yet another eames shell restoration

A little back story to get us started here:

About a month ago I came across another great find on Craigslist. The owner of a music shop nearby was trying to clear out the storage area in his basement under the store. He told me about a guy who used to rent his space as a place to store antique finds and old audio equipment. The guy moved to California without notice and left a few items behind, so up on Craigslist they went. For $125 I walked out with an Eames tandem shell chair bench, a black Saarinen Executive leather/fabric upholstered chair, and the shell you see below along with an H-base I am not using... yet.

Before I get started, I want to thank Morgan at The Brick House, the people at Chairfag, and the guys at Manhattan Nest for posting extremely helpful tutorials on fiberglass chair restoration. Hopefully, I can add a thing or two that can make things easier for anyone else out there about to tackle this project.

So here's what I was working with. Black naugahyde upholstered shell with cream-colored fiberglass. The cover had several scratches, stains, and cigarette burns, and the shock mounts were missing completely.

First step: Rip that shitty upholstery off. Grab a dust mask and go at it like you're pissed. You can be pretty rough on these things with fiberglass being a pretty strong material. Once you get the upholstery off you'll arrive at the smelly, frightening sight below (left).

Mold. Cigarette burns. The smell of 40-year old industrial strength adhesive. As tempting as it may be, don't give up now! To get down to the adhesive, I found once again that simply using your hands is the easiest and quickest way to get results. Forcefully rub the foam with your fingers starting at an edge where there's little to no foam. Once you get the right technique it'll start coming off pretty quick... Then you arrive at the scene above (right). I found that using an orbital sander worked GREAT for getting the dried-up glue off the surface of the chair.

Now, so I don't get sued for some idiot getting cancer: Be sure to where a face mask to protect your lungs, along with long sleeves and pants to keep from getting itchy. Fiberglass isn't something to play around with. Have you ever installed or removed fiberglass insulation? Same stuff floating around in the air here.

NOW, you can start seeing the light at the end of the dusty, smelly tunnel. I found that using 120 grit sand paper seemed to work good for removing the adhesive on the front, and previous finish on the back side. I tested coarser paper, but noticed that the fiberglass was starting to show the patterns of my sanding. Once the first round of sanding was done, I traced my steps with a finer (240 I think?) paper, then again and again with 400 and 600 grit wet sanding. 

Since this was an upholstered chair, I needed to decide to either leave the riv-nuts in the seat of the chair, or drill them out and be left with holes. I decided to leave the riv-nuts to keep more of a finished look. This decision required me to get rid of the nubs you can see below in order to attach the shock mounts to the chair.

I used my battery-powered Dremel (I really need to trade this thing in for a corded version) with a sanding wheel attached to knock these down level with the bottom surface of the chair.

Next comes the Penetrol! You can find it at almost any hardware store. Try to apply it in a dust-free area. Once you put some gloves on, soak a lint-free rag in the Penetrol and wipe down the surface of the chair. After a few coats, you'll be left with this:

Once it's completely dry, you can use a fine grade (#0000) steel wool to knock down and smooth out any imperfections in the finish without getting rid of the shine.

Now for the shock mounts.

Shock mounts are pretty easy to find on eBay and run right at $20 for a set of four. JB Kwik Weld seems to be the popular choice for mounting these to the chair. If you attach these after applying Penetrol, be sure to roughen up the small area where you're mounting each one with some sand paper. As the name says, this stuff sets quick, so don't lolly-gag around during this step. Get them on and make small adjustments if necessary by holding the base to the mounts and making sure things align. Another way to mount them would be to attach the mounts to the base, then stick the entire thing onto the bottom of the chair, and remove the base. Either way should work fine.

Now even though the epoxy sets in four minutes, don't go tightening the base on just yet. The pressure on those shocks would probably still pull them off the chair if the base isn't perfectly fitted for the chair.

I gave a full day for the epoxy to harden, then attached the base. I got the base from Modern Conscience. I've heard mixed things about them, but their price was unbeatable. It would have cost $65 more to order the same base from Modernica. I went with the black painted base with walnut rockers. I thought the cream-colored fiberglass along with the black steel, and darker wood would have a nice warm vintage feel to it. Here's the final product!

Hopefully, this was helpful to anyone out there about to restore an Eames. The final product is well worth the time!


  1. Hi! Just stumbled onto your blog. Tonight I scored an incredibly beat up upholstered shell chair that needs a complete overhaul. I still haven't decided if I want to do what you did, or cough up the $$ to recover it. Cool blog too. I have another quick question, I have a blog thru blogger as well, the simple template, and i can't get it to my exact liking. How did you get the top bar (Home, floor plan, about us...) on yours? Was it your own html or is it a gadget im missing?

    1. nevermind about the blog pages thing, figured it out, im a knucklehead. Still love your blog, and still love your boo-t-full Eames. Sorry to bug you!!!

    2. Hey there, thanks for the kind words, and Best of luck on your Eames shell restoration! The blog (as well as house projects) has been put on the back burner recently due to a multitude of reasons, but I've got some upcoming work, and a ton of recent finds, that I'll make sure to document and get on here ASAP. Once you get your blog up and running, let me know. I'd love to check it out!

  2. the chair looks AWESOME. seems like there is an online cult of sites like this, i've been checking them all out for a while when i debate on buying an old upholstered herman miller. well,I finally did it! i broke down and got an old bucket seat that used to be part of a larger airport seat (bench i guess though its not a bench if it has 5 separate seats right???). Anyway, i'm scared of the self torture that the guy from Manhattan Nest described, and your orbital sander solution sounds like a swell idea to me. i was wondering if you could give me a few tips. maybe on grits you used. and just overall method. i mean really any tips would be helpful... things you wish you had done different or anything. Love the site and all the stories of trying to collect. keep up the good work.

  3. oops sorry i see that you gave us the grit... but would you suggest not using the 120 because it started to show? do you think it will look ok if i just sand where the upholstery was and leave the back alone, it's in good shape? any tips for wet sanding or just follow chairfag for that part (soap, spray bottle, etc).

    thanks again

  4. Hi Daniel,
    Thanks for checking out the blog. Haven't had much time lately to keep things updated. I would start with a 120 or slightly higher grit paper. I don't believe the 120 gave me too many issues as far as being too coarse and leaving patterns in the fiberglass.

    As far as only refinishing one side, I'd have to vote against that. If you want the chair to be completely uniform in color and sheen, refinishing the entire chair is the only way to get there. I can't help but think that even if the chair is in great condition, the sheen and color have probably dulled over the years.

    When you get to wet-sanding, I'd keep going the path you mentioned and follow the chairfag site directions. Hope your project turns out well!

  5. thanks tyler. one more question... just to make sure. you're saying i shouold do the wet sand type method on the back of the chair correct? not using the orbital sander.

    thanks again for the help

    sorry to keep bothering you

  6. No worries. I wet sanded the chair by hand. I'd recommend doing the first sanding (remove the foam/glue on the front and remove the clear coat finish on the back) using the orbital sander. Giving the chair a quick light sanding after the orbital sander (before wet sanding) will help you find or feel out any parts that need to be worked down by hand a little better. You'll do fine, the great thing about fiberglass is if you screw something up you can just sand it down and start over.

  7. What what?? I have a couple eames chairs in my garage full of garage stuff, and am down to the ripping off the foam state already. perfect time to read what the hay to do next! thanks BTTTTTTTs!

  8. Anyone have any info / experience having the shells re-foamed / upholstered?
    Have come up with nothing for this.

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