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How to Tell if a Eames Lounge Chair Has Been Repaired

by Bradley Downs (05/15/09).

An Eames lounge chair that has been repaired. This is a good repair, but any repair will greatly decrease its value.

An Eames lounge chair that has been repaired. This is a good repair, but any repair will greatly decrease its value.

This is an Eames lounge that has not been repaired. You need to inspect a chair closely before deciding to buy.

This is an Eames lounge that has not been repaired. You need to inspect a chair closely before deciding to buy.

Many sellers and buyers who are familiar with the design and history of the Eames lounge will tell you it is usually not a matter of if, but when the construction will fail. Because there are no screws protruding through the wood shells and holding the chair “together,” the design carries the inherent risk of shock-mount failure. The shock-mounts are rubber pieces which are heat-glued to the inner portions of the wood panels. The sections are then attached to these mounts making for a seamless look to the wood shells. What we are seeing with the vintage chairs is the failure of this glue, whether it happened recently or 20-plus years ago.

For some reason, the chairs from the 1970s seem to be the biggest culprits when it comes to this kind of damage. This could be to a possible change in the glue or heat process. Or it could just be due to the fact that sales were very high during the 1970s for this lounge and so many from this time period turn up. Because of this failure, you will see more and more chairs with drilled wood panels or with added screws. People did this because they really had no other way of fixing the chair. Some epoxies can hold for awhile, but eventually break over time. In many instances, the lower seat back would fail and the other side remained attached, causing the person sitting in the chair to break the lower wood shell into two pieces (shown below) as the weight of their body added so much force to one side.

If one side of the lower seat back fails, and the other side remained attached, the weight of the person sitting in the chair can cause it to break the lower wood shell into two pieces.

If one side of the lower seat back fails, and the other side remained attached, the weight of the person sitting in the chair can cause it to break the lower wood shell into two pieces.

Some repairs are done very well and look like a factory job, but please understand this: the Eames lounge was never meant to have visible screws to the wood portions. This repair will GREATLY reduce the value of any lounge, no matter how nice or clean it looks. If you are in the market for a vintage Eames lounge, be careful when purchasing online or sight-unseen. When possible, ask the seller to send side-view pictures of both sides of the chair. If there appears to be wood filler or visible marks or screws, especially to the wood under the arms, I would continue my search if I were you.

Herman Miller did repair failed shock mounts in the 1990s and performed other repairs, but I am unsure if they still do this. You may contact a local Herman Miller rep in your area to see if they still offer this repair. A Google search will also reveal some woodworkers which repair the Eames Lounge but we have not dealt with any directly.

You can also visit the website http://www.mancha.demon.co.uk/spares.html for many Eames lounge parts and even a repair/upgrade kit for the mounts. I know of only two epoxies that have shown good results if you wish to repair your Eames lounge yourself. You can see one epoxy at this website http://www.gailwileydesigns.com/zapglue%20web%20site/30min.html and the other at this website http://www.pcepoxy.com/pastepoxy.asp.

For very specific questions regarding your Eames item, please contact Daniel Ostroff via e-mail at vintage@eamesoffice.com. He is not an appraiser; those types of questions should be directed to me.

Other articles about the Eames Lounge Chair by Bradley Downs:

The Iconic Eames Lounge Chair; Is That One Real or Fake?
Telling the Age of Your Vintage (or Newer) Eames Lounge

Bradley Downs is a Worthologist who specializes in mid century modern furniture and the owner of www.odd2mod.com in Atlanta, Ga.

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8 Responses to “How to Tell if a Eames Lounge Chair Has Been Repaired”

  1. Bradley,
    I have to commend you for the frank discussion of Eames Lounge Chair problems. You are overlooking a design defect though. Old neoprene shockmounts oxidize, the neoprene rubber becomes stiff and powdery, and are irreparable. They should be replaced. Glue will only hold the surface of the neoprene, but when the neoprene oxidizes, it lacks internal cohesivity, and the surface of the neoprene pulls away from the neoprene below, so that it cannot possibly hold for long. People trying to reglue an old mount are risking a much more serious problem, as when a shock mount gives way, the back of the chair can swing backward and rotate around the “ear” of the lower shell on the opposite side, snapping the plywood ear off, and creating damages that are much more complicated to repair, and involve partially re-laminating the inside of the lower shell. A routine conservation repair, but invasive and expensive. It is very simple to see, most of the shock mounts fail not because of the glue, but because the shock mount broke inside the neoprene and sheared off.

    Olek Lejbzon & Co. (located at 425 Ferry St., Newark, NJ), has been restoring furniture since 1950. We have been restoring Eames Lounge Chairs since about 1960. We can restore it with the original design shock mounts with a 3 yr. warranty, or with our proprietary shock mount, with a 10 year warranty. The two mounts are indistinguishable unless you probe the material or remove the mounts from the chair.

    Concerning the shockmount types, we can use the neoprene/steel threaded plate sandwich design that Herman Miller uses, but our opinion is that that design is the biggest flaw we have ever seen in modern furniture, and should not be repeated, though Herman Miller seems to have learned from G.M. and profits from planned obsolescence/failure. Their lounge chairs have never carried a warranty exceeding 3 1/2 years, all their other furniture a 15 yr. warranty. There is no mystery as to what Herman Miller is telling us.

    A superior, proprietary design is to use ebonized solid beech wood plates with the same radiused shapes (in three dimensions) as the neoprene originals, with holes drilled into the beech plates, into which T-nuts are inserted, with neoprene bushing around the T-nuts, to provide the shock mount flexibility, without its fallibility. The glue joint between beech and the plywood is trouble free for many more decades than Herman Miller’s design. We have repaired many Eames lounge chairs over the past fifteen years with our original shock mount design, and have not had any failures. You cannot tell the difference by looking or feeling the improved mounts, they are finished by our artists to match the original neoprene.

    You can send the lower back shell and the seat shell to us disassembled in a box, and we will repair and ship disassembled, for you to reassemble (simple screws).
    We will repair and turn around the order in less than four weeks.

    We also repair shattered lower backs, retaining only the original back veneer, and rebuilding the plywood internally, layer by layer around the broken area, with 1″ wide steps from layer to layer. The repair is difficult to see, and has the strength of the original chair. You won’t be sitting on egg shells after Olek repairs your broken Eames Lounge Chair.

  2. vintage info says:

    This is great for a lot of applications. But, if you’re going to take the time to hand build a wood project, why not use a vintage woodworking project design that is made for specific woods? The finished product will be a lot nicer, and unique.

  3. Thanks Peter for the info regarding your repair process/history. I wouldnt necessarily say that this is a design flaw. I personally own a lounge from 1956 and the mounts are original and free of wear. I really dont think the Eameses or Herman Miller expected this design to last 50+ years. I can see your point but in 15+ years of dealing with this design, I have never run across a lounge dating prior to 1970 with shock mount problems. Every lounge I have seen with failures are post 1970 in production. I am sure there are exceptions but I have seen a lot of these chairs over the years. It seems to me a change was made to the shock mounts in the 1970s and this explains why so many have failed from that time period. There are many factors to this kind of failure (the change in the average persons size and weight since 1956, where/how the chair was stored, what area of the country it was used) that I could do 3 more articles regarding just these factors. Your repair process sounds encouraging for people with broken chairs. Maybe you could get some of your past clients to act as references and have them post here with remarks regarding the repair you performed for them. Thanks! Bradley Downs

  4. Bradley,
    We will contact some of the clients, and will forward before and after photos to you.

    Our company restores several Eames Lounge 670 chairs with broken shock mounts every month, and our experience has been that we have repaired a significant portion that were pre-1970. We cannot see any difference in the shock mount design.

    It is a simple fact about thermoplastics or rubber, that they do oxidize, and when they do, their strength declines logarithmically with time, meaning that when they oxidize significantly, they fall apart very quickly. And we have repaired chairs 5 years old with broken shock mounts, although that was for glue failure, and maybe a whale sat in it, I don’t know, it wouldn’t be tactful to ask.

  5. Larry Ward says:

    Inherited this from my sister who bought it years ago but never discussed it with here – now deceased.

    It has a lot of i.d. that it could be an original – but the back shell wood was pressing against the seat shell wood which seemed a collapsed rubber issue. I disassembled it to find no rubber or remnants, only one 2×2 steel angles 9″ or 9 1/2″ long with 2 holes to attach each of the leather wrapped plywd arms and 2 pairs of holes, 2 for attaching backrest shell and 2 attaching seat shell in each bracket. Each hidden by arm. But there are pairs of holes in both wood back and wood seat shells that had simulated wood oval screw covers. Does this make it a knock-off or was a past repair made and they eleminated any rubber mounts just metal angle arm attachments screwd to wood and bolted/screwed to shells? The ottoman and chair camel colored leather is intact and restoreable. Ottoman is equal size of seat with 4 legs (chair has 5). The shell back resting on seat shell could be lifted up to its correct configuration so I presume any slight enlargement of screw holes, etc., accounts for the backrest shells drop. Seat backrest pair of brackets may need some snugging up. How do I pop off (remove) seat backs therefrom?

    Suggestions are very welcome.

  6. Sherri McKenzie says:

    Could you help me date my Charles Eames Chair? It has the white and silver round label and patent numbers label. It has all down stuffing. Black leather with Brazilian Redwood.
    Thanks,
    Sherri McKenzie

  7. Ron says:

    What do the numbers printed on the inside shells of the eames lounge chair 670 mean?

  8. The Eames Lounge with the white and silver round metal label is pre-1965. To tell the year more closely, run the largest patent number in a patent search and see when it was filed. The chair can’t be earlier than that.

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