I'd been lusting after a classic Eames lounge chair for years when I came across a knock-off in a used furniture store in town. This was a knock-off from around the same era as the Eames proper (unlike the more modern knock-off Eames lounges, which, honestly, are still super nice!), made by Plycraft, and in my opinion it still looks pretty damn cool. But this one was a mess: splitting in the plywood, cracks in the leather (not the good kind), and rust *everywhere*. But for $125 I wasn't going to pass it up. When I got it home I realized how bad the damage was: I couldn't even safely sit in the chair because of a crack in the plywood where the back attached to the seat.
And yet I persisted. Here's what I did, in case you, too, are trying to restore an old Plycraft!
Step 1: Take apart the chair.
This was a little scary at first, but was much easier than expected. I just put all the screws I took out in little Ziploc baggies and labelled them (e.g. head piece, seat, etc.). I started by disconnecting the base of the chair, and then removing the upper head piece from the main body of the chair by disconnecting the two metal attachment bars. I then removed the visible screws in the wood of the head piece. The cushion piece (which has it's own, separate wood back) then slid right out. I set that piece aside and repeated this process for the center back piece and the seat. What I ended up with is something that looks like this:
Step 2: Clean the Wood
To do this I made a dilute solution of white vinegar and water, took a sponge, and wiped down all the inside wood pieces with this solution (both the inside of the chair itself, and the wood parts of the cushion pieces). My wood was super gross and dirty, so this step was essential. I then left it out to dry.
Step 3: Clean the Cushions
While the wood was drying, a ran a damp cloth over all the leather cushions. Then I cleaned them with leather cleaner (I used Weiman Leather Cleaner & Conditioner).
Step 4: Replace hardware
Take your baggies to Home Depot and find replacement parts for anything that's too rusted to put back in the chair in good conscience.
Step 5: Shore up joints
This was the hardest part, and is really going to be specific to each chair's problems. I did have to drill into the wood. I don't actually own a drill (yet...), so I used my Dremmel tool with a drill attachment to do this (a cheaper and more versatile option that worked well for this scenario).
Step 6: Fix the plywood
Get some wood glue. Get a bunch of spring loaded clamps. Insert wood glue into any cracks in the plywood with a palate knife. Really smash it in there, and have a wet paper towel ready to clean off any excess glue. Then clamp it. Ideally you want every inch of the wood to be clamped. Leave it overnight to dry.
Step 7: Clean the rust.
Coca cola and steel wool are your best friends in this process. Soak, scrub, rinse, repeat. Do this when the metal pieces are detached from the chair (hopefully that's obvious). You'll be amazed at all the rust you can get off. Side note: de-rusting leads to the most satisfying before/afters ever.
Step 8: Putting things back together
Hopefully you labelled your Ziplocs well.
Step 9: Bask in your glory.
Now your living room looks sick as f**k.
Side note: I've been getting some questions about my sofa in the above photo. It is an amazingly affordable and high-end looking option (plus: it's a sleeper!). I love it. You can find it here.