After I completed making my desk, it became clear that my beloved little h-base Eames shell chair just wasn’t working as a desk chair. Thanks to the modern miracle of Ebay, it is now.

For about $45, including shipping, I bought this fancy vintage swiveling aluminum star base. It makes the chair a bit more comfortable and the swivel factor adds hours of fun to otherwise inactive periods of work.

This is how it was shipped to me. I just thought that was funny.

Of course (it’s me we’re talking about), the change was a little more involved than a quick switcheroo; I also took the opportunity to give the shell itself some love. The Brick House and Chairfag already have wonderfully detailed tutorials on how to restore a shell chair, so I won’t rehash the process here. A good cleaning, a little wet sanding, and a slick coat of Penetrol restore the luster and add a bit of protection, so I’m glad I took the time to do it. It’s like when somebody you haven’t seen in a while has gotten plastic surgery and you can’t quite pinpoint what they had done. Not super shiny like it’s trying (and failing) to look brand new, which I was worried about, but tastefully refreshed. Analogies, they’re fun.

Luckily, both the original h-base and the new swivel base are narrow mount, so I didn’t have to mess around with prying off the shockmounts and resetting them with new epoxy. Really sticky things can be hazardous for the accident-prone.

I also gave the aluminum part a good scrubbing with Ajax, the rough side of a sponge, and a toothbrush (this is the before shot, you can see how much better it looks in the first picture).

I considered just buying a replacement glide for the old h-base– it was missing one– but I’m so glad I just went for a new base altogether. I think it looks better with the desk anyway. Less leggy.

About Daniel Kanter

Hi, I'm Daniel, and I love houses! I'm a serial renovator, DIY-er, and dog-cuddler based in Kingston, New York. Follow along as I bring my 1865 Greek Revival back to life and tackle my 30s to varying degrees of success. Welcome!

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  1. 9.9.10

    Wow, I never would’ve thought to do that, but I like it! Swivel chairs are much more comfortable for desks but they’re normally big, ugly and black… at least mine is. Maybe it’s time to change that!

  2. 9.9.10

    Love it, and I LOVE the way it was packaged. I bet the delivery person hadn’t seen anything quite like that before. :)

    Oh, and thanks for posting the links about shell chair refurbishing. They’ll be put to use eventually when I refinish my knock offs. For now, they’re happily languishing in a storage unit!

  3. 9.9.10

    I have that same base on my cream eames desk chair and I love it. Except it goes SQQQQUUUUEEEAAAKKKK when it rotates. It needs a bit of lubrication.

  4. 9.9.10
    Drew said:

    Dude, that looks great! I’m so glad I stumbled upon your blog. It’s quite inspiring. I really like the look, I used to hate star bases just because I was familiar with the office black plastic with casters. I still hate those, unless you’re actually in an office, but this star base is awesome.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. 9.9.10
    ModFruGal said:

    Nice job!!

  6. 9.9.10

    yeah, this new base is cool. Like the update.

    I ship all my packages in old trash bags and duct tape.

    Don’t see what’s funny about that.


  7. 9.9.10
    misa said:

    are you feeling all itchy? i think it was worth it!

    • 9.10.10

      Actually, not at all! It’s important to use plenty of water when sanding, it really contains the dust to a milky liquid instead of all over the place.

  8. 9.9.10
    Danyelle Hadaway said:

    Did you end up sanding with sandpaper or a sander? I have been wanting to do this with my shell chairs but I don’t know if I really should invest in buying a sander.

    • 9.10.10

      I just used a quarter of a sheet of sandpaper (medium grit, followed up with a fine grit) and plenty of water from a spray bottle to contain the dust. My chair was already in pretty good shape, but I think the only reason you’d really NEED the electric sander is if you’re moving the shock mounts since it might be hard to hand-sand off the old epoxy, or if you were doing a lot of chairs. Many hardware stores, even the small ones, rent electric sanders too! I rented one for $15 when I made my desk, so that’s something to consider if you’re not likely to use it all the time but feel like you need it for this.

      Oh, and a teensy word of advice since it sounds like you might do this too, I’d start with the Penetrol on the underside of the chair, just to give yourself an opportunity to get used to it. It’s a little tricky getting the right consistency on there, but you figure it out pretty quickly.

  9. 9.9.10
    Lena said:

    While I think I somehow prefered the before look I definitely can understand your need for a desk chair with a swivel base- I couldn’t work with a normal chair either. Did you move your carpet a bit? I would love to see some pictures of the whole room!

    • 9.10.10

      Yes, I did move the rug! It was back when I got the bedside table– I moved my bed to the opposite wall and then the rug was *just* the right size, by coincidence, to fit under the desk. I’ll work on taking a wider picture so y’all can get a better sense of the room, I guess I do normally just focus on whatever’s new! Oops!

    • 9.10.10
      Lena said:

      Thanks, that would be great!

  10. 9.10.10
    laura said:

    I might be doing the same thing, glad it turned out so well
    love the blog

  11. 9.10.10

    Perfect. Just perfect.

    And what do you see when you swivel around?

    • 9.11.10

      lots of homeless art lying around and mostly blank walls. It’s pathetic. I’ll do wider shots soon, promise!

  12. 9.10.10
    Cait said:


    Also, if i even seem an Eames anything I’m snatching that sucker up! Even if it will look weird in my 50’s house. (Please don’t hate me because I’m not all modern and snazzy!)

    • 9.11.10

      I don’t think it would look weird! It’s good to mix periods anyway, and plus, the chairs were introduced in 1950! Totally appropriate.

      Or don’t snatch them up but let me know where they are so I can. your choice.

    • 9.11.10
      Cait said:

      I’m currently wondering what happened to all the ones that were in the old library where I live, because they certainly didn’t find themselves a home in the new library. I’m sure they are long gone, along with all the lovely Bertoia diamond chairs, which makes me incredibly sad. Damn whoever made that decision for not understanding that the old library was stylish and awesome!

  13. 9.10.10
    Ana said:

    I totally understand needing a swivel base at a desk.

    I have a similar base on my office chair and if I could give you a word of warning it would be this: Watch your toes.

    Those bases are like magnet for defenseless toes.

  14. 9.11.10

    Lookin’ good!!

    I have a couple (dozen) shells that could really stand to undergo the Penetrol treatment, so I’m glad to hear that the sanding process isn’t as dastardly as I’d imagined it would be.

    Did you notice any color-shifting at all?

    • 9.11.10

      No, not from sanding. I really wasn’t too aggressive with the sandpaper, just sort of lightly went over the whole thing, paying special attention to the edges.

      The Penetrol kind of gives the same effect on the color as when the chair is wet, to give you an idea of how your chairs would look. So if the chair is on the dry side (I don’t know if there’s a technical reason for this, but some chairs definitely look more parched than others, ya know?) the color might look darker/richer than you’re used to seeing it, and I think the fibers do look a bit less pronounced. I think this is basically what the chairs would have looked like new, although I guess I’ve never really seen a new one. So therefore they look less used/old/vintage. I think it’s a personal preference thing, there’s probably a strong argument to be made against the Penetrol treatment (kind of like how “restoring” an antique can decrease its value? maybe it’s less “authentic” now that it’s been refurbished?), but I’m happy with how it came out and I think it definitely adds some protection. I hope that makes sense/answers what you were asking! I got a little carried away.

  15. 9.20.10
    Fat Cat said:

    I know this is beside the topic, but I love, love, love your oriental rug ! I long to find one as gogeous as yours…