How to re-upholster an Eames fiberglass chair Posted December 4, 2014 by Daniel Ostroff

From time to time, people with a 40- or 50-year-old upholstered Eames Fiberglass Chair ask me how to reupholster it.  I pretty much always say, “Don’t. Patch it instead.”

It’s different if you buy a new upholstered Eames Fiberglass Chair from Herman Miller.  You’re in luck with those because they have removable, recyclable upholstery pads—the first of their kind in more than 40 years.

Unfortunately, vintage Eames owners do not have this option.  So why do I suggest a patch?

First, no matter how talented the upholsterers are, they usually don’t have access to the same equipment as Herman Miller workers.  Even if they did, they usually don’t have the training and years of experience working with this unique upholstery.  If they do have the skill set,  re-upholstery is labor intensive and expensive.

Another reason to patch a vintage Eames chair is that it is congruent with the practices and beliefs of Charles and Ray Eames.

In an interview towards the end of Charles’s life, he said it was always his dream to have “well-darned socks.” Darned socks are socks with holes that have been re-sewn, usually a very noticeable repair.  They function just as well as new socks.

Carla Hartman, Eames Office Education Director and eldest Eames grandchild, tells a similar story about Ray: Two matrons were standing behind her at a cocktail party.  Thinking they were out of earshot, one whispered to the other, “Oh, look at that patch on Ray Eames’s cape. You’d think with all of the money Mr. Eames makes, he would buy his wife a new frock.”  Well, he could, but he didn’t.  The design duo didn’t believe in throwing away things they liked.  They believed in repairing goods and continuing to use them.

There is an ancient Japanese aesthetic philosophy called wabi sabi that relates to this idea of embracing the imperfect.  In part, it’s about the beauty of transience and a celebration of how objects look after years of use.  The Smithsonian presented an exhibition that relates to this called Golden Seams.  It explored the very visible yet beautiful patches on prized Japanese ceramics and porcelain.  You can read more about this exhibition by clicking here.

If you have a vintage upholstered Eames Fiberglass Chair with a hole or split seam, and you can repair it by using matching or contrasting electrical tape on Naugahyde or a patch on Hopsak.  You won’t be the first to do this.

This is a photograph of an Eames Fiberglass Side Chair from the Eames Family Collection.

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You’ll notice that the chair, which is a working model that Charles and Ray kept on hand as part of their study collection, had a hole in its original green naugahyde upholstery.  What did Charles and Ray do to fix it? They patched it with contrasting electrical tape.

You can do the same.

By Daniel Ostroff

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