Eames Aluminum Group Lounge & Ottoman Repair

If one can anthropomorphize furniture, then the above photo of our early Eames Aluminum Group chair and ottoman expresses a completely dejected state.  It may even be in the midst of desperate prayer.  This was one of the first vintage pieces we bought when we got the house, and a craigslist find no less.  At a few hundred dollars, it seemed like a steal – until it became almost immediately clear that the Flo-tilt mechanism no longer functioned.  The chair would not return from a tilt.  The nubby wool fabric was in good shape, and the coating on the arms had not even yellowed. The previous owner, while testifying that she had no idea it didn’t work (!), apparently never sat in it.  I decided to get over the negative feelings of being deceived by the seller, and instead I would redeem the transaction and replace the Flo-tilt mechanism.

Our house was completed in 1958, the same year the Aluminum Group debuted.  I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff.  But also, the design is  elegant and the group doesn’t seem to be as ubiquitous as other vintage modern pieces.  Original examples are not terribly expensive in relative terms – and even the new reissues, now with a lovely four-star base and available in graphite finish, are reasonable in comparison to other lounge offerings from Herman Miller and Knoll.  I should mention that later examples have a more reliable and modern torsion bar if one choses the tilting/headrest option.

The Flo-tilt mechanism – essentially a cylinder of rubber – was used in countless office chairs in the 50s and 60s.  Initially, I tried to contact Past Present Future, which I won’t even link to because of a lack of responsiveness.  They used to have lots of NOS flo-tilt parts, but no more.  I found a donor base from Jeff at Mid Century on Park Blvd from what used to be a Eames DAT.  The parts were frozen, so I used WD-40 to try to loosen them to no avail.  After nearly giving up, I picked up some PB Blaster, and really soaked it.  A machine shop removed the bolt that secures the whole apparatus free of charge.  I slowly worked on the rest of the pieces until I finally extracted the cylinder.

Donor base from a DAT-1.

The confounding Flo-tilt mechanism

Without much fuss (and a little hammering), out with the old, in with the new.  Now we’ve got a functional chair.  With the ottoman, it takes up quite a lot of space, even though it strikes a svelte profile  for a lounge group.  We’ll see if we can find a place for it.  Its a deep red color – brighter than our other stuff.  I’d say its more ergonomic than comfy – good for reading but perhaps not the chair that will invite many naps.  If I were to hunt for a vintage example again, I would almost certainly opt for a non-tilt antler to avoid the problems with the original parts.  However, with the older Flo-tilt design, at least you get the elegant aluminum antler, whereas the newer and more reliable torsion bar works great but appears less integrated with the overall design.


6 thoughts on “Eames Aluminum Group Lounge & Ottoman Repair

  1. Chad Status says:

    you starting to go overboard

  2. Esteban says:

    OK, Tavio. Thank you!

    • Jacques says:

      Hi, I just bought the same chair… in the same state than yours initially )-:

      So if you have more detail pictures, spares left or an idea where I could find an DAT base too that would be great !

      Bonjour from Brussels,

  3. rob says:

    nice to see the results of time and effort. the red looks great. i have an identical piece in green.
    you might be able to help… im struggling to fine the exact position of the bar that holds th zipped end of the head rest? does it sit flush to the horizontal top of the back?
    if you’re still on this thead i’d like some advice.


  4. Jason says:

    Hello all,

    I acquired an Eames Aluminum Group lounge chair with a broken FloTilt cylinder. I started researching, in earnest, and found no one stateside with new old stock or functional used ones. Finally, I came across http://www.mancha.demon.co.uk/

    Following an inquiry through the site, Graham was very gracious & asked the right questions to determine if it was, in fact, a faulty cylinder. I purchased it via PayPal, had tracking almost immediately and received it in perfect condition 5 business days later.

    There’s a video on you tube demonstrating how easy it is to install it and, in my case, the orientation of the pre-tension(?) adjuster had been installed upside down. It’s now functioning like new and I couldn’t be happier. Oh, and these are new, not old stock or remanufactured. Anyone can perform this repair.

    To Rob above ^
    Graham described the headrest retainer as a fiberglass or other flexible, but strong rod that slips through a fold in the headrest and simply resides in the channel above the upper seat back over the allen screws.

    If I can figure out how to post images here, I’ll be happy to help with what I recently learned.

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