DIY Herman Miller Shell Chair Rehab Part 1

Found this poor abused chair under a pile of other beastly chairs on Henry Street. Ridiculous layers of paint, mysterious holes in the bottom, disconnected shock mount. But underneath it all, I still knew it as the classic it is--a Herman Miller Shell Chair.

Street find!

Tri-hole seat--later I discovered this is for anchoring a seat pad.

Here was the only patch where you could see the color under all the paint.

Having just read The Brick House's restoration project, and consquently being enthralled with Chairfag's remounting instructions, it was a project handed from the midcentury DIY gods!

First step, before all that paint was to come off, I needed to get the base off. Lucky me, the bolts attaching to the shockmounts were already stripped, so the only way to go about this was to remove the whole mounts, Chairfag style.

Nasty shock mounts.

The whole mallet and flathead process took a bit of getting used to, and was kinda nasty, as my mounts are awefully rotten and crumbly, but resiliantly stuck. It wasn't so mucha prying off experience as it was a slow chipping away. It was a pretty satisfying moment though when all four were finally off.

All four shock mounts off.

Next step, after some breif research on using paint stripper on fiberglass. Result: not much info, and seeing how the chair was a) free and b) hideous in its nasty black slopped on paint--spectulative experimentation was necessary.

Let's strip these layers off and go au naturale!

I first started on the underside, which had considerably fewer layers of paint. I think only white, forest green, and mustard yellow. Oh yes, and a cream color that is awfully close to the original color. A little test patch with my paint remover "trigger spray", and little wait and see, some curled up edges on the paint, and yes, it looked like I was mostly in the clear. After a while, to my delight, I did find this:

See the logo?

I also did the metal legs, which had multiple layers of white, red, and black. Getting down to just the metal was a bit of a feat in itself, consisting of spray, wait, wipe, repeat.

Taking the paint off the legs.

On to the proper side of the chair after getting tired of working on the back, there I finally confronted the serious hate someone had for the original condition of what was slowly becoming an oatmeal/gray (I still need to look up what the official color is called) shell chair. Lots and lots of paint remover trigger spray, wait, repeat revealed that the chair was white, black, green, cream, yellow, then white again, then black again. Why someone would do this to a poor lovely Herman Miller chair, is beyond me. Criminal really.

Where I left off on the underside.

At some point, some of the fiberglass started to get all fiber-y, and I saw that my paint remover had eaten through whatever protective layer was put on the chair at the time of manufacture. Some of my wiping and scrubbing (even with lots of nasty chemical paint remover, it took lots of labor) with steel wool, magic erasers, and lots and lots of rags that got quite nasty actually was getting some of the paint particles embedded into the fiberglass...kinda a bummer.

See fuzzy edge above.

Eventually, I was pretty beat, and my back hurt, but I would say about 85% of all the paint did get removed. I'm hoping the little embedded flecks will come out when I sand the piece. Regardless, I'm happy to have saved this little chair, at least for now...

Where I left off on the seat side.

Still need to figure out how to extract one of the last plastic feet nails left in one leg, and get new shock mounts and feet, but all that, for another day...

Also more posts coming soon on more DIY projects--the Wormley coffee table, the wicker thonet style chair, the Eames-knock off lounge, and hopefully some store reconfiguration/updates. Always so much to do!


  1. Hi there--I have five of these classic shell chairs--only one is on its base--what is the best way to put them back on their shock mounts (aside from the obvious)?

  2. I'd recommend following Brick House and Chairfag's tutorials above--I'm just following them!

  3. hello, what kind of paint remover did you use and with the steel wool, magic eraser, etc. which would you say was the BEST at removing the paint?

    I have 2 Shell chairs that were spray painted red, I got it down to just remnants of pinkish tones (butterscotch color chairs) but can't seem to get it all off, suggestions?

  4. Hi Anonymous,

    I just used a soft rag to wipe off the paint after using the trigger spray. If there is still a slight stain on yours after the bulk of the paint is off, I'd try wet sanding the surface with an orbital sander--I'm no expert though, so try at your own risk. Maybe try the underside first? Sanding mine made it look much better.