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The Leather Couch

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I know what you’re thinking. That’s not a leather couch. And you’re, RIGHT, it isn’t. But it used to be.

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Remember this couch from a few weeks ago?

DIY Leather Earrings :: beautiful-objects.com

That I used to make these earrings?

Well, I finally finished a project with it, and I’m ready to tell you the story. This is a long one, so maybe grab a beverage.

So, it all started about 12 years ago. (I wasn’t lying when I said it was a long story.) Husband and I took a trip to Gualala with his family for Spring Break. We stayed in this cozy house on a cliff above the ocean. It rained every day, and at night, we lit candles and sipped wine, gathered around an enormous orange ottoman with a giant tray on top.

A few months later, Husband and I were digging around the Sacramento Antique Faire and came across a giant tray just like the one at the beach house. As soon as we loaded it in the car, I started wondering if I could ever find a giant ottoman to go with it. I haven’t, so for years, we’ve used it as a decoration in front of our fireplace. But I never gave up hope.

A few years ago, at an antique store, I came across another giant tray, this time with legs. I did some research and found that they are Moroccan Tea Trays. Turns out, it’s almost impossible to find legs without a tray – it’s much easier to find a tray without legs. Obviously. And I didn’t want to buy a complete set just for the legs.

And, anyway, I still really wanted a large ottoman.  (I did come across this one from CB2 – and, while I really like it, I still want round, not square.)

So I started thinking about ways to make one. I got this crazy idea that, if I could find a great leather couch, I could remove the leather and make my own ottoman.

A couple of months ago, as I was driving the backroads to Costco, I saw a leather couch down on the shoulder, probably having fallen off of a truck on the way to the dump. I didn’t do anything, but I told Husband that I thought I might take a pair of scissors and cut the leather off once it got a little darker. He, of course, said that was a very unsafe idea and that if the police came, he would really have to think long and hard before coming to bail me out for anything related to this.

So I started searching online and, in March, I found a FREE leather couch on Craigslist. I didn’t mention to Husband because, usually when I mention these crazy Craiglist ideas, he says, “Do what you want. I’m not getting involved.” This is usually when I call Fake Adopted California Dad (FACD), and off we go on a Craigslist adventure.

(After that, Husband usually gets involved – see Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C. Because IT’S FUN!)

For this project, I was thinking I would get FACD to help me pick it up with the truck, we would bring it to my house, I would take all of the leather off, and then load the couch frame back on FACD’s truck and take it to the dump.

Well, this time, FACD wasn’t in town, and it wasn’t clear when he was coming back. I’d been messaging back and forth with the owner of the couch all week, and by Friday, he said it had to be gone by Sunday.

So I messaged back with a plan. I told him I really just wanted the leather, and that it didn’t look like I would have a truck, so would it be okay if I came that afternoon, removed the leather, and sawed up the frame to load in the back of my car to take to the dump.

He was game.

But then I wondered how much work it would be and how long it would actually take to remove the leather and saw the couch apart. (Spoiler alert: A LOT!) I said I could start that afternoon, and if I didn’t finish in time to pick my kids up at school, I would come back on Saturday to finish.

No dice. He said I could come but it had to be finished that day.

Seeing as how I had zero experience sawing apart a couch, I couldn’t promise it would be done that day, so I told him I had to pass. I was bummed.

I messaged Husband to tell him that my plans had changed and I was now free to go for a walk at lunch.

Husband: So, what plans did you have that got canceled?

Me: Well, I found this free leather couch on Craigslist–

Husband: Okay, I don’t want to know anymore.

Me: (Silence.)

Husband: Oh, alright, go ahead and tell me.

So I told him the whole story.

Husband: Why didn’t you tell me?

Me: Because I know how much you “LOVE” these ideas of mine.

Husband: True. But I would have helped. I could have taken the afternoon off. I could have taken care of the kids while you disassembled the couch. I could have helped you come up with a plan.

Who is this man? Seriously, I love him with all my heart, but he hates this kind of thing. Has he mellowed in his older age? Does he realize that all these projects of mine are, in fact, pretty fun to work on? Or have I, after almost 20 years of marriage, broken him down with all my crazy schemes and plans?

Then Husband asked why I didn’t call the Bartletts across the street to see if I could use their van to pick up the couch. (Side note: Mrs. Bartlett is as Craigslist-happy as I am, so she would definitely understand.) Why didn’t I think of that??

I got home, called the Bartletts, got the van, texted the guy, and made my way over to his house in about 20 minutes.

Let me set the stage:

First of all, our town can lean a little hippie. And the address where the free couch would be picked up? In the hippiest-leaning co-op neighborhood in town. I walk in and see the couch in a sea of couches in the living room. (I will not go into much further detail to protect the innocent, but suffice it to say that this is probably a two-bedroom condo, and eight people live there. And there is some sort of experimental “art” piece of thousands of pieces of used masking tape on the side of a cabinet. And there was a very strong odoriferous mix of patchouli and curry powder and cooking oil. This will factor later on.)

The owner was very  nice, and we worked really hard just to get the couch out of the house. We removed the bun feet, we tilted this way and that way. We moved bookshelves and cat trees and textbooks and shoes. And then we turned around and attempted to get it out of the backdoor, which finally worked. We loaded it in the back of the van and I set off.

I rolled the windows down on the Bartlett’s van because the couch was smelly. Like, really smelly. Like the patchouli and curry powder and cooking oil and eight-adults-living-in-a-two-bedroom-house smelly. I got home and unloaded the couch as quickly as I could – BY MYSELF! – to not stink up the neighbor’s van if at all possible.

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The next day, I started removing the leather with some box cutters. It was surprisingly difficult to cut. I alternated between the cutters and scissors, trying to maximize pieces of leather.

Husband joined in the leather removal, and he started disassembling the couch. It required the use of a sledgehammer. I made a slo-mo video of Husband destroying it, in the manner of Office Space and the fax machine, but permission to share my video here was denied. But it is pretty fantastic.

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I draped the pieces of leather over our fence in hopes of airing out the smells.

It didn’t work.

(You can see pieces of foam and batting from the cushions in the garbage can behind the fence. It would take us multiple weeks of garbage pickup to get all of the pieces gone, but we didn’t have to go to the dump!*)

(We may or may not have disposed of a toilet in similar fashion one time. Maybe.)

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So next, I sprinkled baking soda on all of the pieces and left them to air out on my back porch for a couple of days. My porch looked like a quarantined anthrax site. I don’t know. It was bad. Did it help? Nope.

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Then I soaked each piece in a 50/50 vinegar-water solution and let them dry for a few more days. It was a little better, but it was still a mixture of old food smells and, now, vinegar.

I researched Febreze. Now, it will clearly tell you on the label, DO NOT USE ON LEATHER. I completely disregarded this for two reasons: 1. The leather was free – if I ruined it, I ruined it, because, 2. It was still so smelly that there was no way it was coming in the house otherwise.

I used an entire bottle of Heavy Duty Febreze and left everything to dry and air out.

It was an improvement, but I still wasn’t sure I wanted to bring it in the house – the heavy duty Febreze isn’t a great scent, but it DID remove the bad smells, so I bought ANOTHER bottle of Febreze, this time in a different scent. I let that dry and air out for another day or so. And?

FINALLY! I didn’t gag when I picked it up. And the leather looked fine – no stains or discoloration. (Disclaimer: I do not promise that you can use Febreze on your leather without problems. I had nothing to lose, and, luckily, it worked out for me.)

My one caveat for this is that the darker pieces of leather (the seat cushions, seen in the photo above) turned black with all of this liquid and were left unusable. This meant I didn’t have nearly enough material to make my giant ottoman. But I had another idea almost immediately:

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My beloved midcentury modern chair. This chair belonged to Husband’s parents. It came with us, along with loads of other hand-me-down furniture, to our first apartment in college. It is extremely comfortable to sit in, and I have always loved the way it looked. And for years, it remained in excellent condition. Until this year. A tiny rip appeared in the green vinyl, and it grew and grew.

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Then two other rips joined the party.

As I walked by the ripped chair and then by the piles of leather on my back porch, I had a lightbulb moment – put them together!

Now, I don’t know a lot about upholstery, but I can sew, and I can figure things out.

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I measured the seat cushion and cut the leather into pieces that would work – a large, square for the top of the seat, and long strips for around the side.

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I attempted to also do piping, but I almost broke the needle twice trying to go through 4 layers of leather with my non-industrial sewing machine, so I scrapped that idea and went with with a simpler cushion. (Note: you cannot pin leather like you can with fabric, so you have to use clothespins to keep the pieces together.) I sewed the cushion cover together, which was actually not as difficult as I thought it would be.

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I removed the seat cushion.

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I attempted to remove all the old staples, but the were REALLY in there, so I ended up cutting away most of the vinyl. (BB pronounced this word “vin-yul” the other day. I LOVE that, because it means it’s a word he’s learned by READING, not by hearing. A post for another day – how awesome it is to have another READER in our house! All the heart eyes.)

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I put the cushion cover over the seat and rested it on the chair frame to see if was going to fit. This is when I got excited.

It took two people to attach – one to pull leather and one to staple. Husband helped, of course. Then we screwed the base back onto the chair frame. And it was done!

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YES!! A successful project!

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A leather-reupholstered chair – for free!

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And here she is in our living room. Surprisingly, she’s almost a perfect match for that old and well-loved La-Z-Boy rocker/recliner that we just can’t seem to part with yet.

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And now she’s just showing off in front of the giant tray that still doesn’t have an ottoman to rest on.

Lessons Learned from the Leather Couch:

1. I need a truck.

2. I’ve been married to Husband for almost 20 years, and he continues to surprise me. Not only did he have great suggestions for how to make this project happen, he also walked by piles of smelly leather on our back porch for WEEKS and barely said a word. He’s a saint!

3. Leather is both easier and harder to sew than regular fabric.

4. Don’t commit to something before you smell it.

5. Next time I make something out of leather, I’m just going to buy it new. Wait, is that a leather couch I see on the side of the road? Let me just take a look….

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Editor’s Notes:

*Husband would like me to note that, over Spring Break, while we were out of town, I messaged Mr. Bartlett to say that we forgot to roll down our garbage toters and that they were full of the couch carcass and would he please roll them down for us so that we would have room for our garbage the following week. When we got home, all of the couch carcass remains were GONE! Mr. Bartlett had taken all the last bits of couch carcass and put them in his garbage toter, as well as the toters of our neighbors, who were also out of town and forgot to roll their toters down to the street. So we ALL had empty garbage toters when we returned AND all of the couch carcass magically disappeared. MR. BARTLETT IS A SAINT!!

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4 thoughts on “The Leather Couch

  1. just read your article for the second time today. What a fun story! I hope to read more stories about free treasures.

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