • Junk mail, shredded paper, or leftover cardboard. This is to fill the cans.
  • Cushy fabric -- like fleece. A large towel or cheap fleece blanket will also work.
  • Fabric for the outside of the ottoman and fabric for the inside. I used two or three different patterns of leftover fabric from other projects I had.
  • Glue gun + glue sticks.
  • Shipping tape and/or duct tape.
  • Pencil.
  • Measuring tape.
  • Scissors.
  • Decorative trim / ribbon.

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Step 1: Plan Out Your Vision

Make sure all of your cans are washed and dried thoroughly before beginning.

The minute I knew I had more than enough cans for this project, I dumped them all onto my living room floor. I didn't know yet how large I wanted to ottoman to be, so I started messing around with different diameters, whether or not it could be hollow in the middle for storage capability, and height -- if I wanted it two cans tall or three.

I ended up using a 20-can circumference at 3 cans tall for a total of 60 cans.

Step 2: Fill the Cans

I traced a can onto cardboard and cut out dozens of cardboard circles. You'll need as many cardboard circles as you have cans, therefore I cut out 60 cardboard circles.

Then I stuffed the cans with whatever leftover cardboard (from cutting out cardboard circles), junk mail, shredded paper I had that would otherwise be thrown away. Then I placed a cardboard circle on top and secured it with shipping tape. At one point I ran out of shipping tape, so I used duct tape. Whatever you have will work.

Step 3: Tape Cans Together

Since I wanted my ottoman three cans high, I went ahead and taped three cans together at a time. I ended up with 20 of those.

Step 4: Cut Large Cardboard Circles

For my ottoman, I needed several large cardboard circles at a 23" diameter for the bottom of the ottoman as well as the lid for the top. At first, I cut out five circles, but I later ended up cutting a few more, which I'll talk about later in the Instructable.

To do this, all I did was roughly mark a center of the circle with a marker; then place my measuring tape and measure 11.5" out around from the center point and mark several points with the marker. Then I cut it out with heavy-duty scissors following the dashed lines.

Step 5: Glue Cans to Cardboard

I glued two of my large 23"-diameter pieces of cardboard together using my hot glue gun. Alternatively you could tape them, but it doesn't really matter because they'll be covered in fabric and therefore more secure later. Then I placed the cans on top of the cardboard pieces and hot glued the cans in place.

Step 6: Sew an Inside Lining

For the inside, I knew I had to think outside of the box for a lining solution. I wanted it to be secure, but I knew cardboard alone would look weird and I knew fabric alone wouldn't be enough.

My solution was to cut two pieces of fabric at 16" x 51", and sew small panels about 1.5" wide. Then I inserted cardboard strips (about 1.5" x 14") into the panels. I then sewed along the bottom, underneath the cardboard strips about 2" from the bottom, so the strips wouldn't fall out.

Step 7: Glue the Lining

I then placed the lining inside of the cans and started hot gluing from the bottom up. When I got to the top, I cut strips about 1" x 1" so they could fold over the top of the cans and I hot glued them down.

Step 8: Use Up Leftover Fabric

I had some leftover fabric strips so I glued them around the cans. This just added some security to the overall ottoman and was a way to use up some of my leftover fabric.

Step 9: Add Cardboard Layer

I cut a 70" x 14" piece of cardboard that was thin enough to be malleable but thick enough to be secure. Then I glued it all the way around the cans using my hot glue gun.

Step 10: Cover It in Fleece

Then I cut out a piece 72" x 14" piece of fleece and hot glued it the same way I did the cardboard. You could also use a towel, an old blanket, or batting -- anything that's soft and cushy.

Step 11: Make a Lid

At this point I didn't know what fabric I was going to use for the outside of the ottoman. I was pretty much just making everything up as I went along and asking my mother for advice from time to time. One night, however, as I was about to fall asleep, I noticed a tapestry on my bedroom wall that I didn't entirely love (as a tapestry) anymore. The next day, I took it down and cut out the large mandala in the center. It was the PERFECT size to cover the lid of my ottoman!

To make the lid, I first hot glued three 23"-diameter pieces of cardboard together. Then I realized I needed to cut out even more large 23"-diameter pieces of cardboard, so I cut out two more plus two smaller 15"-diameter pieces of cardboard for the bottom of the lid.

Here's where I wish I took more pictures, but I was too busy hot gluing:

First I covered the three cardboard circles with the mandala by hot-gluing over and around the edges.

Then I covered two more circles with a different kind of fabric the same way. You'll see in the photos that's the blue Adventure Time fabric.

Then I hot glued the mandala part (with the mandala on top) to the Adventure Time part (with the Adventure Time pattern on bottom) together.

After that, I glued the two smaller 15"-diameter pieces of cardboard together and covered them in some leftover fleece fabric. Then I glued the fleece covered cardboard to the bottom of the lid. This way, the lid will not be able to slide off of the ottoman.

Step 12: Cover the Ottoman

I used what was left of the tapestry to cover the sides of the ottoman. That piece of fabric was about 75" x 16". This ensured the ottoman could be covered all the way around as well as around the bottom and around the top edge. I used the hot glue gun to secure it to the ottoman. When I got to the end of the fabric, I folded the raw edge underneath before I glued it down so the raw edge would be hidden.

Step 13:

To cover the unsightly raw edges underneath the lid of the ottoman, I thought of a solution. First I cut out a cardboard circle that had an outside circumference of 71" and an inside circumference of 52". Then I covered it in leftover tapestry fabric. Then I hot-glued that piece on top of the ottoman, effectively hiding all the raw edges.

Step 14: Add a Decorative Trim

At this point, I knew I was pretty much done with the ottoman. But I couldn't shake off the feeling that it needed to have that little something extra. So I made a trip to the craft store and moseyed around their decorative trim section. I wasn't looking for anything in particular, but when I saw this ruffled black trim, I knew it was meant to be. I bought it with a 1/2-off coupon, so it was about $2. Then I came home and glued it on using the trusty hot glue gun that hadn't failed me yet.

Step 15: Finished!

And that's pretty much all there is to it to make a storage ottoman out of recycled cans and cardboard. I was pleasantly surprised how well it turned out and I'm continuously surprised with how well it's holding up in our living room. This project was really a test of my creative skills -- to see if I could make something with objects around my apartment -- and I honestly didn't expect to end up with something so functional and cute.

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    14 Discussions

    dragon flyer

    Question 1 day ago

    Looks as though all the cans need to be the same size; I was a bit confused till I figured that out...

    1 answer

    8 days ago

    Wow... clearly described steps.... superb.. brilliant..!!!

    1 reply

    8 days ago

    I think your ottoman looks brilliant and I love the idea of recycling items to create it. The fabric you chose is just perfect, I like too that you took something off your wall that you no longer wanted as a hanging. When you look at it, it just screams out ottoman, that is just a perfect example of upcycling! Great project, good luck and all the very best from Normandie, Sue

    1 reply

    8 days ago

    LOVE IT! Such an amazing use of items that would have just been thrown away!

    1 reply

    9 days ago on Introduction

    This would make a great retained heat cooker. Just add an insulated lid and bottom made with tuna fish cans. Use a couple of soft pillows inside to sit the pan on and one for the lid. I admire your creativity. It could also serve as a very good keeper of cold food for a few hours. Search Wonder Bag.

    1 reply