Aug 11, 2013

Early Edition 670 & 671

In the short history of the Olive Green Window, a story that has drawn the attention of most readers is the Eames Lounge Chair post written in January 2013. As this topic is clearly very interesting, we would now like to continue with this theme. It is also an acute topic - those of you who have recently visited the "past items" section might have noticed the late sixties lounger has moved out - yes, also one of the Cherner chairs is gone. More about that later. 

Left without a chair in functional and presentable condition, Pekka is now "forced" to finish the restoration of the early edition Eames Lounge Chair we have had stored away for more than a year. At the moment the chair pieces lay in the living room corner, disassembled and waiting the new leather upholstery and shockmount installation to be finished. Usually projects of this kind are performed downstairs in the Man Cave. Unfortunately, Pekka's beloved cave is now fully booked, as it serves a storage sentence of an undefined length due to downstairs renovation. So yes, Minna has to, once again, deal with piles of furniture components in the lounge. This is, however, nothing new to her - this comes with the package when you choose to share your life with a collector!

Pieces waiting to be assembled

We actually found this particular Eames piece when we were still living in our old apartment, so thus you get to see some pictures from there as well! Anyways, the story started last summer, and like so many times before, Pekka was conducting an extensive global search with extremely strict criteria. Finally he spotted this early edition chair through eBay, located in Chicago, US. It was a relatively risky commitment, especially when the decision needed to be made based on just a few pictures available in the internet. Once again, after some serious consideration, we just had to trust our intuition.

Two boxes from Chicago

After a purchase like this, the moments of unwrapping can be very intense - after all, this is the first time you see the item "in person". As expected, inside these two boxes were a disassembled lounge chair and a ottoman, extremely well packed. This is actually something we are delighted to see quite often - the effort and care put into packing demonstrates that people selling items like this appreciate their value and wish to protect them as well as possible for their journey. In this case, we had been given an option to send it back if not satisfied.

Ottoman with chair components

So, when the chair was assembled again it was finally time to inspect it at a close distance. We knew already knew it would be an extensive restoration project as the chair was more than fifty years old, but how extensive exactly? Luckily it was good news. The condition of the rosewood panels and metal parts was surprisingly good. There were also no unfortunate quick fixes, such as for example "fixing" a chair with collapsed backrest by drilling holes through the lower panel in order to to secure it with bolts. That happens, and would have been such a shame.

Early edition Eames Lounge Chair

When previously discussing the Eames Lounge Chair, we presented that based on structural differences found in these chairs, one could estimate the approximate year of production of each chair. However, one also has to understand that naturally these structural changes did not happen overnight, but rather gradually instead. Also, the background information we have is based on literature and internet sources, and sometimes there are differences between various sources. Against this background, it is understandable to argue with the logic of dividing the different chair generations to "series" as we called them. In essence, we believe the classification approach works best when considered more as a rule of thumb providing guidance, rather than exact, black and white metrics.

Our current chair has several features which are typically found in the Herman Miller made, american chairs from the '50 to early '60. Given the relatively small production series of the early years, it seems that this particular chair would fall among the first few thousands of chairs produced. We discussed about these features in more detail in the previous Eames Lounge chair post, but before launching the restoration saga let us briefly revise the different structural features and the general condition of this chair.

First, underneath the chair resides an intact metallic medallion glued to the rosewood indicating the designer and manufacturer. This type of label was one of the first labels used in these chairs.

Manufacturer label

Second, the wood used in the visible, top layer of the plywood is Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia Nigra). Like the length of ladies' dresses has varied through time depending on the moody winds of fashion, also the texture of the wood grain used in Eames Lounge Chairs has varied from decade to decade. The very dark rosewood, with only a slight variation between different grain shades is typical to early Herman Miller chairs. Thickness of plywood is around 10 mm, again a feature coinciding with chairs made during this period. Later, the thickness reduced closer to 9 mm.

Dark rosewood panels

Third, the armrests have a flat profile and they have three screws (vs. two) underneath - again, features of the earlier models. Later on the amount and/or type filling changed resulting in a puffier side profile, and the number of screws was decreased from three to two.

Flat armrest profile with three screws 

Push-on rubber boot glides of the ottoman

Old style cushion clips

All the plywood panels have two sets of numbering (written and stamped) indicating they are the original parts of this chair. If this was not the case, it could for example mean that a broken chair panel had been replaced with a new one.

The stamped number "95" in the panels is a code to keep the panels of a single chair together during manufacturing. This is important due to aesthetic reasons, as the texture of different slices of rosewood varies. Therefore, to create an uniform entity, it is important to select panels with a similar texture for a single chair. The numbering written with a white crayon, however, is assumed to serve the same purpose than the stamped, but it has probably been added much later when chair was returned to Herman Miller for maintenance, maybe because of broken shockmounts and/or the exchange of leather upholstery.

Panel numbering, stamped and written

Generally, our chair is in pretty good condition. However, it is an old chair, and thus it is only natural it will need some restoration. Our philosophy in collecting vintage furniture is not to have an in-house museum, where items are kept on a self or otherwise on display just to be viewed at, but rather finding beautiful items which can also be used in everyday life. Given this, some of the most delicate structural element of the chair will have to be changed completely in order to return the full functionality, including most of the upholstery. Even though we believe that the leather is not original, it is still old, very dry, widely cracked and literally turning into powder.

Cracked seat

After opening the cushion zippers carefully we found some old tags indicating the ingredients and the manufacturer of the filling material. Stephenson & Lawyer, Inc., the manufacturer, was apparently not the very first contractor to provide Herman Miller the cushion fillings. Nevertheless at certain point in time, a vast majority of fillings used to came from them. It seems that the cushions have been rebuild by Herman Miller as the back panels of both the seat and ottoman cushions are not original. It might have been that the leather upholstery, back panels and the filling were all changed at the same time.

Back cushion label

An other element desperately in need of replacing are the shockmounts. They are actually one of the most delicate structural elements of the whole 670 assembly. These parts are the elements in which the metal brackets holding the seat panel together with the backrest panel, screw in. Considering the shockmount structure, the most delicate detail is the glued attachment between the shockmount and the wood panel. If (and eventually when) this bond gives in and you happen to sit down on the chair, there is a big chance the chair will break. When one side is damaged the whole weight of the back panel is supported just by the other side resulting in a side swing of the backrest. Given the weight of the backrest this often literally breaks the rosewood panel in pieces.

Front shockmount with a crakced glue

Like the upholstery and cushion back panels, the shockmounts - even if they are genuine - are not the original ones either. The inside of the rosewood panel shows signs that somewhere along the way they have been changed. Given the age of the chair this is not surprising at all. It is, however, unfortunate that the person who changed them also sanded some wood away resulting in a thinner and thus structurally more delicate panel. Fingers crossed.

The same applies to the rear shockmounts, they are not the originals either. However, for now they seem quite firm, and thus they will be left as they are. They will be inspected periodically and exchanged in due time. The challenge with the the rear mounts is that in the older, US made chairs they are actually mounted on a curved wood, making it much more difficult to attach a new shockmount which requires a perfectly flat surface.

Rear shcokmount

Please, if you have an old 670 make sure to check the shockmounts every now and then by listening to any suspicious sounds when sitting down and leaning back. Periodically, it might also be a good idea to take the chair apart and visually inspect the condition of the glue seam. If you find any signals of the issues mentioned above and don't have sufficient experience to fix them, please contact a specialist who can help. It is not difficult, but requires special knowledge, experience and the right tools - otherwise you might end up with even a greater problem than you originally had.

This is a short introduction to our current Eames Lounge Chair. In the next update we'll start with the actual restoration - so please stay tuned!


  1. I appreciate your detailed comments on this interesting chair. Concerning the side-flexing shock mounts, the difficulty is not only the replacement, but also in some instances determining the correct placement position that has been obscured by previous repairs. I also don't know where to find original shock mount replacement parts.

    1. Thank you for your comments. You are right about the difficulty in positioning the replacement shock mounts in the correct place. One misconception is that the shock mounts should be inline with the top of the seat plywood. This can be so, but one has to understand that at least in the early days the plywood edge was finished by hand and because of this the edge was rather un-precise. The point of reference should be the shape of the plywood shell as a whole regardless of the top edge of the plywood where the mount sits.

      The best place to find correct shock mounts is through Graham Mancha in the UK: . He can provide you all you need for your Eames chairs, including doing the work for you.

      The worst thing you can do is buying rip-off shock mounts from ebay. Please remember that not using the right components can and will sacrifice the integrity of you chair.

    2. That is exactly my experience. I bought shock mounts on ebay (from a company whose name is the same as a brand of cereal). After 3 years of use the screws pulled right out of the body of the shock mount. The parts from Graham Mancha are expensive, but if that's necessary to do the job right, so be it.

    3. Sorry to hear that you have had bad experiences with fake components. Yes OEM parts can be relatively expensive, but given the value of an Eames lounge chair, I personally would not settle for anything less than the best.

      Remember also that it is not only the quality of the components that makes the prepare last, but also the quality of the glue and the way you prep the surface of the plywood. All this has to be done in the right way in order to create a lasting bond between the shock mounts and the plywood.

  2. It would be a bit expensive to send my chair to England for repair by Graham Mancha, but I can afford his parts. I have seen some You Tube demonstrations of replacing shock mounts. All of these leave out some important details. Is it better to have a fast-drying or slow drying glue, for example. What about the dreaded "starved joint," if the pressure is too high while clamping the joint during drying. In other words, if you change your shock mounts in the near future it would be invaluable to me and I'm sure to others in the same situation if you could document the process with your usual attention to detail.

  3. Graham Mancha is indeed an incredible knowledge source. I live in the US and I contacted Graham when I went through my shock mount nightmare experience. He provided me with LOTS of valuable information. Although I didn't end up having Graham do the repair for me due to the distance issue, I'd highly recommend him to anyone with any furniture restoration needs. If you plan on just buying parts from him, I's sure he'll be very thorough in guiding you through the repair process. Good luck.