I recently won a set of five vintage aluminum GoodForm chairs on eBay from a local consignor. I’d planned on simply reupholstering the school bus green vinyl seats with something more akin to my tastes. However, after getting them home, I discovered a few issues that would turn my little reupholstering project into a full-blown chair restoration.
The chairs had been exposed to a damp environment because they reeked of mildew from moldy cotton batting. Many of the metal glides were rusted and crumbling. The removable steel seat frames had active rust in places with small hairline cracks at stress points near the front rim. Fortunately, other than a few small dings the tubular aluminum frames were in pretty good shape.
1. I removed the vinyl upholstery and scraped away the moldy cotton batting. Unfortunately, the upholsterer who recovered the chairs in school bus green used a ridiculous amount of industrial glue that required a couple hours of steel wool and acetone to loosen and remove before the seats could be bead blasted.
2. The seats had cool cloth and paper GoodForm labels on the underside. I was not able to save the paper labels, but I successfully used steam to remove the cloth labels and re adhered them later (see pic).
3. I had my friend Bill give me a lesson on MIG welding as he kindly repaired the small cracks on the the chair seats.
4. After bead blasting the seats, I sprayed them with a coat of Rustoleum gray that nicely matched their original finish.
5. Now for the challenging part… Modern office chairs have a completely hollow tubular leg that uses a chair glide secured with a spring clip. This method is not how glides are secured on vintage GoodForm and Emeco aluminum chairs. The GoodForm and Emeco chair have a 1 inch hollow tubular leg, but the base of each leg is closed with a 5/8″ hole drilled in the center. A slightly over sized rubber compression fitting (which I’ll refer to as a “coupling”) is used to slide over chair glides’ threading (see pic) with a nut on top for tightening. This rubber coupling is squeezed through the 5/8″ hole until it fully passes through. Over 60+ years the rubber couplings deteriorate and I could not find a single vendor that offers a comparable replacement.
I had to improvise using rubber stoppers purchased from the local hardware store. I cut each stopper in half horizontally, drilled a hole in the center, then removed and shaped the excess material with a drum attachment on my drill press (see pic). Before pushing the rubber couplings through the 5/8″ holes, I rubbed liquid hand soap over them to make the process a bit easier. Note: Do not lubricate with WD-40 or oil because it will break down the rubber. Prior to pushing the coupling through hole, I secured the nylon nut on top of the threading. With the soapy coupling pushed completely through, I pulled firmly on the glide to create tension against the coupling and nut. I turned the glide clock-wise, thus tightening the nut along the threading to create a snug fit. Lastly, felt pads were stuck to the glide bottoms to save my wood floors.
5. Initially, I was going to use firm, mildew resistant 1/2 inch foam rubber pad to cushion the seats, but after a dry fitting, I did not like how the foam obscured the contour of the seat. I ended up using a 1/2 inch nylon batting that compressed under the vinyl resulting in better looking profile.
6. I put considerable thought into how I would reupholster the chairs. I considered using waxed canvas. I even ordered yards of vintage looking oilcloth in an “aluminum” color only to find the material in hand looked too much like duct tape. I was fortunate to locally find vinyl auto upholstery in a very nice grayish green that I feel compliments the chairs and their surroundings.
7. I only used a damp rag to clean off the aluminum chair frames, so as not to disturb their wonderful patina.
The chairs ended up taking more time and money than I had intended, but I am very pleased with the results.