Having recently upgraded my dining table to a Saarinen tulip table with a marble top, I thought it was time to do the same with my dining chairs (a cheap and cheerful mismatching collection of Eames knock-offs and Habitat), which were starting to look a little shabby in comparison.
One of the things I like about the Saarinen tulip table is that almost any kind of chair goes with it, not just the Saarinen tulip chairs it was intended to be paired with. While I quite like tulip chairs, I thought that a whole set of them would be a bit too space age for my liking. I decided instead to go for a set of white Bertoia side chairs, which I’ve always wanted despite being fully aware that they are not at all comfortable and resemble patio furniture (they’re actually used as outdoor seating in the courtyard at the V&A museum).
Tracking down affordable Bertoia side chairs that weren’t blatant knock-offs (I discovered that there are a lot of decidedly unconvincing knock-offs of this particular chair floating about) or extortionately priced (Skandium charges £766 for one chair, unupholstered) took patience. After a couple of months of checking eBay daily, I finally managed to get hold of a slightly shabby, rusty set of four for £270. The chairs were a vintage set, possibly decades old, and weren’t branded with an official manufacturer’s logo. Comparing them against the real thing and numerous unconvincing knock-offs, however, they looked like the genuine article with all of their proportions correct and everything in the right place. In terms of condition, the chairs were a bit rusty and there were bits where the nylon white coating had come loose, exposing the metal frame underneath.
At this point I really should have consulted an online tutorial on how to restore Bertoia chairs properly (this article, which I read long after the event, recommends specific nylon-specific products and taking the chairs to a specialist company to sandblast off the existing finish and then repaint through a powder-coat process). Instead, I thought I’d just glue any bits of nylon coating that were hanging off back onto the frame, sand down any rough patches, cover any metal hardware with masking tape and then touch up with a primer, white spray paint and a glossy top coat and hope for the best.
Halfway through this amateurish process, however, I discovered that spraying the nylon coating with spray paint was making the surface of the chairs unpleasantly powdery to the touch (and that no amount of glossy topcoat would rectify this). Rather than stop and source an alternative product more suited for use on nylon surfaces, I chose instead to only spray the really damaged bits of the remaining chairs (as a result, only parts of these chairs are powdery to the touch than the whole thing).
To finish them off, I bought some wool-covered seat pads specifically designed for Bertoia side chairs from this German online retailer (Knoll also produces official versions of these pads but they’re ridiculously expensive), which means that the chairs are now almost comfortable – as opposed to quite painful – to sit on.
Given the amateurish and slapdash nature of my restoration job, you can see all of the paint runs, uneven patches and bits of metal that I’ve effectively coloured in with spray paint when you look up close and when you touch two of the chairs, it feels like paint is going to rub off onto your hands. That said, I don’t think they look too bad (from a distance) and I do feel a sense of achievement that I would not have felt if I’d bought a full price set from Skandium for several thousand pounds.