This year the project is a restoration of an Eames Fiberglass Shell Chair.
|From Eames Shell Chair by Herman Miller Restoration - Day 1|
Why this chair? Three reasons.
1. I love the designer.
As a fan of Mid Century Modern design, I have started a collection of a few pieces I have found for a good deal. A few Emeco Navy Chairs, a decent Wassily knockoff, and an LC2 repro were the start but I wanted an Eames in my living room. But I don't have the cash for a 670 lounge chair.
2. I love restoring things on the brink of trash-able.
Along with my love for MCM design I also restore old electronics, vintage video game systems, toys, and synthesizers. I love making the decrepit desirable again.
3. I hear that fiberglass is a bitch to work with.
You may wonder why this is listed as a plus. I try to take on new projects often, ones that go beyond what I possess in my daily skill set. And while I have heard horror stories of working with fiberglass, I have someone to back me up, my father.
My father has spent the past 40 years of his like working on cars. He started out doing small engine work on motorcycles, before moving on to cars. It was at a job he held in his twenties at a Chevrolet dealer that he made an interesting discovery, fiberglass didn't make him itch. This was advantageous for his boss, since every corvette made had fiberglass body panels. My father spent the next few years working on every Corvette that rolled through that shop.
So while most people are very cautious about getting involved with fiberglass, I was eager to jump in since I had a pile of "son points" racked up for the past few years of tech support. With him in my corner...
It was time to find a chair.
I had very little to budget on this project, I could have gone out and bought a knockoff but that wasn't the point, the point was the project. I scoured craigslist for a few months until I found what I was looking for. A chair being sold as a package with a few work lights, I figured I could sell the work lights to offset my costs if I had to throw everything away, he was asking $100, I took him down to $60, got a ZipCar to drive from Harvard Square to Worcester and picked up the ugliest chair ever.
It was dirty, smelled awful, looked worse, and the base was basically unusable, it was exactly what I was looking for. The chair originally was upholstered and the previous owner was going to reupholster it, which never happened, but at least most of the foam was off of it, which was great since the remaining foam smelled like rusted death. I was told that I would have to at least wash it off before it came into the house, which was reasonable. After the scrubbing it didn't seem quite as frightening.
I started collecting supplies, sandpaper and solvents, razorblades and Penetrol. After some convincing by my father, steering me away from a power sander, I decided to do all of the sanding by hand for better control over color of the fiberglass and shape of the contours. The first day I focused on the back of the chair, I figured if I made any mistake along the learning curve I would rather them be there. There was also some very deep staining on the back that I figured would give me a good litmus test of how working on the front would be. Four hours of sanding later...
The rear was clean, that was exciting, but the front was much worse and would obviously take much more time. While working on the rear it also became painfully obvious that I was going to need a lower grit sandpaper, so after another trip to the hardware store was in order. After a dozen ibuprofen and a few days rest for my previously throbbing shoulder was ready for some more. Another five hours brought us here...
I burned through the 150 paper pretty quickly, and while it didn't quite take out everything I was hoping it was going to, it was very clear that I was on the right road and that there was an end in sight. The next thing to do was to even out the coloring and remove the rest of the stains with some 220 grit paper.
More about that soon enough...