Before and After: A DIY Upholstered Bench Adds Stylish Storage to a Dated Dining Room

published Nov 15, 2023
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In fall and winter, it seems like dining tables are more crowded than ever — with delicious food and with great company. There are lots of great ways to maximize dining space with style, including with a built-in bench, à la Heath and Samantha Mitchell (@rainbowhomereno).

As part of their whole-home renovation, the couple created a gorgeous dining room from what was once an orange-walled, dark timber-paneled space with a cream ceiling, rainbow-painted flower decals, and “the most hideous, cheap and nasty chandelier that I couldn’t wait to get rid of,” Samantha says. 

The Mitchells hired an electrician to take down the chandelier, but after that, they used their DIY skills to brighten up the space and add a bench with storage. 

White paint was a game-changer. 

“The first step was painting,” Samantha says. “It was the last room on our list to paint, but we’d been putting it off because of the size. A long weekend rolled around, and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity — although we still haven’t done the ceiling. I think we’re torn between it being a big job but also quite liking the quirkiness of the rainbow flowers.”

They used Dulux’s Vivid White, which immediately makes the dining room feel larger and brighter. 

A built-in bench adds storage.

“Everything to do with the bench seat and upholstery was a first for us,” Samantha says. “Lots of research and YouTube videos were watched.”

She and Heath created timber frames and attached them to the floor — this was easy enough, Samantha says — but things became more complex when trying to affix the framework to the walls and work around the molding, and then again when they added hinged tops for built-in storage, also working around the molding, and then again when they created their own upholstered cushions to cut down on costs. (Samantha and Heath have added trim around and sealed their wooden bench since these photos were taken. Check it out on their Instagram page.)

Brown upholstery is a surprising choice, but it works. 

Upholstery was probably the hardest part of the project. Samantha and Heath went with a channel-tufted look for the bench back and simpler, flat cushions for the seat. 

“We didn’t even know the upholstery pattern we wanted was called ‘tufted columns’ when we started,” Samantha recalls. “A lot of people had suggested using pool noodles, which we did consider, but when I felt a pool noodle in person it seemed too hard for a comfy backing, so we went with foam instead. After weeks spent completing the tufted columns for the backing, creating single smooth cushions for the actual seat was a cinch by comparison!”

The fabric choice for the cushion exterior is a brown suede, and it’s one of Samantha’s favorite parts of the after. “On paper, brown sounds a bit gross, but it really suits the space,” she says. “It certainly has some quirks being homemade, too, but there is something rewarding about the fact we did it all.”

Samantha’s advice if you’re going to DIY your own upholstery? First, double check that the time spent will be worth the money it saves you. And second, “A good staple gun is key.”

Furniture completes the dining nook.

Finishing touches include a LISABO table and matching chairs from IKEA, an art print, and a family heirloom vase. The Mitchells are totally pleased with how their hard work looks in the after. “We love how inviting the bench seat has made the space and given it purpose,” Samantha says. 

For more advice on how to cozily style a dining nook, read these four tips.