Cosco Step Ladder Chair Restoration

Starting around 1940, the Columbus, Indiana based Columbus Supply Company (COSCO) started manufacturing a combination chair/step ladder. Production of this product continues through today and can be purchased at big box retailers.

I was fortunate enough to inherit a COSCO step-chair that was part of my father in law’s family for many years. When he and his two brothers were young enough for their dad to give them haircuts, it received quite a bit of use. Each of the boys would try to be first in line for two reasons. First, they knew that as the evening progressed, dad’s patience with wiggles and squirms slowly eroded. Second, the last person up had to sweep up all of the hair strewn around the floor. When not engaged in barber duties, the step-chair served its intended role in the kitchen and alternatively as a paint ladder and play gym.

In our house, my wife continues the haircut tradition and provides me with regular haircuts. Based on this history, the nostalgic value of the chair is very high. Predictably, after a life of use the chair was wobbly and held together with an assortment of ad hoc hardware. The original chair was fire engine red and chrome. I hope to restore the chair to its former glory and prepare it for another life of use, specifically for providing a solid base for many more haircuts.

COSCO chair step ladder on July 22nd, 2011 functioning as a chair

COSCO chair step ladder on July 22nd, 2011 functioning as a step ladder

Alternate view of the chair step ladder

Broken down for cleaning and restoration

While disassembling the chair, I found the use of a four bar mechanism to extend the steps to be a very elegant mechanical design. The chair was well designed from a manufacturing engineering viewpoint and would have been easy to assemble at the factory. Many of the duplicate parts were identical and would have needed only a single die to manufacture them saving time and complexity. At no point was the access to the bolt that held the chair together awkward or difficult, a trademark of a good design.

View of some of the tarnish that was removed with steel wool.

Painting the metal parts of the chair

Dry fitting all of the components after painting

View of the chair before putting on the seat cushions

At this point in the process the only thing left to do was re-upholster the cushions. It turns out that high quality vinyl (marine or automotive grade) is expensive. After some looking around on the internet, I ultimately purchased a yard of vinyl from an upholstery shop in town. I got the vinyl for half price because all they had left in stock was a scrap piece! My mother was visiting in town and helped me pull the project together. I am thankful for her help because I would have never finished the seat without her. In the end, we had to modify the seat to get everything to go together. This took some time in the wood shop and a trip to the hardware store. In the end, I was very happy with the result.

Restored chair on October 18th, 2011

View of the step ladder extended out

The tradition lives on...the first haircut in the new chair

I should have never decreed that I wouldn't cut my hair until the chair restoration project was complete...I guess I will never learn. This haircut was more like a "mowing' of the lawn.

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About Ryan

Ryan is currently a National Research Council Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Air Force Research Laboratory. His research area includes Prognostic Health Management of Electronics. For more information please visit: www.rdlowe.com
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10 Responses to Cosco Step Ladder Chair Restoration

  1. memorystable says:

    Thanks very much for posting this. I have a Cosco chair in the basement that will get restored.

  2. Cathy says:

    We’ve had an old Cosco step chair for 22 years that needs restoration that’s used primarily for family haircuts! I had to laugh when I saw your pictures! I wish there was a good substitute for the rubber/vinyl step covers– I hate to paint over them. Wondering if anyone else out there has ideas!

    • Rick says:

      I have same issue. Would love to find replacement pads. Will probably cut fron some sort of floor matting material.

    • Jean says:

      There is a spray paint that’s for plastic or go to a boat supply store for non slip sticky backed treads. I’m going to restore 2 step stools, hopefully they will look as good as this one.

      • Jean says:

        Yesterday I found vinyl runner matting in black at Home depot it’s 27 inches wide and sold by the foot. I going to use vinyl spray adhesive to attach to the steps. The tread is wider than original but I think it will look very nice.

    • jay says:

      Hello I just found this fold-out metal ladder chair I am going to give it to my mother and have. just wondering how old is it or about it says made in USA so I no it’s kind of old wish we still made things here ..anyway an age be greatly appreciated thanks a lot brother have .a nice day

  3. Melanie says:

    I have a backless cosco chair that I just got on ebay…your step by step instructions will be invaluable as I restore it!

  4. andrew says:

    What kind of paint did you use? Did you strip the original paint and then prime it?

  5. Mike says:

    Just decided to google Cosco and discovered this page on restoring the “step ladder” as we have always called it. We have had the step ladder for over 50 years. Don’t even know when my parents first bought it. The Cosco has been an old friend of the family. It is better made than any other step ladder on the market. Though retired, I would love to have it restored to it former glory.

  6. Joni says:

    I have the chair but it is missing the seat covering. What did you use to attach the vinyl covering to before attaching it to the chair?

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