DIY: Eames Update

The Eames Lounge is arguably the most iconic chair of all time.  The most precisely engineered chair for human ergonomics.  It’s beautiful, understated, yet bold.  So why would you mess with perfection?  Well, if I had a real Herman Miller version then I clearly would not touch a hair on the head of that chair.  There are also a slew of vintage replicas ranging from the on point Frank Doerners to the flat armed, dead give away Seligs.  If you keep your eye open you can sometimes catch one of these for pretty cheap.  The problem is, you also get what you pay for.  Since these chairs have been around since the 60s and 70s, they can come with a little [or a lot] of grime and wear and tear.

We had been on the hunt for a good vintage replica for a while and found our dream Doerner hand delivered from Los Angeles. The thing about thrifting/hoarding is you get a little addicted to the hunt and it can be bittersweet when you find what you’ve been searching for.  So of course, even with one chair in possession we continued to scour craigslist adds.  That is when my husband found a Selig for $50.  It was gross.  So gross.  The ottoman didn’t match.  (See that thing thrown in the back of the first picture?  What is that?  Pretty sure it’s a flying saucer and not the matching ottoman.)  It’s spring had popped.  We still bought it.  Obviously.  For a bit we had read about reupholstering these chairs and how it was quite easy.  Yet who wants to mess with one in great condition?  Enter the sad mess of a lounge chair.  I will try and walk you through our process, but I did an awful job of documenting each step and my pictures are awful.  So guys, I’m sorry.  That’s what happens when your workshop has a homebrew keg in it.  What can I say?

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First things first, unscrew your cushions from the plywood frame.  If you are doing this with a reproduction (which as we spoke about before, you better not mess with charles and ray) the screws will be visible from the exterior.  You will see that when you remove them the leather is wrapped around the foam and stapled into another plywood mold.  Yes I said stapled!  This means you don’t have to even know how to sew.  Amazing.  We also took apart the arms which were again, just stapled onto another piece of wood.  Save all this stuff, you will want it for patterns in a bit.

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If your hardware is in good shape no need to mess with the rest.  Our spring was broken and the thing wobbled horribly so we took that apart to repair.

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Then just keep unwrapping it like a gift from the mid century gods.  Taking out all those staples can be tedious.  You will also find that the buttons are just attached to string through holes in the second wood frame.  Stop once you’ve gotten your fabric off.  The foam should hold it’s shape and you will be able to see where the new buttons go.

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Take the old material and use that as a template to cut out your new fabric.  Ikea actually has great, cheap, heavy duty fabric in all kinds of prints.  We decided to go balls to the wall and pick something bold.  You could totally order some new leather and spruce up the chair true to style.  I mean, if you wanted to be boring and all.

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Wrap, staple and work backwards putting the chair together again.  You will need a button kit from the fabric store, but trust me…it’s crazy easy.  Once you make your buttons you will probably need two people to help push the needle through the foam.  That stuff can be dense.

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Let’s talk welting now.  It’s the piping stuff that goes around the edges.  You could get away without using any for this chair since you aren’t hiding any seams, but it really fills out the connection between foam and wood nicely.  I looked into feet that attach to your sewing machine to make custom welting, but found it ready made in the store.  Score.  Just follow the edge of your inner wood frame, stapling as you go.  Pop everything back in your outer frame and screw.

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This chair had the flat arms characteristic of many knock offs.  Once we got it home and apart we realized it wouldn’t be too difficult to create some curved arms to beef up our fake.  This was a little tricky, and if you just want to wrap and repeat for the arms like we did the rest of the chair, it would still be awesome.  For the bent arms, you want the curve to bend down into the seat.  We just used some leftover plywood, angles and a little bit of trial and error.  No big deal.  The rough part was forming the fabric without a pattern.  This time you have to sew.  Sorry.  I laid some foam down over the arm brace to get an idea of the shape and then traced the upper portion of the arm onto paper.  That portion would get pulled taught, but the underside gets folded and pulled under.  Essentially I took my upper shape and attached it to a few inches of fabric all the way around with some welting.  Make sense?  Probably not.  I trust you though.  You can do it.

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Stay tuned to see how pretty she looks in my son’s new room!

8 responses to “DIY: Eames Update

  1. OMG Kelly! This is amazing! Nice Work. I can’t wait to see it in real life. Also, give yourself some more credit on documenting your process. I thought it was very thorough! ~LM

    • I bought 2 yards and had plenty left over. You could get away with less, but if you do a pattern make sure you take into account is all cut in the same direction, so having some wiggle room is nice.

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