Recently, I was lucky enough to snag a trio of vintage Tulip style chairs for a steal. They were rusty, dirty and scuffed and needed a lot of love but, with bones like these, impossible to resist. Widely considered to be a classic of industrial design, the Tulip chair was designed by Finnish born designer Eero Saarinen in the mid 1950’s for Knoll. The smooth, modern lines of this chair have made it an iconic mid-century piece, and one I could not pass up.
After giving the chairs a good look over, I realized that the fiberglass uppers were actually in pretty decent shape and mostly just in need of a really thorough cleaning. That said, it was a good hour of scrubbing and buffing to get them into tip top shape. I started with a little regular kitchen cleaner to get the first layer of grime off, I then followed up with a magic eraser. Which lived up to its name! The chairs were shiny in no time.
The metal bases were another story – covered in rust and dings. Thankfully the rust was only surface deep and hadn’t eroded any of the metal too seriously. I started by sanding them (wearing a breathing mask of course!) with a coarse 100 grit sandpaper, which removed most of the obvious rust. I followed up with a 220 grit to smooth it all out. In between I used a wet rag to wipe away the rust and dirt that was coming off. Some parts of the bare metal were exposed, but I was able to get a smooth surface pretty easily.
In much of my research of restoring tulip chairs I had read about the difficulties many people had faced with getting the bases back on the seats after removing them, so I opted not to take them off, and instead covered the seats. This was mostly because I get frustrated by mechanical things easily and knew I would probably struggle to get them back on in a timely manner. I’m also rather impatient. So trash bags and painters tape it was, and this worked perfectly.
I then primed the bases using “Killz” spray on primer containing rust protection. After letting this dry, I used Krylon’s prime and paint in one, in Ivory. My only advice here is DO NOT USE KRYLON spray paint. I followed the instructions to the T, I shook the can for a good two minutes and the paint came out lumpy. Like little sand granule sized lumps. Freak out, lose my mind, lumpy. So, I had to let this dry completely and sand it off and start the process over (cursing Krylon’s name the whole time). Once I was back to square one, I used my old trusty Rustoleum Heirloom White. This was MUCH BETTER and I should have stuck with what I knew. Lesson learned.
I did 3 light coats of paint, letting each one properly dry in between. I’ve learned over the course of a few projects that when it comes to spray painting, the best finish comes from multiple light layers, as opposed to drowning the first layer. Of course, I’ve read this a million times, but had to learn it for myself. So, take my word for it, it’s true. Once it was fully dried (I let it sit for 24 hours) I went over with a final layer of Rustoleum’s spray on Ultra cover clear gloss.
So here is the mostly finished result. These chair pads aren’t the ones I’m going to ultimately use, they’re a temporary fix until the proper ones are finished. I just couldn’t wait to share, but will update the pics as soon as the new pads are complete.
My love of all things Mid Century left me with little choice but to get sucked into the vortex that was Mad Men (binge watching TV series on Netflix is a favorite past time round these parts) And as sad as I am to see it finish, its impact on modern design trends is undeniable. Even Target has come out with a range of Vintage Modern homewares and furnishings. Which is lovely, but to me, nothing beats an original piece. A sumptuous lava drip glazed lamp from the 50’s, a walnut end table from the 60’s…these things sing to me in a way that a replica can’t.
Of course much of the time spent watching each episode of Mad Men was spent coveting the gorgeous furnishings and backdrops. From divine credenzas to burnt orange sofas to atomic ashtrays and bronze crane statuettes, it was Mid Century perfection. Oh to be a set designer on Mad Men!
I seem to do this a lot. Another perfect example recently was Hitchcock’s 1958 movie “Vertigo”. Yes, the movie is visually stunning and the story captivates, but it was the little details that grabbed my attention. The coffee percolator in James Stewart’s apartment, the cocktail glasses in the restaurant, a pin on Kim Novak’s coat. All eye candy for the accessory obsessed. It’s not lost on me that a good portion of the movie was spent trying to determine the manufacturer of the white chair in Midge’s apartment – was it Woodard or was it Knoll – rather than following the storyline. It’s a bad case of mid-mod design ADD.
But…surely I can’t be the only one? What movies have hit you in the design bone? What movie or TV set would you love to ransack? Or replicate? We’d love to know!