The DIY Bertoia side chair renovation

“If you look at these chairs, they are mainly made of air, like sculpture. Space passes right through them.” – Harry Bertoia

About two years ago I bought eight Harry Bertoia side chairs on a wim in Helsinki. They were in a state of disintegration but I saw the potential in renovating them. Originally they had been used as terrace chairs at the Töölönrannan Restaurant and had obviously received a layer of paint whenever the rust started coming through. These were unique, original, early 50’s chairs and they were in need of dire proper care. Three things were needed: a paint strip, a paint job and accompanying seating pads.

I started out by taking the chairs to a trusted sand blasting company. Don’t worry about the original welds coming undone during the blasting. It didn’t happen with any of the chairs and if it did, you can always fix it later. Old Bertoia side chairs are pure steel so they are extremely durable. It is only after stripping them that you can really see which of the welds that need fixing. I’m not sure how they originally welded them but the work is exquisite with minimal overlay of material. Therefore you should try to get a TIG when fastening the metal wires to each other. That way you ensure a durable and elegant end result. After that it’s only a matter of choosing a desired color and powder coating them at a trusted supplier. I would recommend shiny white or black since it will work in any environment with virtually any other piece of furniture.

When it comes to the pads there are a number of options. You can buy the official ones, buy copies or use generic pillows. I decided to have eight manufactured by a friend of mine, Sofia Sandin, who does magic with any fabric. Above you can see the drawing she made based on images and one of the chairs (measurements in centimeters – just divide by 2,5 for inches). The actual measurements can’t be found anywhere but this is a good close inspirated design. We decided on a Lauritzon fabric with a jute texture since it is close to the original and very durable. The inside was filled with additional two layers of jute, natural fiber fabric and Finnfill polyester intermixed as in the image above. This gives it a soft appearance which will keep its shape over time. The whole pillow is then sealed up by a matching ribbon. The end result speaks for itself.

A friend of mine, Henri Aho, restored four chairs earlier and his results were equally stunning. More images of my restored chairs can be found in the dedicated Flickr set.

E-mail or ping me if you have any questions. I wish you the best of luck with your own project. Do it well and you’ll have chairs that last a lifetime.

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