Before & After – Vintage Shell Chairs

by Katy on June 18, 2017 · 22 comments

I recently took on a new project, because how could I resist the opportunity to bring home four matching shell chairs when the price was simply “will they fit into my Prius?”

Even though these stacking shell chairs aren’t as desirable as a classic Eames chair, they are still groovy enough to be worth a few hours of my time. And since I own a Bissell rug shampooer complete with a handy-dandy upholstery attachment, I already owned everything I needed to bring them back to life. (By the way, I use the Dollar Tree knockoff Oxyclean in my shampooer, which works perfectly for just about everything. Just mix half a scoop with water for the cleaning solution tank.)

Can you tell which one had already received its beauty treatment? Notice how the foam cushion on the right sided chair had an indentation from being stacked. Those popped right out after being shampooed.

Even this indentation went away.

My secret tool for refurbishing upholstered furniture is a sweater shaver, which smooths out the fabric and removes any unwanted shagginess. Plus it’s bizarrely satisfying to use.

The last step was to scrub down the legs with Bar Keeper’s Friend, which removed any superficial rust, and brought the chrome to a mirror finish.

I have the chairs up for sale on Craigslist right now, but I’d also be happy to hold onto them as both my sons will need furniture for their off campus housing this fall.

In total I probably spent three hours on this project, which I consider to be well worth the effort. It’s easy to garbage pick individual chairs, but finding four that match is the holy grail. I really enjoy the process of bringing things back to life. I feel that refurbishing grubby items not only keeps them out of the landfill, but also helps people avoid new purchases created from virgin materials. Plus, these chairs are at a quality level you’re not going to find at Ikea.

Now, onto another project!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathy Hairston June 18, 2017 at 11:12 am

What projects would you recommend for a beginner?


ouvickie June 18, 2017 at 11:53 am

Wow, they look incredible, Katy!
Thanks for the cleaning and refurbishing tips too. I have a pilling shaver, but I never thought of using Bar Keepers friend for cleaning chrome legs and such.
I’m a refurbish/cleaner upper too. I hate getting rid of useful things. We haven’t bought new furniture in years, because what we have is still in great shape. I’m not one to redecorate often at all. I might change out window coverings, paint something or move furniture around, but I choose a lot of basic colors – so things here have a home for years.


tia June 18, 2017 at 12:11 pm

I’m always amazed at the stuff you are able to sell. My mom used to buy furniture at junk stores when I was a kid and refurnish them, but they turned from dusty crud covered scarey stuff into beautiful heirloom oak, cherry, and walnut treasures. I’ll just make sure I never have to put anyone through university. I have to laugh, I think plastic and chrome furnitue belongs in a landfill. You are doing a service if you can keep everyone who wants that supplied so it is never manufactured again.


A. Marie June 18, 2017 at 2:38 pm

Re: Tia’s comment: Although I too have only limited enthusiasm for the Eames chair look, I think that in furniture as in clothes, fashions are a case of “whatever goes around comes around.” My own taste (as a 60-something) is for natural-looking wood, and, like Tia’s mom, DH and I restored quite a few dusty old painted wood pieces back in our day. However, natural wood seems to be out of fashion at the moment. But, hey, perhaps it’ll be back in style before our estate sale rolls around!

In any case, I’m simply amazed at the job Katy has done, and applaud her trashpicking/restoration efforts. Anything she and all the rest of us can do to keep stuff out of the landfill and make an honest dollar is OK with me.


tia June 18, 2017 at 3:28 pm

Yeah. Plus, since I just see “junk” from my perspective, which is “what I like”, the picture of nonconsumerism is incomplete. Katy has educated herself to know what is salvagable and saves a lot more stuff from the landfill. Plus two guys get their schooling without the burden of HUGE student loan debt, and someone gets something they treasure that is all spiffied up and at a reasonable price.
I get the same reaction when I look at the website of the guy who makes at least a couple of thousand bucks a month on salvaged stuff from trash. You sold that? and for that much? It’s some kinda smart and dedication way beyond my level of “I found this bench for a buck and painted it and put pillows on it”. It’s pretty. hehe.


Mand01 June 18, 2017 at 1:59 pm

They look beautiful, great job!


VanessaKC June 18, 2017 at 5:40 pm

Foil works great. I use fine steel wool on particularly stubborn hubcaps.


Grace June 18, 2017 at 3:33 pm

I save aluminum foil to clean and polish chrome. All you need is a bit of water with it.


Bee June 18, 2017 at 4:02 pm

Absolutely Fabulous! Do you own the little Green Machine? This derail has slipped my mind.


ann June 18, 2017 at 11:05 pm

Brilliant job, Katy. They look great.


Bettypants June 19, 2017 at 3:35 am

Well done. I love to see things brought back to life. I have a handheld Bissell steamer also, and find it incredibly useful!


Mrs. Picky Pincher June 19, 2017 at 4:49 am

Wowza, you got those chairs sparkling like new! I love them! Thanks for the tips. 🙂


Kristen June 19, 2017 at 5:28 am

Awesome job, Katy!!!


Katy June 19, 2017 at 12:34 pm




Beth June 19, 2017 at 5:42 am

Those chairs look awesome!


Sandra June 19, 2017 at 5:57 am

The chairs turned out great. Good eye. Do let us know when you sell them. Your area is very eclectic and I bet a buyer is looking for what you’ve got.


That Other Jean June 19, 2017 at 8:18 am

Wow! They’re not my favorite style, but those chairs look fantastic. Well done!


Jessica June 19, 2017 at 9:46 am

The chairs look great, even though they’re not really my style. I recently adopted a dog, and noticed that as I was walking him around the neighborhood, there is a LOT of reusable trash out there. Wow. I have picked up a handful of things on occasion in the past, but now, I may start looking for particular things to resell.


Cindy in the South I June 19, 2017 at 11:44 am

I kinda dig the style of the chairs but my house was built in 1950 and they go with my house style. When I finish restoring my house, I am going to have formica countertops, probably pink or yellow cabinets, etc., that would have been the style of the house when built…


Katy June 19, 2017 at 12:19 pm

That sounds super cute. I would recommend that you check out the blog for midcentury ideas and inspiration.


Diane June 23, 2017 at 4:04 am

Those chairs! What a terrific project!

I just rescued a small metal plant stand from beside the dumpster. Sprayed it with alcohol (bed bug protection) and gave it a good wash before putting it on my porch. And now it holds my herbs.


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