How to: Restore Bertoia chairs

KnollInc. - Bertoia side chairs.

QThe white vinyl coating on some of my 1950s Bertoia wire chairs needs restoration after exposure to weather. The coating is similar to that in dishwashers. Do you know who does this work, preferably in Northern Virginia?

Alexandria

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AAlthough the coating might seem like white vinyl, the furniture is actually painted white with a clear coating of Rilsan, according to Heather Wenhold, a customer service representative for Knoll, which has sold the chairs since Harry Bertoia invented them in the early 1950s.

Rilsan, a plastic in the nylon family, was developed by an Italian company, Arkema, in 1942. It’s still made as it was then, from castor beans, qualifying it as a “green” product. But it’s more likely that Bertoia selected it because of its durability. Among plastics, it is unusually resistant to effects of both age and weathering. It’s found in everything from paints to flexible pipes used on offshore oil rigs. Today it’s finding new markets in 3-D printing, where the powdered resin is laid down in layers and then cured, eventually resulting in three-dimensional objects.

You don’t say how your chairs were damaged by being left out in the weather. If they mostly just look grimy, start by giving them a thorough scrubbing. If soap and water don’t do enough, try dishwasher detergent, which is more alkaline than hand dishwashing soap. (Wear rubber gloves, and work where the drips won’t mar flooring.) The alkalinity shouldn’t damage the Rilsan.

If the coating has scratched, try touching it up with ReRACK, a vinyl patch product made by Plasti Dip (800-969-5432; www.plastidip.com). It’s a synthetic-rubber touchup paint for dishwasher racks. The company tested it on vinyl and nylon, “and it works great,” employee Kelly Nelson said. The company hasn’t tested it specifically on Rilsan, but because Rilsan is a polyamide, a family of plastics that includes nylon, there’s a good chance it will work.

If your chairs are beyond these quick-fix solutions, your other option is to do what Knoll advises: take them to a company that can sandblast off the existing finish and then have them repainted through a powder-coat process, which uses an electrical charge to attract the paint particles so that no voids are left uncovered. You can top that with a clearcoat or not, as you prefer. Last year, in response to a different question posed to How To, this column suggested two companies in Manassas and Manassas Park that are equipped for this work: Dominion Powder Coating (703-530-8581; www.dominionpowdercoating.com) and Figure Finishing (866-500-8484; www.figurefinishing.com). After that column ran, a reader in Reston wrote in to say she’d gone to Dominion and was thrilled. “They did a superb job — the chairs look like new!!” The bill came to $125 per chair.

In neighborhoods of 50- to 60-year-old brick homes with wooden shutters, many homes are missing a shutter or two. Perfect Fit Custom Shutters in Gaithersburg can replace them, but they are very expensive, and the company wants the shutters mounted on the windows with tiebacks. A neighbor purchased shutters off the Internet and then hired a painter. Is it possible to purchase hardwood shutters locally? If not, do you know of a company or anyone who can order, paint and hang shutters? I realize that plastic shutters are popular, but they are not an option when you are trying to replace a couple of wooden shutters.

Bethesda

The best option depends partly on whether the shutters on your house are the “historically accurate” type that span the full width of the windows or are the kind that flank the window trim and have panels so narrow that they wouldn’t cover the glass even if they could be closed. What’s right for a house built in the 1700s or 1800s or is a faithful replica of that era isn’t necessarily the best option for a production house from the mid-1900s, especially if you’re just replacing a few missing pieces.

Perfect Fit Custom Shutters in Gaithersburg (301-762-4949; www.perfectfitshutters.com) specializes in the historical type, which, as you note, are hinged to the window frame and include tiebacks to secure the shutters when open. The company charges $33 a square foot for shutters made of western red cedar, or $23 if you want to paint them yourself. Having someone measure and install them adds $50-$75 per window, but there is a $250 minimum fee for this service, so unless you went in with a neighbor or two, you’d be better off hiring a handyman. If you don’t have existing hardware, you’d also need to factor that cost in— $125 per window for top-of-the-line hinges and tiebacks made of stainless steel with black powder-coated paint.

So, yes, it is expensive — but perhaps not all that different from what you’d pay by ordering the same thing over the Web. Timberlane in Montgomeryville, Pa., (800-250-2221; www.timberlane.com) charges $23.90 per square foot for unpainted panel-type shutters and $43.90 for ones with operable louvers. At the Philadelphia Shutter Co. (866-875-7426; www.philadelphiashutters.com) prices start at $22 a square foot. Sunbelt Shutters in Florida (888-778-4774; www.sunbeltshutters.com) has less expensive shutters — about $16 a square foot for fixed louvers — but that’s for ones made of southern yellow pine. If you want their rot-resistant bald cypress option, the price is back up, to $24.

However, if the existing shutters on your house are narrow and attached to the brick alongside the windows, you might be able to duplicate them by shopping at a company that carries vinyl shutters (many also special-order wooden ones) or even at Home Depot or Lowe’s. Their Web sites (www.homedepot.com and www.lowes.com) show many styles not stocked in the stores for prices that are a lot lower than the custom types. For a full selection, go to the special-order desk at one of the stores. One style of unpainted cedar fixed-louver shutters 12 or 15 inches wide costs about $8 a square foot at Home Depot; primed pine ones are $11.50. There are also factory-painted options. Measuring and installation services start at $75, or you can hire a handyman to do the painting and installation.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com. Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

The Checklist Read Jeanne Huber’s roundup of home-improvement tasks you should tackle in May, such as cleaning or buying a dehumidifier, at washingtonpost.com/home.

 
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