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Saving the Eames Shell Chairs

One Saturday morning on the way to go a garage sale, I spotted three padded Eames armshell chairs in a lot filled with junk. They were the kind attached together to the spider bases with a little side table. By word of mouth, I found out that the lot belonged to my coworker. He gave them to me at no charge, asking why I wanted these junk chairs. I simply told him that I liked the style of the chairs – he looked at me funny and said “okay…” 

Free To a Good Home

Free To a Good Home

The chairs were in pretty bad shape. The upholsteries were ripped at the bottom exposing the faded fiberglass shells. I could tell that the back of the chairs were once red, but they were also faded. I had seen people restoring these chairs, so I thought I could give them a try. I had a three day Memorial Day weekend ahead of me with no plans anyway, so this would be my good weekend project. I found a good website called “chairfag.com.” Although their step-by-step restoration tutorial was not for a padded chair, they offered a lot of useful information. I used it as my guidance. 

Can I Save It?

Can I Save It?

First, the chairs were removed from the base. The screws were so rusted and two of them broke off and stuck in the screw holes on one chair. It seemed that two of the chairs were in slightly better condition. The third chair had more rips on the upholstery than the other two. I decided to work on one of the better condition chairs. One of the chairs had a sticker still attached that read “Date of Delivery…117-75.” So these chairs are 34 years old.

Herman Miller Tags

Herman Miller Tags

I started the restoration process by removing the naugahyde vinyl upholstery. Some websites said to remove it carefully so that you could use it to make a pattern to reupholster later, but since the fabric was torn so badly I didn’t think reupholstering it was my option. I thought of saving the fabric to make my own naugahyde monster though. Under the vinyl was the sponge pad, which was glued onto the chair. Glue was dried out in some areas and the pad came off easily. Glue was stuck to the pad in the other areas. I tried to avoid using any chemicals, so I first tried to peel the glue residue by rubbing it with a wet towel. To my surprise, a lot of them came off that way. The really gunky area, I saturated the area with non-toxic, citrus based glue remover. It also worked well.

The Naked Shell

The Naked Shell

After getting all the gunky stuff removed, I gave the chair a sponge bath with baking soda. I could not get the embedded dirt out of the fiberglass. I also tried Oxiclean spray and it lifted a little bit of dirt out of the fiberglass, but not all. A good sponge bath revealed the original color and shine of the chair except the bottom part. The bottom part that was exposed to the weather for who knows how long was totally faded. I worked on the remaining two chairs and the results were the same. Now I have three red and white two-toned Eames chairs!

Before and After

Before and After

I already have three Eames shell chairs in my house and don’t really have a room for another three chairs. I decided these chairs would look nice on my porch. I even have three extra H-bases sitting in my shed – PERFECT!!! I spent about four hours on each chair cleaning it up. My neighbors watched me fighting with these two-toned chairs all weekend probably thought I was a nut. Who cares? I am very happy with the result and the fact that I saved these chairs from the junk yard and gave them a good home. They are sitting on my porch now awaiting for some cushions to cover the faded bottoms.

Restored Eames Chairs

Restored Eames Chairs

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9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Saving the Eames Shell Chairs”

  1. Muoion 28 Jul 2009 at 9:52 pm

    The chairs looks great! I just bought (on Craigslist) an Eames padded side chair with an H-base but it’s missing a glide. Um, you wouldn’t happen to have an extra glide, would you? =)

  2. adminon 04 Aug 2009 at 3:44 pm

    No, I don’t – I’m sorry 🙁 Have you checked eBay?

  3. Kristion 18 Feb 2010 at 9:43 am

    Wow thanks! I saw an old padded shell chair thrown out in someone’s yard about a year ago, asked the old lady that lived there if I could buy it but she refused any money and just gave it to me! I was so excited even though it was quite dirty looking. I’ve been begging my dad to help me figure out how to get the material off and fix it up and whatnot and he thinks I’m crazy! This is really gonna help me 😀

  4. amandaon 16 Mar 2010 at 9:36 pm

    Very inspirational. Bidding on a few now on ebay and none are in this poor of condition. Yours look divine and what a feat rescuing this poor souls from a landfill!

  5. zacharyon 26 Mar 2010 at 10:20 pm

    glad our website tutorial helped you with your ‘3 on a tree’ and orange rocker restorations..

    new glides CAN be found thru the UK- graham mancha
    or the usa- Hume modern

    zach matthews
    chairfag.com

  6. Joeon 19 May 2010 at 10:19 pm

    Those look great! I am actually in the process of doing the same thing and I have a couple questions.

    1) Is there a Herman Miller stamp on the chairs? Mine have a 4 digit # stamp but no tags or HM logo. There is also a long oval-ish sticker with all the writing worn off.

    2) Do you know where to get a seat pad for them? Were you going to make them? Try Saarinen pads?

    Hope to hear from somebody!
    -Joe

  7. adminon 20 May 2010 at 8:07 pm

    Hi, Joe – Thanks for your comment.

    1) I have six shells and they all have the HM logos.
    2) I am thinking about making a pad soon. I don’t know any retailers in the US sell the pads – I’ve seen a pad for sale in Japan though…

    Sorry I can help you… If I make a pad and it works well, I will post some pictures.

  8. Oliveron 31 Jan 2011 at 5:23 pm

    Hey, nice work. Do you still have that long metal base you found the chairs on?

  9. adminon 31 Jan 2011 at 9:57 pm

    Oliver – no, I didn’t save the metal base. It was very rusty, so I took it to the scrap yard to be recycled.

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