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Help Me with an Eames Chair Restoration Project

August 20, 2015

We're on the edge of our seats—the seats of new-to-us Eames shell chairs.

This past weekend was an all-around winner: I got to hang out with college friends (and our growing clan of children), enjoy a ridiculous view of Lake Michigan, run on the beach—AND I scored a pair of Eames chairs. 

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For free.

One of my best friends has an uncanny knack for finding the most incredible treasures—I’m convinced her good luck is a karmic reward for her kind and generous countenance. Case in point: After we ducked out for evening vacation essentials (Wild Turkey, candy, and artisanal bread), she was giving me a tour of the one-stoplight town and spotted 4 of these chairs. We pulled over. Even in the dark, we both immediately knew what we were looking at, but we flipped over one of the chairs anyway and promptly confirmed our suspicions (1, below). We were about to become the proud owners of iconic Eames Molded Fiberglass Side Chairs.

My friend insisted on running up to the house to make sure they were really giving them away for free while I stayed on the side of the road screeching at her not to do that—convinced they’d get suspicious about what they were giving away and change their minds (further proof of her good karmic standing versus mine). 

Eames Chair Eames Chair

As you can see, the legs have a great deal of rust on them (2, above), but overall the shells are in pretty good condition. They only have minor cosmetic issues, like flecks of paint (3, above), small scrapes (4, below), and minor chips (5, below).

I've refinished furniture before, so I'm not a complete DIY newbie, but I've never dealt with rust or fiberglass, so I need your guidance! Are the legs salvageable? I've heard it's easier to find Eames chair legs than shells. Since I'm planning on using and enjoying them, not selling them (so I'm not worried about the resale value), should I look for new bases rather than deal with the rust? Or would new legs be blasphemous? And what would be the best way to take care of the fiberglass shell?

Eames Chairs Eames Chair

What course of action would you recommend? Help me out in the comments below and I'll report back with updates! 

10 Comments

Caroline February 8, 2016
I'm a little late to the game but you can buy authentic replacement bases from Modernica: http://modernica.net/fiberglass-shell-chairs/seat-bases-and-pads/ I bought a few to convert my shell chairs to counter stools and they are prefect!
 
Cheri M. September 8, 2015
Think surf board makers they might have tips, & help you easy riders!<br />Good luck they are cool
 
Katy B. August 23, 2015
You may want to contact Herman Miller and see if they can offer advice also. Best of luck with your super find!!
 
John August 22, 2015
The URL is stupid, but the guide is thorough: http://chairfag.com/?p=3<br /><br />I found it while eyeing an Eames restoration of my own. Good luck!
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. August 21, 2015
Thank you all, I really appreciate the suggestions!
 
Bella B. August 20, 2015
I have no idea on what to do, but you are so lucky!<br /><br />xoxoBella | http://xoxobella.com
 
Sam1148 August 20, 2015
An autobody shop might be able restore the legs. They use a 'chemical sandblasting' technique to restore rusted metal. This is also something good to know if you run into a very rusted old cast iron pans. <br />Sometimes there's a mark on the legs of chairs of this nature that is 'authentic' It's probably best for future generation to keep that intact.
 
Chzplz August 20, 2015
Another great guide for the fibreglass is here: http://chairfag.com/?p=3
 
monica August 20, 2015
I don't have advice about the bases, but Morgan Satterfield good instructions on how to refinish the Fiberglas shells at: http://www.the-brick-house.com/2009/07/eames-chair-restoration-2/
 
amysarah August 20, 2015
Congrats on scoring the Eames chairs! RE blasphemy - these chairs have been in continuous production since the 1950's, so assuming yours are of a fairly recent vintage, I wouldn't worry about preserving 'original' value by tampering. It's possible to re-chrome things - but that could actually be more costly than purchasing a new frame. I'd call Hermann Miller (manufacturer) directly, or a dealer like Design Within Reach, to get info about factory replacement/repairs. Beware: there are LOTS of knock offs on the market, so if you buy a new base, make sure it's the real thing - to avoid any dimensional discrepancies, quality issues, etc.