Ring, Ring, Check Out This Telephone Gossip Bench! – Part I

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Gossip Bench

Join Lori Haught, Woodcraft Marketing Manager and Woodworking Adventures Blogger, for Part I of a three-part series on refurbishing a unique thrift store find — a Telephone Gossip Bench.

For this project, I wanted to try out our new General Finishes Pearl Effects, used with the popular General Finishes Java Gel Stain.  I also re-covered the bench cushion and added an inlay on the desk’s top. Follow this three-part series to see the transformation of this unique find!

Gossip Bench

What is a Gossip Bench?

A few months ago, I stumbled upon this treasure in a thrift store and knew I had to have it for an upcycling project. Somehow, I recognized exactly what this funky-shaped little piece of furniture was — this adorable seat-and-table combination is a relic from rotary-dial days called a gossip bench, telephone bench or a telephone table. A gossip bench includes a seat of some sort with an attached side table, sometimes with built-in storage like drawers, a magazine rack or a little cubby-hole. A lamp and telephone might typically have been placed on the tabletop, with a phone book, notepad or directory stored in the drawer.

I recently saw a gossip bench on the popular HGTV show “Flea Market Flip” selling for $220 after being refurbished, so they’re not as obscure as you might think.

Gossip benches have been around since shortly after the telephone was invented, but really became trendy in the 1940’s and 50’s, when women were primarily housewives and husbands were away from home. Technological improvements brought the telephone down off the wall but still attached to the wall, thus necessitating a small table for ease of use. Your grandmother may have had one of these tables in the hallway or near the kitchen where the phone was plugged in. Perhaps the phone was even a party line, a cultural fixture of rural areas for many decades, which provided no privacy in communications and proved to be a source of entertainment and gossip in the mid-century.

Gossip Bench


Now, let’s get started on the transformation! After assessing that the gossip bench was sturdy, and no repairs were necessary, I went to work. The bench remained intact throughout the upgrade, with the exception of the long screws holding the seat. I removed the screws, making sure to save them to re-attach the cushion, and took the seat off to later reupholster. An overall hand sanding to remove the “shine” off the wood is all that was necessary to get ready for paint.

An interesting note, as I was sanding, you could really smell the “old” in the wood — kind of a musty aroma. Using a shop rag and a toothbrush for small areas, I knocked the dust off and set the bench aside for a few days until I could get back to the shop.

Gossip Bench


The options at the fabric store were endless, but keeping in mind that I needed a thicker “upholstery grade” material to re-cover the seat, that narrowed my focus somewhat. By pure coincidence, I came out of JoAnn Fabric with what looked very similar to the original material, but I was okay with that. Honestly, it took me longer to select the fabric than it did to re-cover the cushion!

I also purchased Airtex High Density Foam for the chair pad in a pre-cut size (1″ x 15″ x 17″), a small package (one yard) of fleece quilt batting (or padding), and one yard of inexpensive muslin fabric.

The first step was to remove the old upholstery. Using a flat screwdriver and a pair of pliers, I removed the staples to take off the old cushion fabric and padding. The wooden seat underneath was in good shape, but this would have been the time to cut out a new seat if not.

I traced the outline of the wooden seat onto the foam and cut with a sharp pair of scissors. Two layers of batting were measured next, allowing 3- 4″ overhang on all sides. This went between the foam and the fabric to soften the shape of the foam. Incidentally, I used two layers simply because I had it, and it provided just a smidge more fluff for the seat.

Product Manager Ben Bice stopped by as I was working on this step, so he provided a helping hand so I could photograph the process.

Layering first with the batting, then foam, then the wooden seat, we were then ready to attach it all on the underside of the seat.

Using a hand stapler, we stapled two opposite sides of the batting, pulling taut without stretching. Once secure, the other two sides were stapled. Taking special care at the corners was critical since this cushion fits up against three legs of the bench.

We attached the new fabric following the same steps. This part was somewhat like wrapping a gift, only we used fabric and staples instead of paper and tape. 

Re-Covering the Cushion

1. Remove old upholstery.
2. Cut new foam and batting.

3. Staple batting tightly into place.

4. Repeat same step for fabric.

Optional: Cover underside of seat with muslin.

Gossip Bench

Even though it won’t be seen unless the bench is flipped over, I wanted to cover up the staples under the seat for a more professional, polished look. After ironing out the wrinkles in the muslin fabric, I doubled it and secured it with hot glue about 1/2″ from the edge, so no raw edges of fabric were showing.

TA DA! Here is the completed seat cushion finished with new padding and fabric! Now, wait til you see the rest of the project!

Read Parts II and III in this series to see how to inlay a marquetry pattern and to learn about General Finishes Java Gel stain and Pearl Effects paint. 

We hope you’ll be inspired! 

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