Put a Sheepskin on It.

There’s a new desk chair in town and it looks like this:

Those of you with impeccable memories might recall the psychotic episode I experienced while I was in Portland back in January. The one in which I escaped my bondage, found myself a nasty thrift store, and purchased two grimy Eames shell chairs for about $25 a pop. This all seemed like a good idea at the time.

The restoration of that blue chair was enough to wipe that smug, disgusting smile off my face. Actually, the $100 it took to ship the things to New York had already taken the thrill away from my good deal, but the restoration—well, it nearly killed me. Those chairs could probably survive nuclear war, but my sanity is a much more fragile flower.

The fact is that these chairs had been sitting out in drizzly Portland weather for who knows how long and it showed. The blue chair’s naugahyde upholstery was torn, completely discolored (I tried cleaning it with several different products, but those stains were permanent), and separating from the frame in spots. If I were classy and had the money, I would have sent it off to get the proper reupholstery treatment (I’ve heard this place is great), but I’m cheap and a glutton for torture. Also, I live for the type of controversy I can only dream this post might spur.

So I tore that cover right off. Underneath was a layer of moldy foam—mostly removed in the photo above—and the entire fiberglass shell was covered in a layer of adhesive. Where water had been able to seep in under the upholstery around the bolts, that adhesive came up fairly easily, but it held on everywhere else with a determined iron grip.

I’m not really sure giving the chair a scalding, soapy bath did anything, but it made me feel a little better about handling it. After scraping off the remainder of the foam with the blunt edge of a razor blade, I was left with a lot of adhesive to detach. Like, a whole lot.

I’m sure there’s a clever chemist hiding in a laboratory in some corner of the world who’s discovered an adhesive remover powerful enough to make this easy, and I’d like to point out that he’s a bastard for keeping his secrets from me. The best thing I could find was Goo Gone, so essentially my process involved soaking sections with it, waiting about ten minutes, then going at it with a razor blade.

Yes, a fucking razor blade. I can happily report that all ten of my fingers survived the ordeal, but one of my imaginary friends was stabbed in a fit of frustration. Rest in peace, Urma.

Now, I’d really only recommend taking on this kind of thing if you can give yourself some time. Spread it out over a number of days. Months, even, as I did. Years if you have them. Better yet, don’t do it at all.

The problem with projects like this is two-fold: they take forever and they require little to no brain power. They give the mind too much liberty to roam, and in so doing lead to dangerous thinking. Imagine yourself planted on the floor, massaging your cramping hands and weighing the relative benefits of having a new desk chair against your increasingly good chances of early-onset arthritis. You reek of the spunky, citrus-esque aroma of Goo Gone. You are filthy scum—the small, tedious shavings of adhesive clinging to the bottom of your socks and buttocks. Unpresentable to the world and repulsive even to yourself, you might posit certain questions such as “what the hell is wrong with me?” or “when did I become such a monster?” or “might I need psychiatric help?” It’s a sticky spot to be in, in more ways than the obvious.

Three months into your project, after you’ve finished peeling your adhesive off the chair, look no further than Chairfag or The Brick House for all the restorative guidance you need to make your chair gleam like it just rolled out of the factory. This basically involves a good wet-sanding and a coat of Penetrol. I harvested shockmounts from the orange chair and attached them with some fast-drying epoxy made for bonding plastics and rubber and stuff. It’s super strong and frightening stuff.

The obvious downside of all of this is that you’re left with four unattractive holes in the seat of the chair since upholstered chairs are constructed differently than plain shells. Eventually I’d like to custom-make a little foam cushion for the seat (tulip chair-style), but in the meantime what’s a hipster to do? Put a sheepskin on it. Cute on the chair, cushy on your tushy.

Put my old ebay-purchased swivel base on that shell and BAM. Done. NEVER AGAIN.

P.S.- It’s the most wonderful time of the year over at Apartment Therapy these days because the Small/Cool Contest is happening and my apartment is in the running! As the name implies, there are a lot of small, cool spaces to check out, so I’d encourage you to head over and vote—even if it’s not for me! But really, you should probably vote for me. My “Patched & Painted” apartment just got posted today so we have some catching up to do.


65 Comments

  1. Clever! Industrious! Good work.

  2. amazing! sha-zaam.

  3. I live in a small college town in Oklahoma where I rescued a similar Eames chair that was abandoned on the curb. After tearing the ripped vinyl off of the chair, I was left w/ a similar mess. This was last summer, and I still haven’t finished the grueling process of removing the glue. I also bought a sheepskin rug at a garage sale the other day for $3. I plan on putting it on the chair to cover the screws, also. Great post! Your chair looks fab and it inspires me to get back to work on my chair!

  4. Friggin’ eh.

  5. the chair looks great.
    i did this a few years ago to one of a set of four matching shells and i still cannot bring myself to finish the rest.
    i used a pan scraper instead of a razor. it worked pretty well…

  6. Oh you poor thing. Brilliantly written post. It puts the DIY jobs I’ve been doing in the shade. Though I did one have that experience with an entire room. Don’t know what the wallpaper was put up with but it had to be steamed and scraped away piece by tiny piece. I just painted over it in the next bedroom.

  7. I love it, it’s gorgeous!

  8. Oh man, you are so my hero.

    And I thought I was clever for just PAINTING over the hot mess that was my own moldy, stinky upholstered shell. Clearly I’m just lazy!

    • No, no. You’re a genius. I don’t know what I was thinking. If it weren’t naugahyde, I definitely would have gone the paint route.

  9. Chair looks great! (but maybe a little out of scale for the space – hate to say it but I liked the old chair there!)

    • I liked the old chair too, but the armed one is actually WAY more comfortable to use as a desk chair! I also needed to use the other one as a dining chair… nothing gets to stay put for too long at my house.

  10. That desk has been waiting a mighty long time for its life mate. Mazel tov.

    And I almost fell over when I read a question on AT about “WHERE DID YOU GET THAT DESK?!!” Because yes, it *does* like high end and purchased, but the silly comments about the project on AT last year were just deliciously ridiculous.

  11. Not that you’ll need it, in the future, as you won’t be repeating this fiasco, but a biochemist friend recommends acetone, i.e. nail polish remover, for taking off sticky stuff. Don’t know what it would do to the shell, though.
    BTW, the chair looks great!

    • A-HA! I’m sure the shell would be fine, those things are crazy strong. Shoulda tried that!

      • Bestine – removes anything sticky – crazy strong – and keeps most substrates in tact without damage. Toxic tho- so you’d need ventilation. I’m a graphic designer and we use it at work all the time to clean up residue from mounting paper on to boards. http://papercement.com/bestine.html

  12. freakin’ awesome.

    and they way you told the story had me literally laughing out loud.

    (& i’ll also say that when i read the post title for this entry i immediately sang beyonce’s “put a ring on it”…but obviously substituted “ring” with “sheepskin”…yes, very tricky to make it work….)

  13. lol. i reupholstered a couch and had similar fun times. it turned out to have already been reupholstered, except the previous person had opted to just put the fabric over the original fabric, so i had the pleasure of removing two sets of cat-pee scented fabric and rusted staples. it was a great time in my life.

  14. My only advice for removing adhesive is heat. I pulled up some hideous 80s linoleum in a bathroom with my hair dryer.

  15. Wow. Looks great!

  16. Amazing job! You’re an artist for sure. Good job buddy! (re: Small Cool, can we start calling you Patches now?)

  17. You did an amazing job with the chair! And your blog post is friggin hilarious. Well done on both counts.

  18. I was delighted to see on the AT contest; you are so deserving of a win. Best of luck, et al.

    Incredible job on the chair; you have infinitely more patience, tolerance, and creativity than I do. Seriously, your talent knocks me out! The chair looks fantastic.

  19. wow. that is beautiful. hilarious post as well. I cast my vote on AT for you- good luck!

  20. what a result you got there! I must admit I was a bit sceptical when your first posted about buying it, but you proved me wrong. Amazing job.

  21. i commend you! that sounds like a huge pain in the butt but good for you for completing the project. i have a fabric covered eames chair that needs some major tlc but like you i put a sheepskin on it. :)

    saw your place on apartment therapy. looks great!!

  22. Daniel, Where did you score the sheepskin throw? I have an Herman Miller Eames Arm Chair RAR that has a small hole on the seat – A screw that was too long was used to secure the base and the screw was driven all the way through the seat :(

    The damage is not big but if I can remedy it by throwing a similar CHEAP sheepskin throw … I would do that when I get around finding the perfect legs for it

    If you or any of your readers want to buy the shell (shell only – Aqua color) to save me from yet another project…. let me know…

    • The sheepskin is from IKEA! I think they’re only about $25. Ebay is a really great source for bases and shockmounts (if you need them)!

  23. Hey, what happened to the yellow/white kilim in the living room? I saw in your Small/Cool entry you replaced it with the other rug.

    • I just threw it on the floor of the second bedroom for now. I like it a lot, it’s just not the right rug for the living room. But I might use it in my bedroom at some point. Or I might sell it…not really sure yet.

      • If you decide to sell it, will you PLEASE let me make an offer on it first? I really, really love that rug, and we really need one for our white room.

      • Of COURSE. Sorry I’m such a greedy hoarding bitch. This is why I shouldn’t be allowed to have an extra room where I can just put things while I mull them over.

  24. did you paint it or did that penetrol alone give it that bright shiny kick ass blue color?
    Nice work, I total feel your pain on this one.

    • Nope, it’s just the penetrol that really brings the color out (also the lighting is different in the photos since I did all the restoration stuff at night, so that’s part of why the colors look SO different too). PERSONALLY, I’d never paint one of these chairs because I LOVE the fiberglass texture of them, but I know people do that sometimes. I just don’t get why.

  25. A thought i had about the extra holes is some bondo or other automotive or construction putty. Its durable, sandable (wet sanding) and paintable. Just a suggestion the next time you decide to take on a three month project chair again.

    • I looked into that, but I knew I’d never get a true seamless match and it would always just look like a patch-job, which I’d want to cover up anyway. I’m really fine with the holes if I don’t have to look at them!

  26. I wonder if paint stripper would have removed the adhesive. Or would it have melted the shell as well?

    • I wasn’t going to admit this…but I actually did do a tiny test patch of paint stripper. It did nothing for the adhesive but did eat through a tiny little patch of the shell that it got on. It was just a very small spot on the arm that looks totally fine after I sanded it and did the Penetrol, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend paint stripper. Way too corrosive.

      • ahh good to know.

        you should totally include this little tidbit in your post. might save someone from running their shell. :)

  27. Hey Daniel,

    Did you see this comment on your 9/21/10 post?

    WhitneyAnn March 15, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    I got some DCM eames chairs, at a salvage place, that were once upholstered. It was a pain getting the tough rubber edging and glued-on upholstery/foam off. However, if someone has already done that dirty work, and all you have left is the adhesive, it might not take you a million years. I found this on accident- but what worked for me was this bio-based adhesive remover. I slathered a bunch on, waited an impatient 20 minutes and nothing happened. So I put it in my parents garden shed (where I was storing some crap over the summer) and a week or so later I was back in the garden shed for something else and realized the adhesive remover + a heated up garden shed = adhesive i could basically wipe off with a rag. (some spots i had to scrub harder at) You can get little sample bottles of the stuff. It took me about 3 sample bottles for 4 chairs. So maybe even the remover + a blow dryer would work?

    Soy-it:
    http://www.ecosafetyproducts.com/Soy-PolyStripper-Polyurethane-Stripper-p/ste-4010s.htm

    I dont know if you can see the pic due to my extremely high privacy settings on FB but:
    http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2475901&id=9416920#!/photo.php?fbid=854190213895&set=a.854189340645.2475901.9416920&theater

    • Oh gosh… I DO remember that comment now, but I had completely forgotten about it while I was doing this. WHOOPS. That stuff might have made my life a lot easier. Haha.

      • The Eco Safety stuff really works! I massaged it liberally (about 3 bottles per chair) on a few of my nasty Eames, left them out in the full sun on a 80 degree day, and it did just about wipe off. Whatever left can be removed with a copper scrubber. BAM.

  28. When I saw you entry for smc @ apartment therapy I though ” damn it! He found another chair!” you are one determined thrifter. Hats off.

  29. I am so impressed at the moment! That is an amazing recovery for that poor chair! Could be a lifetime movie.

  30. looks great!!

  31. I love seeing your chairs in the bathtub! It’s like “baby’s first bath.”
    I also have an upholstered eames chair but in a dark brown tweed. My white cat likes to use it as a bed, allowing his hairs to literally weave themselves in and out of this fabric. I’ve been tempted to somehow remove it but am way too scared.

  32. Wow, I have so much respect for what you have done here considering I would have thrown in the towel at the point of giving that seat a Calgon/bath moment! You’ve given this chair a new life and it looks fantastic! I’m just glad you came out of that “dangerous thinking, mind roaming” phase of the process unscathed—weeping over an open bottle of goo gone would not have been pretty! If you need something softer to lean against besides that sheepskin throw (which is a great solution to hiding those holes BTW), let me know…Mamma Biscuit makes house calls and loves to wedge herself between a back side for warmth and comfort!

    ;-)

  33. Reading this post was such a pleasure- it’s so refreshing to find a blog where someone has actually included the profanity that exists in almost every Do-It-Yourself project.

    I’m wowed that you reigned victorious over this chair, and the outcome is tremendous. Good work all around and way to soldier through the agony of commercial adhesives. They’re no joke.

  34. you are a masochist in the best way. your torture always pays off beautifully.

  35. Love that blue.

  36. Wow… I applaud your tenacity and creative thinking which resulted in one great, functional chair! Well done!

  37. The before and during photos give me HIVES. Dear god the adhesive. My fingernails are fraying and turning brittle just thinking about the scraping and picking and pulling. But I know- like and good OCD picker of things knows – that the after is so, so worth it!

    You’re the best, always. XX

  38. Hello, The chair was quite a challenging project! It turned out great though – love that blue and the sheepskin does the trick. Where I live, these chairs are very inexpensive. I’m always saying – “This would sell for $$$$$ in NYC!”

  39. Do I dare ask if you tried Jasco on the adhesive? I’m guessing a gooey toxic mess is the result, but I am curious if the chair can stand up to it.

    • Not Jasco, but I did try a tiny patch of another paint stripper… and it ate through the shell (and did NOTHING for the adhesive! Ha!). It was small enough that it didn’t affect the final result… but that stuff is WAY too corrosive to use for something like this, trust me!

  40. Daniel! We’re all dying for updates here! :)

  41. Wah! As a Portland girl I was drawn to your put a ___ on it title. I’ve been reading since you went out to Portland and it’s been great fun. Thanks for sharing for being so damn honest about all of this.

  42. Daniel, I don’t comment often, but I read your blog all the time, and I think you should post something. Right. This. Minute.
    That is all.
    I love you.

    • I WISH I WISH! I haven’t forgotten that I have a blog, I swear! I’ve just been in the midst of finals insanity and really haven’t had time! These posts don’t write themselves, I’ll tell ya.

      (but thank you. I love you too.)

  43. Absolutely gorgeous (now). (And of course, the mental image of attacking the chair with a razor blade was quite comical.)

  44. Portlandia/ Beyonce spoof:
    Put a Bird on It (All the Seagull Ladies)

  45. just when i think you can’t get anymore impressive, you blow me away. *love*

  46. Hi Daniel,

    I was recently shopping online for light switch plates and was hoping that I could find them on the cheap from Ikea. I binged – yeah, right – I googled “Ikea + switch plates” and saw your blog as the seventh listing! More specifically, your blog post entitled “Portland Day 10: Ikea + The Bathroom.” There are always distinguishable stepping stones ones rise to stardom and I just wanted to point this one out to you. Ikea doesn’t sell switch plates – at least online – but your celebrity is rising. Can you feel it?

  47. OMG. Get on it. Your lack of writing is killing me. I feel like a junkie. I need my Daniel fix.

  48. totally newly addicted to your blog. like, i want to read it from your first entry kind of addicted. ox

  49. Wanted to say, I happened upon your blog and love what you have done. I <3 Eames and your love of it too. The vinegar on wood treatment has me inspired. I think looking at your photo, you should make a matching radiator cover that mimicks the bookshelf with that lovely canadian ply! I would look great and you would actually get a little more shelf space too!
    The doors look fabulous as well! The chair, the bed. They are all just done so well. Great job!

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