Jul 26, 2014

Disaster & Recovery

Pekka's parents have a stunningly beautiful Eames lounge chair by Vitra for Herman and Miller International. The chair dates back to late sixties / early seventies and was found by Pekka through eBay a few years ago. Since its discovery the chair has gone through extensive restoration. First, the brazilian rosewood panels were stripped from ugly, old lacquer layer. Then they were treaded with pure Tung oil. Last, some parts of the leather upholstery were replaced due to wear and tear. The end result: a perfectly functional piece. Well, almost.

Something wrong here?

When originally assessing the restoration needs, a decision was made not to change the shock mounts as their condition seemed ok. Considering the construction of these chairs, it is indeed the shock mounts or more precisely the adhesive joints that attach the shock mount to the plywood are the most delicate parts of the entire assembly.

Torn plywood

Only a few months after Pekka's parents started using their chair a disaster struck totally out of thin air. Without any warning an adhesive joint of one of the shock mounts gave in while someone was sitting in the chair. When this happens the whole backrest assembly remains supported only from one side, resulting in the backrest swinging sideways. One can only pray and hope that the resulting damage will be fixable as the worst case scenario is that the load of the backrest will break the beautiful rosewood panel.

Fortunately, the situation was not as bad as it could have been. Yes, the panel was torn, but only from inside and from a depth of four out of ten millimeters of plywood. The rosewood of the outside panel was nearly completely saved with only a minor crack.

 Two shock mounts: one with an adhesive joint that gave up and the other with broken plywood

Aware of the situation, Pekka packed his tools and materials when we took off to a family summer trip to visit his parents. It is of course very unfortunate that something like this happens, but the silver lining is that this indeed is a dream project for Pekka for the summer vacation!

Enjoying the vacation

All four shock mounts were changed in the process, but let's focus on the one with the ripped panel. First thing to do is to get rid of all the ripped layers of plywood. This is important in order to achieve a solid foundation to build on.

Getting rid of the bad parts 

In these kind of operations, one has to master the adequate skills and knowledge, but this is not enough. Also the materials for rebuilding have to be of premium quality. Luckily, we happen to be fortunate to have good connections. Therefore, we would like to thank Janne from HVL, who during his vacation made himself available to provide all the veneer that was needed for the project. Remember to contact him if ever in need of premium quality veneer!

Veneer including brazilian rosewood also know as the Rio Palisander

After preparing the panel and cutting the veneer pieces everything was molded together. As Pekka didn't have the possibility to construct a mold he improvised with several vises. After a few beers needed to avoid dehydration, not bad at all.

Improvised plywood mold

After opening the "mold" and cutting and sanding the sides of the veneer Pekka could finally evaluate the outcome of his work. The results at this stage seemed promising as the structure was solid. Yes, there is a visible difference in the texture between the old and new veneer, but this would not be a concern as it would be covered by the cushions.

Old and new: inside view

View from the bottom

Next Pekka needed to create the base for a shock mount. The important thing is the geometric purity of the base. As working with a chisel requires some serious skills, so please be honest with yourself and when in any doubt contact a professional. Otherwise you may very well sacrifice the whole structure.

Working with a chisel 

Again the end result for this phase looked good. The surface seemed flat enough so Pekka could proceed to the next stage.

Flat base

Last but definitely not least the new shock mount was glued to the plywood. The shock mounts we use are genuine OEM (original equipment manufacturer) parts and received together with the glue from Graham Mancha from UK. He is definitely one of the most knowledgeable people when it comes to Eames chairs and deserves our sincerest gratitude. It is indeed due to his kind guidance that Pekka has managed gain most of his knowledge regarding these chairs. So please, do not hesitate to contact Graham if you have any questions or needs regarding vintage Eames chairs.

Glued shock mount

The end result is more than we ever dared to expect. At the time of these pictures the glue had not been settled enough to assemble everything together, but everyone, including Pekka's parents are more than happy to show the result with in these few pictures to follow. 

Panel interior

Panel exterior

We have been discussing about shock mounts before, but because of their importance let's do it one more time. Please understand that it is not IF, but rather WHEN that one of the shock mounts will give in. If you have an Eames Lounge chair and don't want to break your it please consider these simple instructions:

  1. While using the chair listen carefully if the chair makes any suspicious noises while leaning back
  2. Periodically check the condition of the adhesive joints of the shock mounts
  3. While standing behind the chair try to lift it up by the back rest to see if it is loose
  4. If something happens and you don't know how to fix it, please contact someone who does
  5. If you decide to fix the problem yourself make sure to have the required skills
  6. Use only premium quality materials, glues and original OEM parts
  7. DON'T BUY CHEAP SHOCK MOUNTS FROM EBAY as it is a guaranteed way to make the situation worse.

Chilling out

And Urho? Well, during the last few days we have been lucky to enjoy  great summer weather in Finland. The high temperature makes Urho even slower than he normally is and due to this he is forced to take a cold shower every day. Even if we know it is good for him, he just simply hates it.

Jul 16, 2014

Slate slaves

The work downstairs continues. Now when Pekka has finally managed to start his summer vacation the pace has increased dramatically. One of the most visual changes is the sanding and painting the visible steel structure and the window frame.

Signs of progress

Even if the paint gives the space a somewhat finalized look the most arduous project during the last few days (and nights) has been washing and seaming the slate floor. This task has really taken us both by surprise simply due to the crazy amount of working hours required to finalize everything.

View from the window

As mentioned earlier, we divided the work between two of us. Pekka was responsible for seaming the slate, which is not overly difficult and it gets easier as one learns by doing. One of the key learnings was that the filler has to have a very precise amount of water in it. Neither too much nor too little. Otherwise it is impossible to work with the seaming tool.

Partly seamed, partly washed

Minna, on the other hand, has focused her energy on the look & feel of the floor. This job includes both washing the slate and making sure the seams are cleaned soon after seaming. This is crucial in order to achieve both visually and haptically precise seam.

Look & feel

And the flip side of the coin? First, the physical experience of spending several days down on your knees is far from pleasant. Our backs, legs and arms are aching. And of course we are also tired. Often the last stint of the day starts at 9 pm after Sofi goes to bed. Eager to get things done, we tend to continue quite late into the night. And when she wakes up early and full of energy, eight hours of sleep is a distant dream.

Blistered thumb

One of the most rueful downsides is the current condition of the bathroom. As the picture below shows it is simply a disaster. Floor covered with sand and dirt. Old towels ripped in rags needed for seaming (luckily due to a blog collaboration we will get some new towels from Luhta Home - more of this to follow soon). Sad, but fortunately a temporary sight.

Fancy a shower?

Jul 12, 2014

Plan B for Friday night

On a regular, non-renovation Friday night a plan A for Pekka's first night of summer vacation would have perhaps been something different. An unseamed slate floor, however, urged us to choose a different option. With a bottle of Plan B and couple of wine glasses off to downstairs we headed!

Plan B for the night

We started the work from the most difficult (and least visible) part of the floor, under the stairs. Pekka took care of the seaming, and Minna followed by cleaning the excessive concrete off the slate edges. Never done slate floor seaming before, the progress was painfully slow.

Detailed cleaning

Based on the earlier experiments, we chose to use 1.6% titanium oxide to tone the seaming concrete (4 dl in 25 kg of concrete). It takes quite a long time to dry and adopt the final colour, so the seam in the photo below is still slightly darker than it will be in the end. Also, the contrast will be strengthened further by a layer of protective toner applied on top.

Some seamed slate

So, we started around 10 pm, finished at 2.30 am and completed about 4-5 square meters of floor. In the wee hours of the night, a thought of the total time required to finish up the rest (25 m2) might have raised some fleeting moments of despair, but fortunately the company, wine and the ultimate vision will compensate the lengthy road ahead!

Floor around the staircase - completed!

Jun 28, 2014

Major milestone reached

The time we have been slaving to finish the bunker really seems like a small eternity.  Since last September, more than 30 tons of junk has been manually wheeled out, and close to 10 tons of gravel has been carried in. Considering all the renovation projects we have ever been involved in, the bunker clearly ranks as the most demanding one.

So finally, after ten months the big day had finally arrived. It was almost touching to see the concrete pump truck slowly turning to the backyard alley.

Truck-mounted concrete pump arrives

Of course, we had the option of casting the 17 square meters concrete slab ourselves. But having to acquire the know how, rent the equipment, carry hundreds of sacks of cement and investing all the time that would have been required, it was simply not a viable option. Additionally, the offer we received from the concrete company was very reasonable, which of course made the decision making even easier.

Pulling out the hoses

The preferred option was indeed to enter from the backyard. To achieve the bunker, close to 50 meters of hose was needed. However, the alleyway leading to the backyard had been softened by heavy rain this summer. So would the heavy trucks be able to climb up the slippery grass slope was the biggest question mark of the entire project.

The Plan B was to enter from the front of the apartment and approach through the upper floor, via the staircase all the way downstairs. However the idea of pulling a filthy hose through our home was not the most appealing one.

50 meters of hose

Once the set up was ready, the concrete truck arrived.

Concrete approaching

This time, it was not so easy. Whereas the lighter pump truck managed to climb up the slope, the soft and slippery grass was a huge challenge for the much heavier concrete truck. More than ten times the driver tried to desperately climb up the slope, but every time the tires started to slip on the grass.

The situation was critical. There is a certain time limit when the concrete has to be poured in as it naturally will start solidifying very soon. Of course we could choose Plan B and enter from the front, but it would have meant disassembling and reassembling all the hoses, and also protecting the upper floor from splashes. Clearly, quick decisions were needed.

Our neighbours must love us!
Finally after fifteen minutes, taking a slight side track helped and the heavy truck managed to slowly climb up the hill. Needles to say the sense of relief was enormous. Just like in life in general, also in renovation a bit of luck is a necessity!


Perfect match

Of course, Urho's tasks was once again to manage the project - but from the the upper floor. A small dog, big machines and a strict time limit is far from a good combination, so his remote positioning was chosen only for Urho's own good.

The general manager

The feeling of finally seeing the concrete covering the prepared floor was unbeliveable. The guy responsible of pouring had a remote control unit attached to his belt and by pressing a button he was able to control the concrete pump.

Vesa pouring the concrete

Touch down!

Again, a laser was used to level everything with the mark defined by Pekka earlier.

Leveling with a laser

Whereas the first guy was responsible for pouring the concrete and roughly levelling it, the second one was working his way out from the bunker and ensuring the predetermined level was reach everywhere.

Manual levelling

It was great to watch the professionals at work. To gain a perfect end result this job clearly requires true craftsmanship combined with solid experience.

Cratfmanship in action

The last thing to do was to cover the concrete to prevent it from drying too fast. This can be done either by using a plastic sheet or spraying a protective layer on top. We chose the latter, as the spraying was easy to do after manual levelling.

Now, all we can do is to sit and wait. For us, this is a major milestone. Both physically and psychologically. Almost a reason enough to open a bottle of wine and celebrate (which, actually, has also already been done...)!

Future floor

Jun 27, 2014

Preparing for concrete

Preparing foundation for a concrete floor seems simple and straightforward. And in a way, it is. But if you do it yourself, for a first time, over evenings and weekends after work, some thinking and perseverance is required to get it right.

So here is what we did in the bunker. First, the bed of gravel had to be compacted as much as possible. The easiest way was to rent a plate compactor.

Plate compactor

To determine all gravel was equally levelled, we used a laser. So handy that it makes you wonder - how was something like this done before the time of these miraculous pieces of equipment?

Levelling with a laser

You also need to leave a small space between the wall and concrete floor. To accomplish this, some hot-setting adhesive and foamed plastic were used.

Rolling out space to be

Next, the insulation layer made of 50 mm thick expanded polystyrene sheets was fitted in place.

Last look at the gravel!

Of course given the irregular shape of the space, there was a lot of detailing to do. Once again, hot-setting adhesive was very useful.

Glue Master at work

Sofi also seized the sudden opportunity. It is not very often when colouring the floor is allowed. And it probably shouldn't have been allowed now either, given the guidance regarding consistency in raising kids. But it was just so much fun!

Guess what is my favourite colour?

On top of the insulation Pekka unrolled a layer of separation fabric, which was finally followed by a reinforcing steel wire lifted up a few centimetres with plastic holders. This was to ensure the positioning of the reinforcing wire in the middle of the concrete slab.


Holding up

The last thing to do was to protect the walls from any potential splashes of concrete. Now, fingers crossed all goes well with the concrete delivery and we soon have a floor underground!

Ready for some concrete action

Jun 22, 2014

Walls & Ceiling

We are only recovering from the installation of the slate floor when new construction materials started already appearing on site. Suddenly the focus went from floor to the ceiling and walls. The slate floor still needs a lot of attention in terms of washing, seaming and protecting, but as you are to find out soon, it makes more sense to do the finishing work a bit later in the process.

Nearly finished slate floor and more construction materials

These are exiting times. Almost two years, with the help of our dear friends we have focused our efforts on demolishing structures rather than building things. Now the break point has been reached, the building has begun. To make our lives a bit easier, the work is conducted by a construction company. We are very happy, as the guy primarily responsible for the project is fast and the quality of his work is excellent. Interestingly, Sofi has also learned to call him by his first name...

Wooden studding

The part of the ceiling that required insulation (below the atrium terrace floor) was studded with a wooden structure, which was attached directly through the insulation to the concrete itself. The area below the kitchen floor did not need insulation and thus had much more vertical space available, and was studded with an adjustable aluminum structure. Even though there is quite a big difference between the two areas in the height of the space between the concrete and the suspended ceiling to be, for visual reasons we wanted the ceiling to be all levelled.

Wood & aluminium studding

It is amazing to see how fast these guys work. Practically in no time the surfaces made of gypsum board just started to appear! Some of you may remember the visualization made by Pekka in Vision update, and that we wanted to leave some of the structural elements visible, just the way they are typically done in the MCM post and beam architecture. One of these elements is the main steel beam supporting the atrium terrace, together with the vertical steel posts supporting the whole structure. These structural elements will be painted black whereas the rest of the ceiling will be white. 

Also the wall which will host a teak slat wall is starting to take shape. Next, black acoustic panels will be attached on top of the gypsum board, eventually followed by the teak slats. A glimpse of a vague light in the end of the tunnel, perhaps?!

Visible steal beam & slat wall to be

A few days ago, we had a great idea of cleaning and seaming the slate. Now looking back it would have been hours wasted. Once again the downstairs including the circular staircase has transferred to a war zone with tools, materials, dust, sweat and dirt all combined to a lovely mix.

War zone 

And Urho? Not too much seen in downstairs these days. A bit too much action to his taste. In summer when it's warm, he makes sure to take the advantage of the sun and the couch at the atrium terrace. If the weather allows and the terrace door is open, Urho temporarily turns to a hot dog. What a life!

A hot dog