Making a Chippendale-style Ottoman by Charlie Driggs

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An example of a reasonably simple honey-do project using traditional joinery & materials.

In the summer of 2005, my loving wife noticed that my backlog of projects was getting a bit light at only a dozen or so items, and slid up to me, batted her eyes, and said “You could make something for me – I’d like an ottoman to match the wing chair in the living room.” OK, which wing chair?  “You know, the rust colored one I want to get recovered – I’d like to have an ottoman to match it.”


I, of course, responded enthusiastically to preserve my state of grace in the household, and realized that she was deadly serious about getting that chair (not cheap when she bought it new, still in excellent condition, but admittedly a bit out of place in the color department) reupholstered.  I could stand in front of the train, or hop on and enjoy the ride.

Defining the Project

Over the next week or so I sketched up several designs to show to the ‘customer’ and find out just what she had in mind.

I’ve found that it’s a good idea to do this before you start cutting up the wood you thought you bought for a project, only to find out that the rough sized parts now won’t have a role in the real design that was desired.  That’s just a tip from a Galoot about to celebrate 35 yrs of marriage.  Anyway, the basic requirements were fairly clear.  The companion chair was a known quantity, with a mahogany frame and measurable seat height and width.  There would be a cushion on the top of the ottoman. But as you’ll notice farther on, none of the designs I originally sketched are exactly what was wanted.

Further research confirmed a couple of suspicions: a) review of Thomas Chippendale’s original “The Gentleman’s & Cabinet-Maker’s Director” (in reprint form) confirmed that old TC had not initially presented designs for either a wing chair like this one, or for an ottoman or stool.  Other references consulted for inspiration confirmed that this chair represents later American Chippendale with the Chinese influence, but with modern simplifications to accommodate machine manufacturing techniques.  So, the liberties taken by American interpretation left plenty of room for my own interpretation of design elements to both blend with the existing chair and improve on the appearance.

Key things I determined I needed to have in the design:

  1. Shape and size of the legs should match closely to the chair, and include the corner beading of the original chair.

  2. Spreader frame should be similar in shape to visually tie the two pieces together.

  3. Cushion height and thickness should match that of the seat cushion on the chair for another visual tie.

  4. Material choice had to be mahogany, finished to match the chair.

  5. Mortise & tenon leg joints, the minimum number of screws possible, and no nailed joints.

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