Per-‘suede’ Me…

When I bought my dining room table it didn’t have a top. Someone had damaged it so badly in the shop that they were only selling the base. So why did I buy it? I didn’t want a glass top, but I did want an interesting base, so it suited my needs quite well. Until recently I’ve had a piece of MDF covered in a table cloth masquerading as a finished table. I knew I’d eventually decide what to do with it… but that took a lot longer than I thought.

table top

Initially I decided I wanted a zinc covered table top. I really love the colour and texture of zinc, but I bought my son a metal desk and his hands are like ice every time he uses his laptop on it. So bang went that idea and compounded by the fact that I had metal chairs, it all seemed to be a bit ‘cold’ for leisurely dining. For an age I dithered about what I would cover the top with ( you can see a theme here, can’t you, very decisive for clients, not so much for myself…) and then I found this enormous leather hide at a trade fair and that was it, the eureka moment. I’d have a leather table top.

That piece of leather – the size of two bathtubs side by side – has sat in my cupboard for nearly two years. Last weekend it made its appearance and let me tell you, it’s not what I thought I’d do!

We tried the vast piece of leather over the table like a cloth and something was missing, I wasn’t quite as excited as I thought I’d be at the idea of a leather top. Quite by chance I flipped it over and the suede underside was so tactile, so soft and strokeable that it was hard to think about the practicalities…

And guess what, I decided not to be practical! Okay, okay, I’m always saying to weigh the pros and cons, but I’m a designer, dreaming up ideas is what I do!

So here’s how to create a leather (or suede) covered table top. First of all, the table top will need to have a thickness, by adding a strip of wood – 2×1 is what we used – to edge the underside you give the appearance of a really chunky top.

table top

Wood glue and screwfix in place. Sand it lightly and wipe away all the dust. Lay the covering over the table and move it around until you like the position – leather and suede have natural flaws, so if there are any patches you’re not particularly fond of, try and have them in a spot where they’re not so obvious. Then with a really sharp Stanley knife, trim the excess skin away. Leave an overhang of about 2cm all the way around. Roll the trimmed covering onto a cardboard tube (from a roll of fabric). This will help you get it even when you start to smooth it onto the glue.

positioning the skin

Using a contact adhesive, either spread or spray the glue over the table top, starting at one end and working in strips along the length of the table. As soon as the glue is ready, line up the first edge of the skin and gently stretch it to cover and smooth out the surface. This stage is really a two man job. One of you needs to work in sweeping motions to avoid creating air pockets and the other needs to unroll the skin from the tube with an even tension so that the skin doesn’t attach itself to the glue accidentally. Lay the skin on top of the already adhered section and continue to apply the glue in strips over the rest of the table.

selecting the adhesive

When the surface is covered, use a hard roller – a rolling pin will do – and with an even pressure, work the surface to create a smooth, even bond. This is why it’s important to stretch the skin as you apply it, if its uneven, it will bunch up under the rolling pin. Not good.

a laminate roller

Now for the up stand. Apply the glue evenly along the end of the up stand and gently stretch and smooth the skin to cover the glue. We worked in a clockwise motion and moved around the table from end to side to end and side. The important thing to remember is that any excess skin needs to find its way to the corners as they will be glued together and then cut off when the glue has become firm.

trimming the edge of the skin

When the up stand is dry trim the lower edge. We decided to add upholstery tacks to the lower edge for a decorative finish, but the glue is firm enough not to need it – if you don’t have people who will sit at the table and fiddle with the edges (which I do.)

And there you have it, a table that looks so much more glamorous than the one I started out with.

suede table top

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