Restoring Emeco Aluminum Chairs

About: artist/designer

These are classic chairs, characterized by their cool perforated vinyl seats. Unfortunately, you've gotta know where to look to find new upholstery and old stiff foam is tough to remove. I'll show you how.

Step 1: Set Up

You'll need:
Scissors, a sharpie, a screwdriver, pliers, a wrench, a bunch of rubber tipped clamps, a metal spackling tool, weights (dressmaker's will work),
a 2-3" paint brush, rags, some newspaper or a drop cloth (this gets messy), Barge cement, and Barge thinner and a ventilator is always a good idea when working with strong adhesives.
Purchase 24" x 24" x 1" Foam and head to your local Auto Upholstery supplier for a yard of perforated vinyl (headliner material).

Step 2: Remove the Seat

Turn the chair upsidedown and look for (4) metal clips bolting the chair frame to the seat. Sometimes these can be obscured by the upholstery, but a generally located in the corners. Loosen the bolts to release the clips. Remove any under dressing, sometimes this panel has labels which you may want to preserve, but usually this fabric is trashed. Carefully lift the screws from the seat and save all this hardware!
With your flat head screwdriver, pry up the small metal tabs around the perimeter of the metal chair pan, releasing the old upholstery.

Step 3: Remove the Old Upholstery Fabric

This is the tough part. I recommend softening the glue with the Barge thinner. Use a pair of pliers to pull the fabric away from the metal. Try not to destroy the original fabric too much, as you'll want to use this as a pattern to cut the new fabric.

Step 4: Remove the Foam

Take the metal pan and it's crumbly foam over to your newspaper or drop cloth.
Put on your respirator because it is time to get agressive with the metal spackling tool. Saturate the foam with Barge Thinner and vigorously scrape as you go. Most of the foam will come off in bug chunks. Then dampen a rag with more thinner and rub the remaining foam and adhesive away.

Step 5: Cut Your New Foam

Lay the foam on a flat surface with the metal pan on top. Trace 1/4" outside the perimeter of the pan with a sharpie on the foam. Cut out Foam.

Step 6: Cut Your New Upholstery

Lay the perforated fabric face down on a flat surface. Using weights, flatten out the original cover as best you can. Try to copy the shape with the sharpie as closely as you can, because those weird tabs end up underneath the metal tabs we pulled up earlier.

Step 7: Barge It Together

Take the pan outside again and don your ventilator. Paint the top seat surface with a generous coat of barge and press the foam to it. Next, brush the edge of the upholstery with Barge about 3/4" deep around the edge. Lay the seat pan and foam face down on the upholstery pattern, making sure the front to back alignment is correct. Working from the centers out, use clamps to pull the fabric around the foam. Work your way around, adjusting as you go. When all of the fabric is pulled suffuciently, resolving wrinkles, you can force the fabric under the metal tabs and bend down to secure. I like to leave the clamps on and let the whole thing cure overnight.

Step 8: Re-Assemble the Chair

Remove your clamps and check to see the fabric is secure all the way around. Bring the Aluminum frame over to your table top and line up the seat with the frame. Locate your original hardware and place the screws in the corner keyholes. If you want to ramp it up here, cut a piece of dark twill to line the bottom of the seat. You'll need four holes punched in it for the screws. Fold the edges underneath the frame, checking to ensure they don't peek out the sides. Attached the clips and tighted the bolts to the screws. Take a rag damp with a bit of thinnner and wipe down the entire frame, removing old marks and scrapes and check your vinyl for any stray adhesive. That's it - you are done!



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    10 Discussions


    9 years ago on Introduction

     I am not a big fan of how the Fabric looks.
    Is that the correct type of cloth?


    11 years ago

    anyone know where to find missing parts for these--such as the armchair that I have that has little upholstered armrests -- of which I am missing one. Or how could I make a substitute? It would have to hold the shape fairly well and I'll cover it with foam and fabric just like on the seat . . .


    12 years ago on Step 7

    You might add Goodform to the title. Thats another company that made almost identical chairs that could be repaired the same way.
    I have 7 ( 3 goodform, 4 emeco) of these I have been meaning to upholster but I never could find the right fabric. These tips look excellent. Headliner upholstery...who knew?


    12 years ago

    A large piece of plywood or two and some c-clamps can make your press for the seat. If it's all metal with paint on it, take the time with a cupped wire brush on a portable drill and brush slightly excessively to remove the top few microns of steel, exposing fresh metal. Finish with a brass wire brush afterwards and the resultant finish will be so fine that you could use it as a mirror. Be sure to polish with a clean cloth to remove the oxides and excess metal before sitting in/painting/clearcoating it! This will take time, but if you want something that will actually strike conversation, give it a try. If you are unsure, try polishing an inconspicuous area and see for yourself. As a finishing touch, prior to upholstering, give it several coats of laquer clearcoat and cure it with a hair dryer or other heatgun. If you should choose to paint it, remove the old paint with heavy grit sandpaper prior to priming. Remeber several thin layers are stronger and better-looking that one heavy one.

    Jafafa Hots

    12 years ago

    awww rats. I thought this would be about restoing the color. I have a bunch of really old ones, the kind that just has the molded butt-print in the aluminum, no padding, and they are stained and have paint etc. on them.

    2 replies
    karylnewmanJafafa Hots

    Reply 12 years ago

    Have you tried wiping them down with a solvent like the Barger Thinner? That will remove the old paint.