How to upcycle tea chests
Stash your stuff out of sight in these quirky tea chest storage seats
We found these old tea chests hidden away in the corner of an attic and knew as soon as we saw them that they would be a fantastic addition to the home. With a little work and a padded fabric top, not only can they be used as bench seats but provide hidden storage, too.
Begin by preparing your tea chest. Most used chests will have one open side – if you’re lucky, this will be the top, in which case skip forward to step 2.
Ours was open on the bottom, so we had to cut open the top in order for the lettering on the sides of the chest to be the right way up when finished. To do this, drill a hole into each corner of the top, then use a jigsaw to cut it away.
Work an electric sander over the entire chest, paying special attention to the cut edges of the top side and the metal edging – ours was heavily rusted so we sanded away most of the tarnish, leaving just a little patina behind for a vintage look. Once sanded, wipe your chest all over with a damp cloth and soapy water to get rid of any dust or dirt. Be careful not to scrub away any decorative lettering you want to keep on the finished piece.
If needed, add a new base to the chest. Measure the width and depth of the chest and cut a piece of ply to fit, then sand the edges. Up-end the chest and place the ply on top, aligning the edges. Use nails and a hammer to secure the two together, then turn the chest right-side up again.
Use a paint brush to apply a thin coat of wood stain to one side of the chest, once again being careful not to wipe away any of the lettering. Make sure to avoid the metal edging. Before it dries, use a dry, clean rag to blot the wood stain – this will not only bring down the intensity of the colour but leave a mottled, vintage effect. Repeat on all sides, and the bottom.
Make the seat lid. Measure the width and depth of the chest and cut a piece of MDF to fit, then sand the edges. Cut a piece of upholstery foam to the same size, then a piece of quilt wadding, 5” wider and longer than the lid. Lay the wadding down flat, then add the foam to the centre of it. Place the MDF lid on top. Pull the wadding up around the foam and onto the MDF and use a staple gun to hold it in place all around.
Cut a piece of the Liberty fabric to the same size as your wadding and lay it out, right-side facing downwards. Place the wrapped lid on top, wadding side down. Once again, pull the fabric up around the edge of the lid and staple it all around, folding the corners neatly.
Cut a piece of dark grey upholstery fabric to the same size as the lid. Fold the edges over to the wrong side by 2cm and press. With the lid laid upside down, place the fabric on top, right-side facing up, making sure it sits centrally. It should cover the raw edges of both the wadding and the fabric. Hammer upholstery tacks all around the edge of the fabric to hold it in place.
Make struts to anchor the lid in place on top of the chest. Cut four 8cm lengths of wooden batten and sand each one. Paint them blue. While they dry, measure the thickness of each wall of the chest, then add 5mm to it. Along each edge of the underside of the lid, measure in by that amount and make a mark – our chest walls were 3cm thick, so we measured and made points 35mm in from each edge. Once the paint is dry, use nails to secure each strut at the four points marked. Place it on top of the chest to finish.