Weekend Finds: Eames Soft Pad Executive Chair

Sometimes you easily find something you never knew existed and it’s a happy accident. Sometimes you spend years looking for something to no avail, only to have it fall into your lap once you’ve given up. I’ve had both happen with the same item. Several years ago I picked up a worn but interesting office chair at a garage sale for $2. After a little research I discovered it was a soft pad management chair created by design gods Charles and Ray Eames for Herman Miller. I also discovered they are nearly impossible (if not entirely impossible) to reupholster and eventually swapped the dilapidated (and burgundy) soft pad seat for a more ubiquitous unpadded aluminum group seat found on eBay. I can’t complain, my total investment in that chair was only $30 after all was said and done.

My first soft pad-turned-aluminum group chair shown in my home office.

My first soft pad-turned-aluminum group chair shown in my home office.

But that taught, unpadded seat never really fit the bill for the long hours I sometimes spend behind the computer and it was relegated to side chair status in favor of a more “ergonomic” Herman Miller Aeron chair. The complicated 90s-era designed Aeron chair never impressed me much either and I vowed to someday replace it with a stunning (and comfortable) Eames soft pad chair. I hunted. I searched. For. Years. There were none to be found locally and any vintage examples I could find were priced sky high. Eventually I broke down and decided it was time to bite the bullet and pony up for one. I decided to go with a more recent production and shelled out the cash. We’re talking teenager’s first car money. It arrived. I was happy.

The "splurge" soft pad

The “splurge” soft pad

Then, not a week later, I get a text from a friend: “Should I buy this?”

IMG_8874It might have just as well fallen out of the sky and hit me. I’m reminded time and time again that the best way to find anything is to stop looking for it. Of course, having just bought one, it would have been logical to have said no to this one, but my zeal to not only have vintage possessions but also get great deals on them overruled all logic. Granted this one is a tiny bit of a train wreck, but it also didn’t cost used car money—more like gas money.

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The construction of these chairs makes restoration challenging, but I’m excited about getting into it. The leather, though in desperate need of cleaning and conditioning, is in surprisingly well-preserved condition. The wool fabric on the back, however, has sagged significantly. Since the upholstery cannot successfully be removed from the frame, it’s going to take some ingenuity to devise a way to shrink it back while in place. You might also notice it has a wonky incline as a result of a damaged tilt mechanism which should be a chore to reverse engineer.

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The severely abused cast aluminum arms and legs are another chore. These will require removal, stripping and lots and lots of polishing to regain their original mirror-like finish. I’m considering outsourcing this part to an auto body shop if I can find a willing one.

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The chair has a date stamp, though I can’t clearly make it out. I’m guessing it says Jun 1, 1986. Ray and Charles Eames first designed their Aluminum Group chairs in 1958 for the J. Irwin Miller house designed by Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard. Their Soft Pad Collection was introduced in 1969—essentially just aluminum group chairs with soft padded seating surfaces. The Aluminum Group and Soft Pad collections have been in continuous production by Herman Miller since their introductions though today a new example of a Soft Pad Executive chair would run about $3,200.

I’m really excited to get started on this project. Conceivably I could just take the arms and base from the gray chair I already own and make one good chair out of the two. But that’s clearly too easy. Wish me luck. Hopefully I’ll have a before and after to show you soon!

 

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Before and After: Sad, Flaky Lamps

Every now and then I grab something just because it looks like an easy project. And by “every now and then” I mean all the time. And by “easy project” I mean project that never gets done. And every now and then (and I mean it this time) one of those easy projects gets done.

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When I bought this pair of lamps I was excited because I so rarely ever find lamps in pairs. Not that I ever really want lamps in pairs for myself, but I like the idea of it. I’m a tiny bit OCD, so I like things in pairs. I also thought it would be a snap to get the old paint off because it seemed to just blow away in the breeze. I thought I’d try pulling it off with tape. Wouldn’t budge. I thought I’d scrub it off with a wire brush. The brush was going to give out before the paint did. Maybe soaking it off in hot water? Nope. Alas, it couldn’t hold out against chemical stripper. So, some gooey nastiness and toxic fumes followed by spray paint, new wiring, new sockets and new shades—voila!

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Easy projects always turn out to be the hardest. I had planned for these to be gray with darker gray in the recessed areas. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a concoction of paint that looked nice washed over it. In the end the only thing in my arsenal of supplies that worked was gel stain. It looked nice but it made the gray kind of a chocolate milk color. Still, I think they turned out pretty good and I’m glad I don’t have to keep seeing their sad, flaky bodies piled up in my garage for another year.

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Anthropomorphic Lemon Snack Set

Lately I have found very, very little out at our local thrift stores but finally last week I walked out of Salvation Army thinking it hadn’t been a complete waste of time. This bright yellow snack plate and cup set had just been brought out that morning and was cheerfully waiting for me.

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It’s an anthropomorphic lemon-faced snack set. Too cute for me to pass up. Would you agree? This set was produced in Japan by PY Company and Norcrest. This lemon set was produced from the late 1940’s until 1961. Many other fruits and veggies can also be found with human like expressions on kitchenware during this time period.

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There are lots of fun, little details on these pieces but my favorite is the lemon skin texture around each cup. Too cute!

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A perfect kitschy kitchen snag! I think it’s time for a tea party with my niece.

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Before and After: The Long, Long Sofa

As much as I really love finding mid-century furniture in amazing original condition, there’s a special kind of a joy that comes from bringing a wonderful piece back from the dead. For me, most of the time these end up being refinished wood pieces. I never get tired of it, but I also know what to expect. I’ve resurrected a lot of lost wooden souls. Upholstered pieces, on the other hand, are just a whole different story. There’s just something about the transformation of an upholstered piece that gives me goosebumps. Perhaps you remember this beast I snagged awhile back?

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Or maybe not. This particular combination of ivory sadness and grandma floral might have caused you to repress it deep, deep into the recesses of your mind. Maybe you’ll remember how it looked when I peeled back the ugly to reveal the original fabric hidden beneath?

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Or perhaps its faded glory failed to leave much of an imprint on your brain either. Well, hopefully the extreme joy of seeing it come back to life with stay with you for years.

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BOOM! Try and forget that. 10.5 feet of amazing.

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I decided I really wanted to do this one right and make it spectacular. As a nod to its past I chose a fabric that had some similarities to the original. Then I hired a professional upholsterer who did an amazing job. The corners of the cushion are so perfect I could literally stare at them for hours. Some might call me “unstable” but I prefer “detail oriented.”

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I also refinished the wood. Damage to the original finish necessitated this, but I also decided to change the color of the wood. The original was kind of a sun-kissed pecan with fly-specking. It felt a little washed out. I changed it to a rich walnut hue and after seeing it all put together I really think it was the right choice.

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Man, I just really needed this. Mid-winter it’s just hard to stay motivated and getting this accomplished and having it look so great really makes me excited to find another great makeover story. Garage sale season is coming up soon…

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Weekend Finds: Eames Aluminum Group Table

While in the throes of winter it’s difficult to get a good get. There aren’t many estate sales and the thrift stores are barren and, frankly, it’s hard to muster the desire to leave the house to go to either of them anyway. That’s why I like Craigslist: it’s easy to shop from the comfort of your own home. I haven’t been finding much on there either, but just before giving up all hope entirely I just happened to click on the “General For Sale” tab. It’s a catch-all category. A no man’s land for all the wretched cast-offs that even Craig himself dared not name a category for. Marine batteries, door knobs, DIY medical devices and this…

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A 48-inch dining table designed by Charles Eames for Herman Miller. Though the sellers had posted it as an Eames table, their failure to place it in the oft viewed “furniture” category hid it from other buyers’ eyes for days until I found it. Although the listing said it had a wood top, it wasn’t easily visible in the photo and I assumed it to be laminate as so many of these are. Much to my surprise…

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Real wood veneer in flawless condition. Happy dance. I was a little baffled at the fact they knew it was an Eames table but didn’t slap a big Eames price on it. Never one to haggle against myself I asked no questions, but when I flipped the table over I found my answer.

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This table is a newer production (in fact it’s only about five years old) and bears an Eames Office authentication tag that Herman Miller now places on the tables. The sellers probably read this but never looked it up to see what it meant.

Original Herman Miller ad for the Eames Aluminum Group

Original Herman Miller ad for the Eames Aluminum Group

Charles and Ray Eames developed the aluminum group in 1958 as a commission for the J. Irwin Miller house designed by Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard. Herman Miller cites the round table as being introduced into the collection in 1964, though I think the contract base version (which this example is) may have been introduced earlier. All pieces have remained in continuous production by Herman Miller since their introduction.

So, this serves as a great reminder to occasionally look in those places you’d never expect to find anything. You might just find something iconic.

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