The Contour Chair-Lounge
January 5, 2010, 5:24 pm
Filed under: Furniture, Projects
Contour Chair-Lounge

1976 Contour Chair-Lounge with original upholstery

Rewind about a year and a half. My mother is helping my grandparents clean out their house, which is a living museum of bizarre relics. They were throwing out the big red recliner, Mom said. What? No. Bring it to me.

Contour Chair-Lounge Advertisement

Advertisement from the year mine was made.

After some research, I realized that I’d inherited—and had to find room in my tiny condo for—a Contour Chair-Lounge from 1976 in “Rio Spanish Red” vinyl. Sitting in the crazy contraption is like getting into a hammock hung in a racecar. The lever under your right arm releases the recline mechanism and the whole chair shifts with your weight, sending your head down and your ankles in the air. It sounds preposterous, but is incredibly comfy.

My particular chair came with the “Viverator,” which is a fancy way of saying it vibrates like a cheap hotel bed, minus the quarter slot. It does not, however, have the “Thermonic Heat,” the other luxury option at the time, nor the decorative nailheads. And it was ordered for my grandfather in the size “Super Senior Combo.” I think I’d be offended if my pants were labeled the same way this chair was.

It’s not that I felt the upholstery wasn’t worth keeping. But it was in rough shape. More than 30 years will take a toll on vinyl, plus the recline mechanism needed some work. The whole package was begging for an update. And what more ridiculous thing to do to a bizarre piece of furniture than cover it in cowhide?

Contour Chair-Lounge

The chair sans upholstery.

So it began. I set off with a mission, a hammer, and some pin-nosed pliers. There is only one way to skin a Contour Chair-Lounge: pulling staples for eight hours. Underneath the squeaky red membrane of upholstery, I was able to fully assess the old foam and the mechanism–also the large rat nest that had likely been made during the mid-1980s in the foot of the chair. Yeah, gross. Some quick adjustments and a trip to the fabric store for foam took care of the guts of the beast. The new upholstery was a different story.

In hindsight, thick cowhide may have been the worst possible choice for an amateur sewer. I bought the hide from an American eBay seller with a cattle farm in France for about $100. The heavy stuff destroyed more than 20 leather needles during the process. I eventually conceded and accepted that I would not be able to do any detail work with the hide, so I reserved those pieces for the face of the chair and upholstered the rest in a rough and manly brown cotton duck fabric.

For the finishing touches, I refinished the legs and the shift lever, popped in some nickel-finished buttons, and replaced the missing Viverator knob with one from Radio Shack.

Contour Chair-Lounge

My furry new throne.

The whole process took about four weeks of my free time. Had I chosen a more reasonable fabric, I am guessing the end would have been reached three and a half weeks earlier.

See the entire process at the photo gallery.


10 Comments so far
Leave a comment

i have a green countour built in the 1950s with brass buttons on it …im trying to figure out how much is it worth

Comment by ivy daniels

Hey, Ivy. I’m not an expert at appraising furniture, but I would suggest tracking auctions on eBay and Ruby Lane. Auctions seem to be an accurate guide to what the fair market value might be. Sounds like a cool piece–post a photo for us!

Comment by poisonpen

I have a contour viverator and was wondering how the bottom piece comes off so I can cover the top easier. Any other tips would be greatly appreciated.

Comment by Mary

I have a Contour Viverator with the Thermonic Heat that I found at a thrift store for $50. I am absolutely in love with this chair. It is from the 1970’s and is in the solid white vinyl with a raised design. The vinyl is a bit worn in places so I do plan to recover it soon. It looks as though whoever owned this chair before me rewired the whole thing. I am curious to find out more information about it though.

Comment by April

I have a gold one that my kids talked me into getting rid of…but now I am even more determined to keep it!
It has the Viverator,heat and a third dial control that I hadn’t figured out…and it has a stcker on the bottom dated 1963 from the Lounge Company!

Comment by Sharon

Love what you did…was well worth your effort, and that cowhide looks awesome on it. I found one for 30 dollars and re-upholstered it, only thing is my vibration system doesn’t work, and would like to find a manual to fix it, know of one anywhere, or if someone can make me a copy to send?

Comment by Penny Naselaris

Wow…I’ll raise this from the dead. I inherited two of these when my parents passed away a few years back. They’ve been recovered, lack all options, and I’ve kept them in storage for 2 years. Then…right before I was going to yard sale them for next to nothing…I find they are collector items. Mine would sell at the low threshold to be sure, but still…should easily bring $200 each!

Comment by Van Helsing

I purchased one today. I never heard of or ever seen one before. I was at antique mall today and saw this ugliest gold vinyle chair, yet it was calling me in to take a seat. I have sever lower back problems and sever circulations problems as well. Needless to say, moments later that chair was loaded up into my van and on its way to a new life. This chair was so incredibly comfortable and may just be the answer to my problems. However, it is so ugly with it’s gold cover. I plan to reupolster this chair in a bright turquois to match my living room. I was wondering just how many yards of fabric you needed to cover this.

Comment by Gin

I have previosly owned a contour chair lounge and am now looking to purchase another if I can find one. does anyone know where in Portland, OR I would be able to find one?

Comment by Erik Rode

just found one of these beauties by way of curbside dusk shopping. free in my city!!! it is the green one from I believe the 50’s and upon doing a search for 50’s contour recliners, I found only one small photo with the big tacky tacks, and the recliner handle in the photo. it is on google search and is listed for sale in Ontario Canada for a thousand dollars. they called it a contour recliner 1950’s keele sheppard

Comment by Michelle Jacobs-Anderson

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