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…”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.