Triad Stage’s production of Wait Until Dark was set in a hip and modern New York City apartment circa 1963. The kind of furniture it required was not easily found in your typical antique store, nor was it cheap to come by. One key piece we needed was a sleek upholstered settee; with the stage in a thrust configuration, it needed to be low-profile as well. A settee like this easily cost as much as my entire props budget, so I had to build it from scratch.
I started off by building the basic shape out of plywood, with wooden tapered legs. A lot of the challenge here was thinking forward to how I would upholster and attach all the parts. It’s easy to work yourself into a corner if you don’t plan ahead; you may end up covering a bolt with a piece of fabric, but you cannot attach the bolt until the fabric is on. It can be quite the brain-twister.
I then began covering the plywood with upholstery foam, followed by batting. The cushioning was a lot more stiff than what you may typically find in a settee, since actors tend to sink into soft cushioning, making it harder to stand up quickly. I find myself reinforcing and stiffening a lot of upholstered furniture for this reason, so I just built this settee to be somewhat stiff from the get-go.
I was lucky to have the costume shop pitch in and help me with the fabric parts. Once I found a fabric the designer approved of, my intern cut all the pieces, and the costume shop made all the piping and stitched the pieces together. All I had to do was staple it on.
This particular settee had some buttons, so I got to try button tufting for the first time. It only had nine buttons laid out in a simple grid, so it was relatively easy to figure out. The cushions on top were attached by bolting through the settee into the plywood below. Again, that was only possible by planning it all out ahead.
So there is the final piece with all the fabric attached. It was very much a group project, with the other people at Triad chipping in, as well as my wife giving me a crash-course in upholstery as I built this. The result was a piece of furniture that helped give the set the right touch.