Upholstered Headboard with Nailhead Trim Tutorial

Our bedroom has been in great need of some design TLC for years now.  I’ve had lots of ideas swimming around in my head for an old-Hollywood-chic style redo with lots of silver, white, and grey; maybe something like this or this.  But it all hinged on finding a silver comforter, and I just COULD NOT find one I liked and could afford, so our bedroom has sat in a rather ugly, unromantic state for several years now.  Until one day the stars aligned, and I finally found one!  Once that central piece was on the bed, all the orbiting things I wanted to redo not only stuck out like sore thumbs, but were finally worth doing!

I’d been drooling over upholstered headboards with nailhead trim, and since they cost approximately one arm, one foot, and your firstborn child, I decided I would make one myself (said the little red hen).  I spent moooooonths on Pinterest and google researching how to do it and trying to screw up my courage, and that shiny new comforter finally provided the extra push I needed to take a deep breath and give it a go.  Here’s what we did.

First, I used blue painters tape above our bed to help myself picture how tall and what shape I wanted it to be.   We wanted to be able to read in bed, and I really wanted to be able to nurse in bed when baby arrives, so we made sure it was taller than our heads when we were sitting on the bed.  We left the tape up for several days to make sure it was what we wanted, then measured: it was about 56 inches high in the center.

Painters tape to help decide on size and shape

Painters tape to help decide on size and shape

I looked online for “standard” width measurements for a queen-size headboard, and found they varied between 60-64 inches.  The bedframe is 60 inches, but since we have a poofy comforter, I didn’t want the headboard to look too narrow behind it, so I decided to add 2 inches on each side.  One very important thing to consider at this point is whether you want to have legs on your headboard or hang it on the wall.  I really didn’t want to gouge huge holes in the wall, so we opted for legs.  If you want legs on yours, make sure to look at how your bedframe is designed to attach to a headboard so you make sure the width is compatible with your frame!

So, our base measurements were 56 inches high by 64 inches wide.

Next, decide what shape you want.  This project would have been easy-peasy if I had wanted a square shape, but of course I fell in love with this “Cavendish” shape.  The curves made this project A LOT more difficult, but if you’re in love with a non-square shape, take heart—it is possible, even for someone with zero carpentry experience like me!

Then the question of fabric came up.  I knew I wanted white, but with dogs and kids I was terrified to do a fabric that might stain.  I could just see doing all this work building it and then having it ruined with a big spot in the middle of it that I’d never be able to wash out.  I LOVE leather furniture with nailhead trim, so I went to a bunch of stores looking for a soft, high quality faux leather in pure white that would be easy to clean.  I ended up choosing a “marine vinyl” because it has a strong backing, and if you’re using nailhead trim you need something that won’t tear easily.  Marine vinyl fit that bill; I just had to look until I found one that was soft and looked like leather, not a cheap diner seat….

So, here is the materials list:

  • 4×8 foot sheet of 15/32 (half inch) thick plywood ($33.97)
  • 2 1/4 yards white marine vinyl ($22.94 after 40% off coupon from Joann Fabric)
  • 2 1/4 yards of 8oz cotton batting ($14.31, also from Joann Fabric using 40% off coupon)
  • 30 x 70 inch sheet of 2-inch medium density upholstery foam ($28.70)
  • 7 packs of smooth nickel nailhead trim tacks ($13.93)
  • Wood screws
  • Wood glue
  • Rubber mallet
  • Jigsaw
  • Electric carving knife
  • Clamps
  • Cardboard
  • Staple gun

Total: ($113.85)

That’s still a decent chunk of change for a DIY project, but to put it in perspective, most of the ones I looked at online were in the $500.00-$800.00 range!

To create a template for the curved shape, I flattened a cardboard box and sketched one side of the curve, then held it up above the bed to get a good look at it.  This step is really important; I was surprised how different it looked above the bed and made several changes before I liked it.  Once I was satisfied, I cut it out, lined up the edge of the template with the center of the plywood and traced one side, then flipped my template over and traced the other side (this ensures it is symmetrical).  Save this template, as you’ll need it later for the foam.

Tracing the template for the top curve, with my trusty sidekick Knightley.

Tracing the template for the top curve, with my trusty sidekick Knightley.

I wanted to use foam to make it extra cushy, but since the nailhead trim isn’t long enough to go through two inches of foam, I had to make a frame on the outside of the plywood to nail the nailheads into.  (If you don’t want nailhead trim, you can just have foam go all the way to the edge of the plywood and skip the frame.)  My foam was 2 inches thick, so I decided to make the frame 1.5 inches thick to give it a smoother look.

(In retrospect, I don’t think I needed foam this thick; in fact I wish I’d used thinner foam and more batting so we’d “sink in” a little deeper when we sit against it, rather than it being so firm.  I’d probably use 1 inch foam if I did it again, and maybe low-density instead of medium.)

I could have bought 1 inch thick MDF to build the frame out of, but I was really trying to save money on materials, so I decided to use the extra plywood for the frame.  I wanted the frame to be three inches wide and 1.5 inches thick all around to give me plenty of room to nail the nailhead trim into.  Since the plywood was 1/2 inch thick, we needed two more layers to make the frame 1.5 inches thick.  My brilliant husband is quite good at math and spacial reasoning, so he figured out how to cut the plywood, and this is the result.  I know it looks bonkers, but let me explain.

The cuts we made in the 4x8' sheet of plywood

The cuts we made in the 4×8′ sheet of plywood

First we asked the hardware store to cut the plywood to 64 inches wide.  Then, they cut the remainder into ten 3-inch wide pieces.  These were for the legs and the sides of the frame.  To make the curved parts of the frame, I used my template to trace the curve onto the top of the plywood, then moved it down three inches from the center and traced again, then did that again so it looked like this:

Cut lines for the top of the frame

Cut lines for the top of the frame

Next we broke out the jigsaw.  I have an irrational love of power tools, but I confess I’m a little scared of them, especially ones with sharp blades that could cut off my fingers.  But, once I made my husband do the first cut and saw him manage to keep his fingers intact, I got brave and gave it a go myself, and oooooh was it fun (insert maniacal laugh sound effect).

Once everything was cut, we layered the two curved top pieces onto the top of the plywood base.  They were each 1/2 inch thick, so combined with the back it made the frame 1.5 inches thick.  We glued in between each layer and used wood screws (screwed from the back so the screw heads wouldn’t get in the way of the nailhead trim) to secure them together.  Then we sanded the top with a power sander to get it smooth.  Being our first tries with a jigsaw, our cuts weren’t perfect, so we did a lot of sanding.  It still wasn’t perfect, but you can’t tell in the final product.  (Whew!)

The beginning of the frame that will surround the foam

The beginning of the frame that will surround the foam

Next, we layered the side/leg pieces on, two on each side.  The legs were (of course) longer than the plywood base, so the part where they hung off the base was only one inch thick.  To fix this, we cut another piece for each leg to make the legs 1.5 inches thick all the way down.

You can see how the legs were thinner than the rest of the base, so we put one more 1/2 inch strip on top here so it was all 1.5 inches thick

You can see how the legs were thinner than the rest of the base, so we put one more 1/2 inch strip on top here so it was all 1.5 inches thick

Then we laid another two pieces on the bottom of the frame between the legs, gluing and screwing them together from the back to the front.  One note: we wouldn’t have needed to go to all the trouble to build the frame if I had either not used foam or not used nailhead trim.  But, those were both important to me, so we went for it.

And voila: a headboard with a frame!  Just to be sure, we set it up behind the bed to make extra sure that it fit and we liked it before we started cutting the foam and vinyl.  The legs were a little longer than we wanted, so we cut 2 inches off the bottom of each.  This made it 56 inches high in the center (the upholstered part was 41 inches tall, plus 15 inch legs).

The headboard with the frame to nail the nailhead trim into

The headboard with the frame to nail the nailhead trim into

Sketch of the measurements

Sketch of the measurements

Next we cut the foam to fit inside the frame.  My husband again did the math for the foam, which was longer than we needed but not tall enough (there was pretty much zero chance of me figuring out that a 30″x70″ sheet of foam would fit inside a 64″x56″ headboard minus a 3 inch border, but Mr. Math Whiz had no trouble with it).  So, first he laid it longways and cut it down the middle from top to bottom, then turned those pieces vertically.  This made it tall enough, so then we just trimmed off the top into the curved shape.

The foam sheet was wider than we needed but not tall enough.

The foam sheet was wider than we needed but not tall enough.

He cut it in half....

He cut it in half….

Then rotated them so they were vertical

Then rotated the halves so they were vertical and trimmed to fit

I used my cardboard template to trace the curve for the top, then cut it with an electric carving knife (like you’d use to carve a turkey).  I had read that it was impossible to cut the foam smoothly with scissors or a knife, so I borrowed an electric knife from a sweet friend, and I was SO GLAD I did!  It cut the foam perfectly.  I tried to cut one area with scissors and it was a disaster:

This is how it looked when I tried to cut with scissors instead of the electric knife!

This is how it looked when I tried to cut with scissors instead of the electric knife!

I’d bought a spray adhesive to stick it to the plywood, but it didn’t hold.  Next I tried hot glue, but again it wasn’t strong enough.  In the end, our cuts were exact enough that it stayed without glue anyway. Even though the frame was 1.5 inches thick, it still looked like a big drop from the 2 inch foam (on top of 1/5 inch thick plywood) to the frame, so I cut off the edges of the foam at a 45 degree angle to make them look smoother under the fabric.

Big difference between the foam and the frame

Big difference between the foam and the frame

So I trimmed it at a 45 degree angle so it would have a smoother look

So I trimmed the edges at a 45 degree angle so it would have a smoother look

Next, we laid the batting flat on the floor, then laid the headboard foam-side-down on top of it.  Starting with the top center, I pulled the foam over the top and stapled it.  You want to pull it tight so it hugs the curves without wrinkles.  I did the top, then the bottom, checked for wrinkles, and then stapled the sides and trimmed the excess.

The back, with the batting stapled and the excess trimmed

The back, with the batting stapled and the excess trimmed

Then we laid the vinyl on the floor right-side-down, laid the headboard batting-side-down on top of it and repeated the pulling and stapling process.  This took two of us: one to hold it tightly in place and one to staple.  I stapled the bottom first so that I could pull the top tight around the curves.  We found the easiest way to make the curves smooth was to pull the center of the curve tight, staple, then pull very tight and staple out to the edges of the curve.  This took a lot of time, checks for wrinkles, and hard pulling.

Lay the fabric/vinyl on the floor and the headboard foam/batting side down, then pull it over top and staple

Lay the fabric/vinyl on the floor and the headboard on top of it with the foam/batting down, then pull the fabric over the top and staple

The we flipped it over and—wonder of wonders!—we had an upholstered headboard!  But of course we couldn’t stop there: it was time for the nailhead trim.  First we had to decide how far apart to space the nailheads.  This picture is of them placed with the center of the tacks 1/2 inch, 3/4 inch, and 1 inch apart.  We decided we liked them 3/4 inches apart best.

Spacing options

Spacing options

I was really worried about getting them straight, so I tried some tests on the bottom first, since it would be hidden by the mattress.  (Keep in mind, if you are using vinyl you cannot remove the nailheads or you’ll see the hole, so make sure you test in a spot that won’t show!)  You can buy nailhead trim kits where the nailheads are connected in a strip and you just nail in every 5 nails, but I thought these looked more DIY and less high-end than when each nail is separated, so I opted for individual nails.  I measured 3/4 inches apart and made an indentation with a nail to mark where they should go, then hammered the nailheads in with a rubber mallet (rather than a hammer, which might dent/scratch the nailheads).

To my dismay, they looked completely crooked.  I pulled them out and discovered that the nailheads were bending as I hammered them in, which made them appear crooked even though the holes were in a straight line.  I tried again and again, but could only get about 1 in 5 to go in without bending.  They just weren’t strong enough to pierce the plywood.  I was CRUSHED, since the nailhead trim was my favorite part of the plan, but I knew having them completely crooked would drive me bonkers.  What to do?  Collapse in a sobbing heap and relegate this DIY project to the category of epic failure?

This was the point where my wonderful, loving, servant-hearted, knight-in-shining-armor husband came to my rescue before I completely melted down into a puddle of crying, dispairing, DIY-failing wife.  He found a strong nail that was slightly thinner than the nailheads and—if you can believe this—measured, marked, and then drove the nail into every.single.hole where I’d need a nailhead.  Then he pulled the nail out again, and I followed behind him and hammered the nailheads into the holes.  It worked PERFECTLY.  He spent HOURS doing this for me and completely wore out his hands hammering the nail in and then yanking it out with pliers.  That, folks, is LOVE!

Hubby used a yardstick and a nail to mark where each hole should go

Hubby used a yardstick and a nail to mark where each hole should go.  If you look carefully you can just see the nail marks

I did not use the nailhead trim on the bottom, since it would be hidden by the mattress anyway.

Then, we carried it into the bedroom and placed it behind the bed.  We decided not to attach it to the frame, since with the mattress pushed against it it’s not going anywhere.  And here you have the finished product!

Done!

Done!

So pretty!

So pretty!

Here you can see how thick and comfy it is

Here you can see how thick and comfy it is

I love, love, LOVE it.  It will pop even better someday when we have our own home and can paint the wall behind it a moody, romantic grey (maybe something like this), but I still think it’s pretty spectacular.  I also love it with the sunburst mirror, which I found while we were building the headboard.  I’d been looking at them for months, but they can easily run several hundred dollars, which was definitely not in my budget.  So I went to a craft store to look for materials to make one, and saw this beauty.  Thanks to a sale, a mismarked price tag, my most pleading/pitiful expression and a gracious store manager, I scored it for $22.50!!  Probably less than the materials would have cost me to make one.  I’ve never been so excited–except maybe when we hung it up above our gorgeous new headboard.

Love the nailhead trim and sunburst mirror together

Love the nailhead trim and sunburst mirror together

I still have tons more ideas for the bedroom makeover, like to paint the wall grey and stencil it like this gorgeous room from Centsational Girl’s blog, and to paint our orangy wood dressers something like this or this, and find more ways to add some old-Hollywood-glam sparkle here and there, and….  My husband looks tired and pitiful every time I start talking about all the projects I have in mind.  🙂

If you want to try your hand at an upholstered headboard (which I recommend!) here are some other blog posts that I found helpful:

Running from the Law‘s tutorial (good explanation of how and why to do the frame)

Chic on a Shoestring’s tutorial (good list of things to consider before starting)

Centsational Girl’s tutorial (I love her design style!)

Design Sponge (great video tutorial for all you visual learners)

So, what do you think of it?

Done!

Now, on to the next project!

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8 thoughts on “Upholstered Headboard with Nailhead Trim Tutorial

    • Thank you so much! It was a lot of work but none of it was particularly difficult, and I love, love, love the final result. I hope you give it a try; if you do please come back and post a picture of your finished headboard!

  1. I LOVE the inset frame! I had’nt’ thought of that, but on my own, I wonder if I have the strength to finish and complete this! A lot of wood cutting — and I don’t have the husband around, lol. Really nice

    • You can do it! Ask the hardware store to do the major cuts for you (most of them will do it for free). The most complicated cutting I had to do was the curve, but you could easily simplify that by leaving it a square or even cutting two notches from the corners with a straight top. Or just buy thicker wood to begin with and you’ll have fewer cuts and you can completely skip the layering. You can do it! Please come back and let me know how it goes! 🙂

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