Restoration: How to repaint a classic fiberglass mid-century chair

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Restoration: How to repaint a classic fiberglass mid-century chair

Restoration: How to repaint a classic fiberglass mid-century chair

Q: I found a great mid-century table and pair of chairs at a rummage sale for $30. One chair has a stain. I would like to paint the table and chairs a glossy white. The label on the chairs says Knoll Associates. What kind of paint or finish should I use?

A: You scored a classic set, designed in 1957 by Eero Saarinen and still made today by Knoll. He came up with the molded base as a way to address what he called a “slum of legs” that usually filled the “ugly, confusing, unrestful world” he saw underneath chairs and tables.

Today, a new, authentic Saarinen Tulip armless chair sells for $1,481 on the Knoll website or for slightly less at online retailers such as Hive, which lists it for $1,465. Non-Knoll tulip chairs are copycats but still cost a lot more than you paid. Home Depot, for example, offers a Lippa dining side chair with a vinyl seat cushion for $131.25.

Knoll’s tulip chairs have always had cast aluminum bases and molded fiberglass seats. The bases are coated with Rilsan, a plastic in the nylon family that dates from the late 1940s and is made from castor beans. The coating remains slightly flexible so it doesn’t chip off easily, making it very durable.

Tricia Elliott, who works in sales for Hive, described it as “kind of like the plastic coating on wire.” The fiberglass seats have a plastic finish bonded to the fiberglass. Elliott said that the finish used today might be different from what is on your chairs. Tulip tables also have molded aluminum bases, but the tops can be laminate, marble or veneer.

Because there doesn’t appear to be any damage to the bases of your chairs, you might want to begin by painting only the tops. It would be less work, and if the look is pleasing, you could stop there. You might also avoid chipping if the Rilsan coating is too flexible for paint to stick well. Paint bonds (or doesn’t) to the top surface, not the materials underneath.

To get the best bond on the chairs, use an all-in-one paint or a primer formulated to stick to plastic.

Krylon (800-457-9566; makes a Fusion line of spray paints designed to stick to all types of hard plastics without the need to sand or prime-coat first. The paints contain solvents that melt into the plastic to create a bond, said one of the people who answers technical questions for the company. Fusion paints, however, are not suitable for use on plastics that are so flexible that they bend; on these surfaces, the paint will crack off.

Rustoleum (877-385-8155; also makes spray paint that bonds to most plastics without the need for a primer. But if the surface is slick, you should lightly sand to scuff it up, which will help the paint grip, said Shelley Toole, who works in product support for Rustoleum. The exception with Rustoleum’s Specialty Plastic spray paints is that it doesn’t stick well to polyethylene.

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Published at Thu, 28 Dec 2017 21:00:29 +0000