All posts tagged: Living Room

The Apartment, After 2 Years of Living: The Living Room

The house is in all-out chaos mode. Ripping out the dining room ceiling sort of had a snowball effect of more and more demo, which has not only created an enormous mess but also brought the number of ongoing projects up to a semi-crazy, semi-overwhelming, basically-unmanagaeble tally. It’s kind of at the point where I just look around and find myself completely incapable of even prioritizing tasks anymore, so I’m just chipping away at all of them randomly and hoping that if I keep on like this, everything will meet some kind of happy resolution. Totally good strategy? I guess we’ll find out.

Even though I like the idea of moving along one room at a time, in practical application that’s just not really how it works with a house in need of this much work. It doesn’t make much sense to just do a little drywall work without just doing most of the drywall work or update a little of the electrical without updating a lot of the electrical. My hope is that if we can get a lot of this stuff taken care of at once, we can go back to the room-by-room strategy and just do the fun stuff like skim-coating* and painting** and making things pretty***.

*not fun at all.
**also not very fun.
***maybe moderately fun, but not that fun either.

So that’s pretty much where things stand. Chaos. Confusion. Too many things. It makes me feel so ALIVE.

throughbedroom

So, to distract both me and you from the fact that I’ve become a perma-dusty garbage person living constantly in filth and despair, I figured maybe let’s talk about things that are currently pretty and clean? Instead of things that I promise will one day be pretty, even if everyone thinks I’ve lost my mind at this current moment?

I posted a little 2-year update on our bedroom at the Brooklyn apartment back in October and intended to complete the series by posting about each of the rooms every week or so, but that didn’t happen. Why? I don’t know. I get distracted.

before2

My goodness, those walls. Sometimes I forget about the red walls when we moved in, and then I remember the red walls, and I become so grateful for good primer all over again.

Probably the biggest question I get from people about this apartment is how in the world I finagled my landlord into letting me make all these changes to my rental, and the answer is more or less contained in this picture (bearing in mind that this low-quality iPhone shot is actually very forgiving). When we moved into this apartment, it was kind of a wreck. It’s a beautiful 1890 building, sure, but it hasn’t been well-maintained (trust, the public areas of the building are horrendous). I think most standard New York City lease agreements either allow painting only with permission or stipulate that walls must be returned to white upon move-out, but that clearly did not happen here. It’s probably best practice to not have missing pieces of flooring, either, and maybe making sure that electrical outlets are operable and covered is also a good plan. Bathroom doors that close are nice, too. As for that legally-required smoke detector? HAHAHA. LOLZ.

before1

The point is, while I did volunteer to paint the apartment myself if our landlord agreed to cover 1/2 of the cost (I would have done it anyway, because…red walls), that was pretty much the start and end of it. And in our building, I think that’s 100% OK. I’m pretty confident that all the things I’ve done are objective improvements, and it just seems silly (and, frankly, unwise) for me to ask permission every time I want to help improve their property. I think this kind of landlord-tenant relationship is pretty standard in Brooklyn, but all I can really say is that you have to evaluate your own individual situation as objectively and honestly as possible when considering altering a rental, and just because I did something doesn’t mean that you should also do that something. My (lack of) consequences might be very different from yours!

livingroom

Anyway! I love this room now. It’s gone through lots and lots of iterations in between that “before” picture and this one, and if we hadn’t bought the house, I’d probably keep messing with it until the end of time. But there is zero extra time, money, or effort in my life anymore that I’m willing or able to devote to futzing with this space, so it’s done enough! I like it.

Clockwise: lucite tables are vintage. Couch is IKEA. Pillows are CB2 (discontinued). Desk is vintage. Wall lamp is OneFortyThree. Tree is a Fiddle Leaf Fig. Pot is Target (discontinued). Ceiling light is the Cartell FL/Y Suspension Lamp. Chair is a vintage Eames Lounge. String light is Patrick Townsend for Areaware. Basket is West Elm Market (discontinued). Mirror and pottery on mantel are vintage. Credenza is vintage. Eames shell chair is vintage, base is from Modern Conscience (quality is terrific, btw). Coffee table is vintage. Rug is vintage.

desk

I don’t know, stuff and things on top of the desk. I still love that Christopher Gray print from Erie Drive.

livingroom2

OK, time to fess up…we got a huge TV. Over a year ago. My little 26″ TV wasn’t cutting it anymore, and at some point we decided that our next TV purchase should be approximately 400 times larger. I know the chic blogger thing to do is have, like, some modestly-sized TV covered with a curtain wall of cotton-velvet panels underneath which is a gallery wall of some fake art surrounding the TV and painted dark to minimize the presence of the TV and pretend like TV isn’t something they do while they continue to try to invent an invisibility forcefield for said TV, but that’s dumb. A TV is a TV, and TV is pretty great these days, so who cares? Despite that I know on a cognitive level that this enormous television is tacky and huge, I’ve also successfully deluded myself into thinking that because it’s mounted and scaled kind of like a piece of art, it isn’t so conspicuous. Ha.

We’re boys. Leave me alone.

We got a good deal on this very slim LED LG model (I think maybe they were phasing it out…I can’t seem to find it for sale anymore), and I have to say it’s super nice. I don’t know lots about this stuff, but I guess LG isn’t considered one of the high-quality brands, but the picture quality (and even sound quality!) on this TV are amazing, and I remember it being slimmer than the nicer Sony and Samsung counterparts. No regrets! I mounted it to the wall with a TV mount from Amazon, which I remember being fairly challenging (this wall is plaster over brick, so I used huge lag-bolts to secure it). Then I wrapped the cords together with a rubber band and stacked some books in front of them “temporarily” while I figured out a better solution. Then I completely stopped caring because my shows were on.

blocklight

Pretty much my most successful NYC thrift score of the last year was that I found a Design House Stockholm Block Lamp at Salvation army for $6. SIX. DOLLARS. It was missing the cord and light socket, but those parts were super simple to wire up DIY-style with stuff from one of the lighting stores in Chinatown. I’ve wanted one of these things for a longgggg time, so the whole event was incredibly exciting.

vases

The collection of amateur studio pottery on the mantel continues to grow, but I can’t help myself! Max’s younger sister, Ana, made that little green bowl as part of a ceramics class to fulfill a studio art requirement in college. Evidently she almost failed the class because her pottery was so elementary and unrefined, but that’s what I love about it! I think she could make a career out of making lousy bowls and selling them for $95 in Williamsburg, but I guess maybe she has other priorities. I’m glad we got one of her pieces before she retired from the ceramics game.

Want to see how this room has progressed over the years? Here are some posts listed chronologically that follow the progress. You know, if you’re having a super boring workday or whatever.

1. The New Nest
2. Settling In
3. I Like All Colors that are Black or White
4. Credenza
5. Slow and Steady but Mostly Just Slow
6. Rocker
7. Radiator: Painted!
8. Fiddle!
9. Shambles
10. Mantel Things
11. 65.
12. New Desk!
13. Adventures in Vignetting.

 

The Doors are Open!

before1

before-2

When our house was divided into two units in the days of yore, one of the more unfortunate-looking alterations was blocking off these two doors right inside the entryway. The one in the top photo leads to the front parlor (accessible through a door in the dining room), and the one in the second photo leads to the big living room (accessible through another door in the back of the entryway. You can see how this looks on the floor plan here.). Luckily, the original doors were right on the other side of the plywood, but unfortunately they were both locked! It kind of begs the question of why the additional plywood barrier was really necessary at all, but then again, old houses come with a lot of questions about why things were done the way they were done.

My best guess is that blocking the doors this way was an attempt to further insulate the downstairs apartment from heat loss and sound, particularly if the owners chose not to heat the entryway, since it wasn’t part of anyone’s living space. You can kind of tell in the pictures that instead of just nailing the plywood up and calling it a day, whoever did this also took the time to smear a bunch of wood putty over all the nail holes and surrounding the entire edge of plywood, creating an impenetrable seal that made it more or less impossible to rip the plywood down from the front without totally messing up the surrounding moldings. Fun!

I thought we’d rip this plywood down on, like, day 1 in the house, but that didn’t happen. It didn’t happen on days 2 or 3 or 4 or 5, either, and after living this way for a few weeks, I just hit my limit of having ugly plywood sheets erected in my entryway. There’s only so much a person can take!

keys

Like most old houses, ours came with a big heavy box of keys. Almost none of the keys are labelled, so I have no idea what most of them do or if they even match any existing locks, but I was hopeful that one of the 5 skeleton keys would have to fit the locked doors.

Nope. Of course not.

We went down to the local locksmith shop, and after re-trying all of our keys, he moved on to a huge handful of skeleton keys he brought with him. No dice. Naturally.

Instead, he had to go back to the shop and make us a custom key. I would take a picture, but of course now I’ve misplaced it among our renovation disaster. We don’t really have any reason to ever lock these doors, but I hope I can find it somewhere, since we spent like $80 on all this drama and I want my souvenir.

ANYWAY. Locksmiths are magicians. He got the doors open. There was much rejoicing.

doorsblocked1

At some point, I started to wonder what was in that 6-ish inch space between the plywood and the door. Maybe there would be hidden jewels! Stacks of money! A family of borrowers!

There was none of these things. Instead, there was a big panel of weird fiberboard sheathing stuff, similar to homasote. Then with that out of the way, there were also pieces of wood running horizontally behind the plywood, nailed into the door frame. The horizontal boards were then wood-glued and nailed to the plywood, and all of the edges had received a generous coating of caulk, just for good measure.

So thorough. So impressive. So annoying.

I had thought that with the doors open, I’d be able to just knock down the plywood by running at it and throwing my body against it until it came tumbling down, a strategy I learned from handsome men encountering locked doors on TV. But with all these added reinforcements, that seemed like a recipe for a couple broken ribs, so the shrimpy nervous Jew side of me re-evaluated.

crossbraces

I started by removing all of the visible nails that I could from the doorframe with a pry bar.

jigsaw

Since the plywood still wouldn’t budge, even with the nails gone (shocker!), I broke out my jigsaw and just started cutting out sections of the wood, all haphazard and sloppy-like.

debris

Then I started kicking out sections, like the man-beast that I have become.

I went so H-A-M on this plywood, you guys. So very H-A-M.

actionshot

This action shot doesn’t begin to portray how badass I was in this moment.

Nothing can portray how badass I was. You just have to believe.

vogue

Here I am, vogueing, you know, as you do. I realize now that this post would be so much more primal and saucy if I had been naked behind that piece of plywood.

NEXT TIME.

linus

Before long, the doors were open! There was light! There was air circulation! There were new ways to get from room to room! SO. EXCITING. OMFG.

Pausing for a second, this view is the exact reason why I have no real interest in altering the existing layout of our house. I love the amount of symmetry and order that the original layout has——the way that these doors are directly across from each other (the angle of the photo makes them look a little off, but they aren’t), which is repeated with the other door to the big living room and the dining room, and the doors from the parlor to the dining room to the kitchen. A lot of people (both here on the blog and in real life) keep suggesting that I do things like widen the entry into the front parlor or open up the wall between the front room and the dining room, but that would completely throw off the proportions and sense of order that I think make the interior layout of this house really special. Designing a house this way doesn’t just happen by accident, and I think it would be an enormous mistake to start futzing with things like that.

I tried explaining this to Linus, who clearly doesn’t care.

mekko2

We get it, Mekko, you’re a beauty queen. We’re trying to talk about doors, here.

Now we just have to take the vestibule wall down! I can’t believe we closed on the house almost 2 months ago and it’s still there! The deal I made with myself is that I’d do that as SOON as the kitchen is done (celebratory demo is kind of like champagne, yes?), which means its days are verrrrrry numbered.

 

Adventures in Vignetting

Some things I could stand to be better at:

1. Dressing myself.
2. Cooking.
3. Saving money.
4. Waking up in the mornings.
5. Eating breakfast.
6. Eating lunch.
7. Going to sleep.
8. E-mails.
9. Socializing.
10. Vignetting.

So basically I’m mediocre at nearly all aspects of daily life. Go me!

That last item, though—the last one I struggle with. All the other stuff seems like things I could fairly easily improve upon with a little focused attention and effort, but vignetting is more like a frustrating art where owning nice things and understanding concepts like composition and color and scale and being fabulous intersect. You’d think it would be simple: buy pretty things, plop them on top of other pretty things, and BOOM: prettiness occurs. Not so.

For some people, I think this sort of thing comes really naturally, but some of us have to work at it. And maybe some of us also get careless and flustered and feel ridiculous working at it. I mean, this isn’t a model home, it’s where I live, so when I put too much effort into arranging things just so I tend to feel stupid and petty and I give up and go on being mediocre. It’s a weird hang-up. I want my home to just look easy, breezy, beautiful, like I’m just naturally cool so therefore I have pretty stuff (duh) that all looks nice together (double duh).

before

Take this situation, for instance. When I brought home the new desk, the painting that had been hanging in that spot just stayed where it was (except leaning instead of hanging). I had that black lamp on the old desk, so it stayed, and then I thought, hey, here’s a Dala horse and a Dansk candleholder and a vase thing I can put pens in and I’ll just put all that up there, too! Great plan, D!

Except it wasn’t so great because it looked crowded and nothing really looked good together. Then, factoring the lamp on the desk and the lamp next to the couch, which don’t look so good together, it was feeling very lamp-y ’round this corner of my world, which doesn’t look so good FYI. Plus the painting is too big and overbearing here, so the desk looked small, and it didn’t provide enough contrast with the painting over the couch (which I recognize is not in the above picture, but trust me). See what I mean? It just…isn’t right.

vignette1

I’ve been trying to streamline and simplify and pare-down, though, and I’m really happy with how things are looking now! Breaking it down from left to right:

1. The Telescoping Otis Light from OneFortyThree. I’ve been a huge (huge, huge) fan of Logan’s work at OneFortyThree for a longggggg time now, and I’m so thrilled to finally have one of his creations in my life! It perfectly solves the too-many-lamps issue, since it easily swivels from side to side to illuminate both the desk and the couch, and it extends! Now I can say, firsthand, that Logan’s work is as exceptionally made as I imagined it would be from stalking his transformation into a full-blown prolific lamp-making, plywood-bending superhero.

2. Plant from IKEA. I don’t know what it’s called, but it seems hard to kill, and that’s how I like my plants.

3. Christopher Gray Winter Logs Giclee Print from Erie Drive. I’d never heard of Erie Drive until very recently when the creative director and buyer, Alexandra Grenham e-mailed me, and then I was filled with lust and envy and very intense feelings to buy all the things! Alexandra has a really amazing eye that she’s used to curate this store with SO much great stuff, it’s a little overwhelming. I fell head over heels for this Christopher Gray print, though—I love the black and white (no shocker there), and the composition and balance of it. It’s bold and graphic, which contrasts perfectly with the other abstract paintings we have in the room. The quality of the print is really nice, too, which was an unexpected surprise. AND it fits perfectly in an IKEA RIBBA frame, which is really the only way I ever frame anything, ever. Love.

4. Nybro Crystal Volcano tea light holders, vintage Swedish from a stoop sale. Yep, it’s stoop sale season again (finally!) and these were my first scores! I love how big and weighty they are, and as we know from my deep and abiding yearnings for Ultima Thule, I pretty much love whenever glass looks like it’s melting all over the place. Mine were a total steal, but here’s one and here’s another one if you need a pair and have no impulse control (like this guy!).

5. Vintage studio pottery, thrifted. Amateur studio pottery is tough because I love basically all of it, but it doesn’t all look great together. This might be stating the obvious, but I finally figured out that they key is matching up the right scales and keeping things contained to a complementary color palette. There are lots of nice options here, but I’m cheap so I wait for them to show up on my thrifty rounds.

6. Dansk candleholder, stoop-saled! This was from last summer and was only $5, so I kind of had to. I’ve yet to find candles that actually fit in it, but it’s such a great shape that I don’t care. Tons of similar ones on Etsy and on eBay if you can’t live your life without one for another second.

7. Dog, scavenged.

desk2

Here’s a slightly better angle of that swivel in action and how the lamp, couch, desk, and two pieces of art all look in relation to each other. Feelin’ it.

closeup

If you also love the Christopher Gray print or other lovely notions from Erie Drive, then maybe you want to stick around because maybe the amazing Alexandra is maybe a fabulous and generous sponsor who wants to offer you a fabulous and generous giveaway very soon. Maybe.

Probably.

This post is in partnership with Erie Drive.

New Desk!

When I was young, my parents became possessed of the notion that we needed to have all of our personalities tested. There wasn’t anything terribly dysfunctional about my family—at least not more so than most other families, which are mostly all dysfunctional—but the tests held a certain alluring promise. Before the tests, we were free-falling in chaos, but after the tests, we would know things about each other. We would regard each other with understanding and compassion, communicate more clearly, and we would be better for it.

I was twelve at the time, and I remember sitting in my bedroom and answering simple, repetitive questions for two hours. It was fun and relaxing and, when the results came in, made me feel exceedingly special. Here was a written report explaining in scientific-ish terms that I was, essentially, a terrific person. Of course, everyone’s results come out this way, so I’m not bragging, but the test told me specifically why I was terrific. The test had a way of putting a positive spin on all traits. Instead of being needlessly and irrationally emotional about the problems of other people, I was just very empathetic. I could give up on the dream of pursuing anything very practical or profitable career-wise because ultimately I was just too literary for all that. I was an intellectual, and this made me feel as though I was more interesting than my siblings, which was more or less all I wanted at 12.

The biggest takeaway for my family, though, was that instead of just being a lunatic spaz, I had a high change score. I was the kid who was constantly rearranging my furniture and always questioning why we couldn’t just move some stuff around in the house or paint a room or four. Prior to the tests, this sort of behavior was interpreted by mostly everyone as simply irritating. But after the tests, I had a label. There was a chart in a folder that said this was just who I was, irrevocably.

Because permanence and stagnation freak me out, I often try to avoid them. I don’t mind permanence much where my life is concerned (oh hey, live-in boyfriend and two dogs in the space of a year), but it drives me crazy in my living space. I like things best when they’re easy to reverse and modify. It drives me crazy that each room in my apartment only has one truly viable furniture layout (trust me, I’ve tried everything!), and I don’t like feeling married to certain pieces (with the notable exception of my grandparents’ Eames lounge chair. I’ll marry that.).

desk1

Oh hey there. Lookatchu.

The only reason anyone reads this blog is probably because I once made a desk. It was one of the first things I ever built, and I was really proud of that thing. I had no idea what I was doing or the best way to go about anything (some of my advice in that post is, uh, really bad), but the point was that I had an idea and I made it happen and it totally worked and it looked cool. And then Anna blogged about it and I felt really cool, which led people other than my mom to read my blog and led me to eventually counting Anna and some other people I met through blogging as some of my best friends.

So that desk meant a lot to me. I’ll admit that. I’m not made of stone!

But while I loved that desk in my old apartment, I could never really make it work here. I schlepped it from the bedroom (where it was NEVER used) to the living room (where it sat for months and was rarely used). It took up precious space and provided so little storage. Eventually, the desk just became frustrating, and I realized I was keeping it around mostly out of some weird sense of obligation and sentimentality. But it had ceased to be very practical (which was the whole goal when I built it) and when the MDF top started to bow slightly and some of the paint chipped, it just didn’t look so great anymore.

Enter the light of my life, fire of my loins: Craigslist. For a while I just wanted to get rid of the desk and replace it with some kind of small, low dresser on this wall next to the sofa or maybe a smaller desk, and then I realized I could have both! I quickly found a listing for a cute Swedish secretary-style desk for a couple hundred bucks. Oddly, there was another listing for the exact same desk for like $1,200 at the time, which is a total rip-off.

desk2

I totally love this cute little desk, but it’s a piece of crap! The teak veneer is pretty, but I think the entire thing is made of just chipboard and cardboard and some little dowels and wood glue. It seemed like the entire thing was going to fall apart when we dragged it up to the apartment, and it had little floating storage compartments inside the desk part that did totally fall apart and now need repair. Whoops. Anyway, not all things vintage are synonymous with quality.

Oh well. It works. And now that it’s in place, I don’t think it’ll fall apart as much anymore. Also, I KNOW that arrangement on the top is not working, but I need to rearrange the art to make room on a wall for that painting. I guess. I don’t know. High change score. Don’t rush my process.

Anyway! The desk is super cute, super Swedish, super vintage, and has a lavish amount of storage space. When you live in 500 square feet with one small closet, it’s amazing how much a change from 4 small drawers to 4 less-small drawers just feels absolutely spacious. The desk holds all of our office supplies, electronics crap (extra cords, chargers, external hard drives, etc.), and most of my tools (thereby clearing up space in the kitchen cabinets!). It’s great.

widelivingroom

I don’t have any pictures of the new lounge chair and the old desk in the room at the same time I don’t think, but trust—it was feeling very crowded and dumb. Here’s a before-ish picture for reference-ish? I’m shitty at this.

wide1

I love how the new desk has totally opened up this end of the living room. I moved the Fiddle Leaf Fig (still going strong!) out of the corner and it seems to be pretty happy there in the middle. The proportions of the desk are small enough that it works off to the side of the sofa in a way that most other furniture (including the old desk!) just looked really awkward. Feeling it.

corner1

I moved my Patrick Townsend String Light from the kitchen to the corner behind the chair, and I LOVE IT there. It’s the perfect lighting after the sun goes down, and is just so soft and beautiful. It’s unfortunately exceedingly hard to photograph well, but it really is one of my favorite things. Like, in the world.

I kind of wish we could get away without a side table next to the chair, but I’ll admit that it’s nice to have something to put a mug or a book down on. It’s a vintage knock-off Saarinen tulip side table from the amazing Maya! I kind of want to replace the top at some point (it’s just wood with a bullnose edge), but I don’t know. It’s feeling very mid-century-modern-museum up in here, so fake tulip might have to be relocated. Hmmm.

I want to change all the things always.

string

I love String.

desk3

I love desk.

I’m out of words.

 

Real vs. Fake: The Eames Lounge

beware-of-imitations

I know this post is kind of a departure from my regular programming ’round these parts, but what can I say? It’s Monday, it’s almost the end of March, it’s snowing, possibly this is the rapture, my apartment building has no heat, and I woke up feeling like it was high time to nerd out over chairs.

So. Remember how I used to have a fake Eames lounge chair? Back when my living room looked like this:

enje

Yeah. Well. When we received the very special things from my grandparents’ house, there was a brief hot second when I had two Eames lounge chairs—the real deal, straight out of Zeeland, Michigan circa 1972, and the fakey guy who I think was manufactured by Plycraft, probably a few years later.

“Reproductions” and “replicas” and “inspired-by” designs have been around for forever, but it seems like only in more recent years have these unauthorized replicas inched closer and closer to looking like the real thing. Now. There is a whooooollllleeee long debate to be had about “real” vs. “fake” and the legal standing of intellectual property surrounding furniture designs and who is getting ripped off and how and what this means for society and design and quality and whether the sky is blue. Frankly, I’d rather not get into that because everybody has their own opinions and I find that type of squabbling annoying. Personally, I can’t picture myself buying a newly-produced knock-off piece of furniture for a number of reasons, but I think the rules change a little when you’re talking vintage and secondhand. Nobody’s getting hurt, it isn’t perpetuating the lousy knock-off furniture industry—it’s just good clean old-fashioned thrifty fun times. I support that.

Point is, people often wonder what the differences are between authentic and knock-off furniture—Eames lounge chairs, specifically—and it’s hard to find a good guide explaining it. So being in the unique position of owning both concurrently, I thought it would be a good time to put together a little show and tell.

frontback

The first thing you’ll notice is that the knock-off Plycraft (left) is huge. This is a pretty standard issue with knock-off furniture: getting the proportions all wrong. One of the many things the Eames’s did very well was scale—the 670 has all the comfort of a larger lounge chair, but is really only as big as it needs to be without sacrificing comfort. The elimination of that kind of bulk is a big part of its charm. Even modern-day knock-offs are usually too big or just proportionally super weird.

bases

The base is often the most telling difference between an authentic chair and a knock-off. Vintage knock-offs usually have a base like Plycraft, or a flat chrome X base. The Herman Miller base is powdercoated black with chrome on the top, and each foot has a height adjustment to accommodate uneven flooring. Clever!

Modern knock-offs usually get the base wrong by designing the legs with an incline that’s way too steep. It makes the chair look like it’s frightened or standing on tip-toes, which is just not all that pretty.

tilt

The design of the base also affects the incline of the chair. Vintage knock-offs (and some modern ones) try to make the chair into more of a recliner by adding a spring mechanism that allows it to tilt forward and back, but the base position is much more upright than the 670. The real chair is at a constant stationary position that’s something between upright and reclining. The wood shells and rubber shockmounts give the chair a little flex, but it doesn’t actually tilt at all. Some people find this prescribed positioning wildly uncomfortable, but that’s a matter of personal taste. I found the Plycraft chair really uncomfortable because it required effort to tilt back and remain there, so as soon as I took my feet off the ottoman it would spring forward to its upright position. The 670, for me, really is just right. I love that thing.

sideshock

The biggest difference, structurally, between vintage knock-offs and the real thing is that the plywood shells on the Eames chair are continuous, without any exposed hardware (except, of course, the vertical braces holding together the middle and top shell). Charles and Ray Eames are known for their honest use of materials and exposed structure, but they also believed in elegant solutions to vexing engineering problems—like how to hold this gorgeous thing together. The solution they came up with was the rubber shockmount, which is basically a metal disc encased in rubber. The Eames lounge has 4 oval shockmounts, bonded to the inside of the wood shell at the upper tips of the bottom shell and the “ears” of the middle shell. A black metal plate attaches to both shockmounts on each side, and then the upholstered armrest is fitted on top of the metal plate and secured from underneath. That’s a little hard to explain.

The knock-off chair, however, just says fuck it! and screws directly through the wood shell from the outside instead of into shockmounts from the inside. Make sense? Additionally, the cushions in the authentic chair are secured by clips on the inside of the wood shells and the backside of the cushions, whereas the cushions on the knock-off chair are held on by small screws that go through the shell and into the back of the cushion (which in this case is a lower-quality, thinner plywood shell covered in foam and leather). This all adds up to plywood shells that look OK from afar but are actually covered in screws holding everything together. Not so elegant, but it gets the job done.

backs

Often vintage knock-offs will have a small metal brace between the bottom shell and the middle shell, which takes some pressure off the sides as the main structural support. Whereas the authentic 670 gives the impression of three floating wood shells, it’s pretty plainly obvious how the knock-off works.

Most modern knock-offs look more like the originals because they’ve gotten more ballsy about directly copying both the style and the engineering of the original chair. This is partly where the problem of “quality” comes in, because even the Herman Miller chair is prone to problems. Tragic, horrible problems. Like so.

Broken

I debated even sharing this because it was pretty sad and SUCH a headache, but here you go. Consider yourself warned.

The main engineering failure of the 670 is that it relies solely on the adhesion of four rubber shockmounts to support the weight of a human being reclining in it. What I really wish I had known is that after about 40 years, give or take a few, the rubber tends to shrink and become brittle and the adhesive tends to fail. So, one day, a person—say, your adorable boyfriend named Max—decides to sit in the chair. The bond between the shockmount and the shell fails on one side, putting the pressure of all his weight on the remaining side. In the course of a split second, the middle shell swings backward under the weight, bends, and snaps completely in two. You hear a sickening sound from the next room and know something terrible has happened. You enter the room to find your boyfriend on the floor, your chair lying in a depressing, crumpled mess around him.

I may not have many strengths, but I have one that I’m fairly confident about: I don’t cry over spilt milk. Which is a stupid saying, because really, who would? But for somebody as into stuff and pretty little things as I am, I really don’t sweat it too much when stuff breaks. I break things with decent enough frequency to recover pretty fast. Shattered dish? Whatever. Ink stain on my favorite shirt? Shit happens. Cherished Eames 670 lounge chair inherited from my grandparents?

This was a tough pill to swallow. We’d only had the chair about a month or so, and it had been all smooth sailing and fancy recline-y times, and now it was totally broken and unusable.

My grandparents weren’t the sorts of people who were all that precious about stuff, and I think that’s healthy. For everything the chair symbolized and recalled for me, it is, ultimately, just a thing. It isn’t my grandparents and it isn’t my memories. It’s metal and wood and leather and foam and rubber and some stupid glue that just didn’t hold. Which is shitty, but not as shitty as a lot of other things that are shitty. So there weren’t any tears or real dramatics. We just picked up the pieces, disassembled the whole thing, and got to work trying to figure out what to do.

I found out that this isn’t altogether uncommon. It happens mostly to vintage chairs, but even some new chairs as well. Turns out that Herman Miller only warrantees the shockmounts for 3 years, and after that, you’re on your own. I don’t blame the Eames’s for this—after all, this chair was produced in 1956 and was totally revolutionary at the time. The shockmount technology was an innovative and incredibly elegant solution, and it seemed strong. It did last for 40 years on this chair, to its credit, and had I known that this might happen I would have had the shocks replaced preemptively.

I asked a lot of smart, wood-worky people about what it would take to fix the broken shell, and the news was pretty consistently disappointing. Because the wood breaks at a major stress point, it isn’t something that a little wood epoxy can really fix, and the repair is highly specialized and expensive. A new shell can be ordered from a couple third-party retailers, but I couldn’t imagine that the new shell would match the 40 year old sun-faded rosewood veneer of the remaining original shells. Herman Miller recommends buying an entirely new set of shells from them (the design has changed slightly, and I was told that the new 7-ply shells don’t interface properly with the old 5-ply ones), but that was basically the cost of a new chair and was even more depressing because all I really wanted to do was repair my grandparents’ chair, maintaining as much of the original materials as possible but making it functional, strong, and something I wouldn’t have to worry about. The last thing I want in my living space is something I’m scared to use or uptight about other people using. I don’t believe in “showpieces,” and this chair is no exception.

I even considered this DIY fix, which sounded kind of amazing until I read in other places that it wasn’t likely to hold for very long, at which point the shell really would be irreparable.

So we saved up and let the chair sit in sad pieces for a while before finally biting the bullet and getting the repair done by Olek Lejbzon, a furniture restoration company in New Jersey who specialize in this repair.

ear

If you click the link, you can see that this repair wasn’t done with quite as much finesse as advertised. If I were more concerned about maintaining the monetary value of the chair for resale or whatever, I probably would have been pissed with how obviously mis-matched the grain patterns are and all that, but honestly? I don’t care. The work has a great guarantee and I think was the best solution for us. It seems really strong, and most importantly I can sit in the chair without feeling like I could break it at any moment.

There’s a certain honesty about it, too. It isn’t perfect, but that’s what gives it history. It was my grandparents’ chair, and then it was mine, and then it broke and I did what I could to make it whole again. And it’s all right there, in that awkward little line where something will never look quite right again. And that’s OK.

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