Build a couch for $20
Up your interior design game without breaking the bank.
Furniture shopping is a serious pastime. You get a look in mind and, next thing you know, you’re spending hours navigating the depths of the internet for the perfect piece. It may take a while, but when that new table or lamp arrives, you see how it transforms the room, and suddenly, it was all worth it.
What’s even better is that if you upcycle and DIY, your decorating dreams can be eco-friendly, too. That means your perfect piece of furniture doesn’t have to be new, or even secondhand.
I recently moved into a spacious, light-filled loft where I envisioned hosting lots of friends. I’m a serial traveler, and when I have a home base, my favorite thing to do is hang with my people. For my living room, I wanted a big mid-century couch (this style has a wide, low profile), but I wasn’t sure I could find one in my budget. I wondered if I could build something similar, and when I saw wooden pallets being used as a display in a funky vintage store, I had a flash of inspiration. They would create the perfect base for my dream couch.
My pallet couch is big (it’s basically the size of a bed), but its low profile helps minimize its visual impact—the living room still feels spacious. Despite its size, it was much easier to build than I expected, and was (mostly) free.
I found two standard-sized pallets (40 by 48 inches) in good shape lying next to the fence around the outdoor section of my local Lowe’s. I asked two employees if I could have them, and they said yes. They also told me to check around the back of the store to see if I could find anything else that could be of use. As I pulled around the building, I passed a dumpster and hit my brakes—an extra long, single pallet (approximately 36 by 96 inches) was sticking out of the bin, and I immediately knew it would make the perfect back for my couch.
It’s always a good idea to check your local hardware store for material they’re planning to throw away, but make sure you ask a manager whether it’s OK for you to take it. In some states, it may be illegal to remove trash if you’re not properly licensed.
Once I had all the materials I needed, I grabbed a friend and we went to work.
- Time: 45-60 minutes (with two people)
- Cost: $20-$100
- Difficulty: easy
- 2 (40-by-48-inch) pallets
- 1 (36-by-96-inch) pallet
- 2 (12-by-50-inch) pieces of particle board
- 4 (4-inch) cabinet screws
- 2 (5-inch) flat metal brackets
- 2 (2-by-2-inch) wood bars, 30 inches long
- 1 twin-sized mattress made of 3-inch foam
- Old jeans or other denim
- Paint (optional)
1. Get the layout right. We arranged the pallets to find the right shape and location, using the couch as the focal point of my living room. I used the measuring tape to approximate dimensions, then placed blue tape on the floor to visualize the possible positions. I considered cutting about a foot off each side of each pallet to make the couch smaller, but once we nudged it into the right place, we kept them as-is.
2. Fasten the pallets together. We then attached a metal bracket (one on each pallet) to the backrest to keep everything in place. The brackets had been attached to other pallets I saw while salvaging the ones I used, but I’d taken them because I knew they would be necessary in my build.
3. Add cushioning. I simply pulled a twin-size mattress off a futon I had in another room and placed a twin-size sheet to cover it.
4. Add built-in side tables. The mattress was slightly shorter than the pallets (about 12 inches on each side), but rather than cut the base of the couch to fit, we cut pieces of salvaged particle board using a small hand saw and placed them at the sides of the mattress. They fit and lay flat without any fasteners. This is a good idea if you, like me, prefer to have somewhere other than a table to put a coffee mug without fear of it tipping.
5. Stabilize the couch. We used the power drill and screws to attach the 2-by-2 arm-bars—which run from the backrest to the base—to stabilize the couch. Each wooden bar is held in place by two screws (one at the top and one at the bottom) to help keep the backrest and base together.
6. Make it your own. Instead of sanding and painting (which is an option if that’s the look you’re going for), we covered the couch in denim. My friend happened to have a few pairs of jeans she didn’t wear anymore, so I used fabric scissors to cut down the inseams and side seams, removed the zipper, and laid out the pieces. They weren’t quite enough to cover the whole thing, so to make up the rest, I bought a dark blue fabric remnant at a local upholstery store to cover the backrest. This is the only money I actually spent on the couch. Upholstering the couch was the easiest part of this project—we just stapled the denim to the pallets—and since the denim wasn’t hemmed, there is now a nice cotton fringe along the edges, reminiscent of my favorite jean shorts I wore as a teen.
7. Finish the couch. I painted the arm-bars and side “tables” with wall paint I had in storage. Then, I filled in the backrest by placing some colorful, funky throw pillows that fit well with my apartment’s aesthetic.
The key to using pallets to create a functional, attractive piece of furniture is to work backward—deconstruct a design and build with your space in mind. Pallets are relatively easy to find and work with, and if you make a wrong cut or don’t like the size, you can rest assured that you’ll be able to find more.
This project is the kind of adulting that would win favor with your kid self who was obsessed with Legos. But even better—it’s about how you can live your best life in a space of your own, while still making conscious choices about consumption, taking charge of what you use and where it comes from.