How to build banquette bench seating

Table of Contents

Intro

Before getting started, download the full blueprints for reference

In this article, I’m going to teach you how to build banquette seating for your home. When I was just getting started, I came across a bunch of helpful articles online, however none of them quite described exactly what I was trying to do, specifically:

  • Using pre-made cabinet drawers for the base (in order to match the rest of our kitchen)
  • Constructing an angled back, which requires a bit of simple math
  • Install electrical outlets on both ends of the banquette

Long story short, this article is the one I wish I’d had. It describes the exact process by which I built my bench seating, but also calls out opportunities for you to take your own creative license as well – because that’s where all the fun is! Enjoy!

Plan Phase #1: Measure your space

First order of business is figuring out what you’re working with. Grab your sketchbook and make a very loose drawing of the space you’re working with, making note of any important measurements. This includes things like:

  • Length of walls the benches will be against
  • Location of windows
  • Location of light switches and outlets

The important thing to remember here is that you want to make note of any and all features (existing or future) that might impact how and where you build this thing.

  • One thing I like to do is actually visualize the build process from start to finish and try to anticipate any potential obstacles/issues that I could possibly run into. For example: So I’m going to build the base, and I’ll need to watch out to not build it longer than this electrical outlet. Then I’m going to build the back, and I need to make sure it’s lower than the lowest light switch and window. . .

Plan Phase #2: Create a sketch (or 50 sketches)

The first step of any great project is to draw it up on paper. For some people this can be 1-2 simple drawings. For me, I like to nerd out in all the details and I end up with about 50 sketches in my notebook.

As you move from lower to higher fidelity plans, there are a few key measurement to consider. The good news is that as long as you stay within these broad ergonomic guidelines, you really can’t go wrong and the final product is going to work great.

Seat height & depth

Optimal seating height is anywhere between 17-20″, and optimal depth is 16-18″. Depending on the thickness of the cushions, simply adjust your dimensions accordingly. I went with 17.25″ seat height (16.5″ cabinet height + 3/4″ plywood topper) and a seat depth of 19″ (planning for some thick backrest cushions).

Back angle

Building a bench with a straight back is definitely simpler, however comfort-wise an angled back is definitely the way to go – and it’s really not that hard to do. Ideal back angle is 100-110°. I went with about 105° for this project.

Back height

Back height is really up to you. Some benches look good with a really low back and some nice long cushions, others have wainscotting backs that go way up the wall. Your call. For this project, I decided on 17″ after experimenting a bit with cushion height and what felt like the right distance below the bottom of the window ledge we’re working with.

Seat Angle

A seat base that is a bit higher in the front than the back can help mitigate that feeling of sliding forward out of one’s seat. Some resources recommend a negative incline (aka “dump”) of a couple degrees or more. For this project I was working with pre-made cabinet bases, and thus decided to just keep the seat flat.

Build Phase #1: Base

In order to match our existing kitchen cabinets, and to make my life a bit easier, I ended up going with some prefab KraftMaid Pedestal Drawers that are really easy to install, and look and function great.

If you decide to build your own base instead, there are a ton of great tutorials out there. Either way, there are really just a few key things to keep in mind when building out the base.

Level ALL the things

Start by drawing a level line along the wall where the top of your base will go. If you’re building it yourself, just choose your height. If you’re using prefab cabinets, put them in place and then mark the highest point, then draw your level line from there.

Use shims and a nice long level (like 4′) to ensure that your base top is level. This means level along the length of the bench, as well as the perpendicular axis from front to back. Ideally if these axes are in order, then with prefab cabinets like the ones I used, vertical faces should all be relatively square as well, but if you’re building your own base you’ll want to verify they’re square as well. You can even use shims between the wall and the back of the base to vertical-ize things if needed. Basically, level all the things, you won’t regret it.

Helpful articles:

Attaching (or not) to the floor

Ideally you’re installing cabinets directly to the sub-floor (e.g. concrete), as this makes a lot of things easier. In this case, you can go ahead and bolt/screw them in and then run the flooring up to within a 1/2-1/4″ of the cabinets edge (to allow for thermal expansion). We already had flooring in place, and so I just went the lazy man’s route. If you’re placing the cabinets on top of existing flooring, you do not want to attach them to the floor, since the floor boards can expand and buckle if they run up against screws/hardware. In this case you just want to attach to the walls.

Helpful articles:

Build Phase #2: The Seat

Once the base cabinets are in place, the actual seat base goes on top. I simply used some nice ¾” oak veneer plywood, cut to size. You can cut it yourself with a circular saw and straight edge, or if you know your exact measurements and are feeling risky, you can have Home Depot (or wherever you buy the wood) cut it for you.

Making the cuts

An L-shaped bench requires cutting at least two rectangles. It doesn’t really matter which side you make longer, there are really just two main things to think about:

  1. If you’re going to include a lift-up door for the corner storage, you’ll want to make sure you design it to play nicely with the rectangles you cut, so that you can cut it out of a single piece and not have to deal with cutting across two panels.
  2. Cut the plywood so that it overhangs the base cabinets by 1-2″. If you have cabinet drawers, make sure this overhang is enough to extend beyond the door/handle faces in whatever way looks good to you. Note: keep in mind that you’ll eventually be adding an ~⅛ veneer finish to the side edge of the plywood, so factor that into you calculations.
  3. If you’re running electrical like I did, you may need to make a cut-out in the seat base to allow for cables. Making these cuts before attaching the seat base will make your life easier (read ahead to the section on electrical).

Attaching the seat to the base

Once you’ve got your rectangles, and you’ve made any additional cuts you’ll need (e.g. electrical cut-out, corner storage door), you’ll want to attach the plywood to your base. You can do this a number of ways, and there probably is a best way, but here’s what I learned:

  • Mark your plywood so you know where you will be able to nail into the base.
  • Run flexible caulk along the surfaces of the base to which you’ll be nailing your plywood. Avoid using glue or anything else that dries brittle, as this will lead to creaking sounds whenever you sit down – I made this mistake.
  • Pre-drill holes where you want to nail.
  • Use some small nails to attach the plywood to the base, ideally using a nail set to sink the nails below the top surface of the wood so that you can late fill them in with wood putty.

Build Phase #3: Backrest

The back is probably the most complicated piece of this whole puzzle, and is actually a lot of fun. In summary, the back consists of the following:

  • 1×2” header and 2×2” footer to secure the ribs to
  • Plywood ribs
  • Backrest base (plywood)

I’ll go through each of these in some detail below.

Header + footer

The header and footer will attach to the wall and bench base, and will provide stability for the vertical ribs. First things first, use a stud-finder and mark the studs in your wall all along the bench length. You’ll want at least two marks:

  1. 2½” above the base (visible right above the 2×2” header)
  2. 17½” above the base (visible right above the 17” tall ribs)

Next, you’ll mount the 1×2” header to the wall. Cut the 1×2” headers to run the full length of each bench segment minus ½” to allow space for the end caps you’ll be adding toward the end. Assuming everything is perfectly level, you should be able to just mark a line across the wall 17” above the seat base, and use this as a guide for the top of your 1×2” header to the wall (long side against the wall). Pre-drill your holes and then screw the header into the wall where you marked your studs earlier.

Header + footer highlighted in red

Next, cut the 2×2” footer just like you did the header. Pre-drill your holes and then screw the footer into the bench base. For added stability, you can also screw the footer into wall using your stud markings. 

At this point you should have your 1×2” header running almost the full length of your bench at 17” above the seat base, as well as your 2×2” footer running the same length right where the seat base meets the wall.

Ribs

The ribs are what provide the actual structural support for the backrest, and they should be solid enough, and spaced closely enough, to minimize flexing of the actual vertical backrest. I used ½” plywood spaced every 1½’. As mentioned above, I wanted about a 105° angle for my backrest, and so my ribs ended up with the following dimensions:

  • Height: 17”
  • Top: 1⅛”
  • Base: 4⅞”

Once you’ve cut all the ribs you’ll need (including one for each end of the bench), you’ll want to make cutouts for the 1×2” and 2×2” headers that you will actually attach the ribs to. Trace the outline of these headers on each rib, and then use a jigsaw to make the cut:

  • The 1×2” header goes at thetopof the rib, and hangs vertically
  • The 2×2” header goes at thebottomof the rib

Lastly, if you are planning on installing electrical outlets in the bench end caps like I did, make sure to drill ½” holes through each rib, centered about 1½” up from the base.

Once your ribs are all cut, you’re ready to secure them to your header and footer. Place your ribs every 1½” as described above, and make sure all your cutouts properly fit your header and footer. Once everything is in place and looking good, you’ll go ahead and pre-drill holes to attach the ribs to the header/footer. At the base, you’ll drill through the side of the rib and into the footer at a 45° compound (doesn’t have to be exact, just whatever lets you fit your drill into this tight space). At the top, the rib is thin enough that you can drill right through the length of the rib. Pre-drill your hole about an inch down from the top of the rib, and then make sure to countersink the hole so that your screw head isn’t protruding above the front face of the rib. You can now go ahead and set your screw and you’ve got your ribs in place!

Electrical

If you are running electrical, now is the time to make that happen before attaching the backrest face. I won’t say much about the electrical specifically because I’m not a licensed electrician, and you really want to make sure you get this part right. Long story short, here’s what I did:

  • Removed an existing wall socket and instead added a new extender box
  • Ran properly-gauged electrical wire from the extender box through the holes I drilled in each set of ribs
  • Installed electrical outlets in each end cap (this is done after the end caps are installed in build phase #5, but worth noting now.

That’s it. The work is really simply, you just want to make sure everything is to code and you don’t burn your house down.

Plywood back

Next up is cutting your plywood to size for the backrest. Measure the exact length of the front face of your ribs – this is how wide your plywood needs to be. You’ll now cut two strips (one for each backrest) that are exactly this wide. 

Note: When making these cuts, you’ll ideally want to set your saw blade to 15°-off-perpendicular to mirror the angle of the backrest and minimize the gap at the bottom and top of the backrest. It’s not the end of the word if you can’t do this however (e.g. if you have Home Depot make the cuts for you), and you can simply fill these gaps with caulk later on.

You should now have two pieces of plywood that are the correctheightfor your backrest, and you now have to cut it to the correctlength.

Note: Since the two pieces of plywood meet at a non-90° angle, there’s a little bit of complexity here, but nothing too bad. We could do a compoun mitre joint, but since this is simply a structural layer, there’s really no need, and it’s much easier to simply abutt one piece of plywood directly against the front face of the other. If you want to do a compound mitre for fun, more power to you.

The first piece can be imprecise, in that it will sit behind the second piece, and any extra will simply be hidden behind the scenes. Take the end of the plywood sheet that will be in the corner (at the intersection of the two benches, and cut it roughly at 15° (note, this won’t match the exact angle of the ribs on the perpendicular bench, but that’s okay for the same reason as mentioned above). Slide the board into place such that it rests flush against the ribs supporting it, and so that the angled end you just cut is tucked nicely in the corner. Make sure that this end of the board is:

  • slid far enough into the corner that it will indeed be overlapped by the perpendicular backrest when that is placed next
  • not blocking any holes you have cut for electrical wire

Once in place, at the other end of the board scribe a line on the backside at the outer edge of the outermost rib. Then cut along this line to finish your first backrest. Pre-drill holes, caulk the bottom edge and the supporting rib faces (to mitigate squeaking), and then screw this backrest into the ribs behind it.

The second backrest requires a little bit more work. Take your sheet of plywood and slide it as far toward the corner as possible, until the bottom corner touches the first backrest you just installed. Ensure the board is pressed tight and flush against the ribs behind it while you follow the next steps.

We now need to scribe the exact angle of the first backrest against the second one. The easiest way to do this is to take a straight-edge and lay it against the second backrest board. Now slide it firmly against the first backrest (the short edge of the straight-edge will now be touching the first backrest). If your straight-edge is wide enough, this will now allow you to scribe a parallel line on the second backrest board. Draw your line and cut. Then follow the same steps as above to cut this board to length and then attach it.

Build Phase #4: Beadboard

Note: I used 3 ft. x 7-1/4 in. x 1/4 in. Vinyl Reversible Panel Wainscot Moulding  from Home Depot, however you can use anything that fits your stylistic preferences.

This step is optional, however I highly recommend it, as it adds a very classic farmhouse look to the finished product. Basically, all of the steps are the exact same as for the plywood with a few call-outs:

  • Beadboard comes tons of different styles and types (e.g. strips vs. sheets) – it’s totally up to you what you want to use.I used strips for this project, and chose to orient them vertically.
  • Unlike the plywood, it arguablydoesmatter how the beadboard lines meet at the corner. I actually didn’t even think about this until it was too late, but I recommend you do as it adds a nice touch. I’d say, either make sure the lines align perfectly, or they’re as far off as possible so it doesn’t look like you just barely missed the mark.
  • When attaching the beadboard to the plywood base, use finishing screws instead of nails, which will be less obvious later. You’ll also want to use plenty of caulk spread nice and thin to assure the board is nicely secured.

Build Phase #5: End Caps + Trim + Finish

To finish everything off, we’ll first add some nice end caps to either side of the bench to hide the unfinished edges of our backrest base and beadboard. Take a square piece of the ½” plywood that’s at least 17” x 6”, and place it flush against the outer face of the outermost rib on one end of your bench. Ensure the bottom edge is flush against the seat base, and the inner face is flush against the rib. Now, on the inside face, trace a line along the outer perimeter of the abutting rib and the front face of the beadboard. Cut out this profile and verify that it precisely covers the outer rib and unfinished edges of the backrest base and beadboard. Once that’s done, attach it with finishing nails to the outermost rib, and repeat all of these steps for the other end cap as well.

Next up is the top rail, which I’ve designed to overhang the top of the backrest by an ⅛” or so to augment that farmhouse look. My math worked out such that a 2½” x ½” strip worked great, but you may have to finesse things a bit depending on the thickness of your beadboard. Go ahead and cut to length so that you have two pieces that meet nicely in the corner (a miter looks great, but a square abutment will work just fine too) and sit flush right in alignment with the end caps you just put in place. Use finishing nails to attach these to the top of the header/ribs they’re resting on.

Next comes the facing trim that sits atop the beadboard in hides the final exposed edge (the front edge of the end cap. I used some primed 2½” x ⅜” trim from Home Depot as it had the nice shallow profile I was looking for. You don’t want something too tall otherwise it might be a bit uncomfortable to sit against. Follow the designs below, and simply attach your trim with a bit of evenly spread caulk and finishing nails.

You bench is now structurally complete! You can now sand and paint the whole thing, caulk any noticeable gaps between the frame and the wall/floor, and kabam – you’re all done! Enjoy your new seating and storage!

The Final Product

After finally sanding/priming/painting, caulking, and adding some nice brass drawer pulls, I am really happy with the final product:

I really hope someone out there finds this helpful! I had a ton of fun researching and building this bench seating, and hopefully my learnings can support you in your own build.

Please let me know if there are any questions or pieces of feedback that come up as you dive in – I’d love to update the post to clarify any missing pieces. Good luck, and happy building!

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