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Published: Monday, 4/15/2013

Plastic has had clear role in furniture over the years

BY PATRICIA SHERIDAN
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE
Wood is encased in plastic in Kas Nesting Tables by Made Goods. Wood is encased in plastic in Kas Nesting Tables by Made Goods.
PATRICIA SHERIDAN/BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE Enlarge

LAS VEGAS — Transparency may be in short supply in Washington, D.C., but in the furniture and fashion worlds it has been a clear winner for more than 75 years. Plastics such as Plexiglas, resin, Lucite, and acrylic have seen through decades of trends and look as new today as ever.

“Since its debut in the late 1930s, acrylic furniture has captivated the public imagination,” says Rachel Delphia, associate curator of decorative arts and design at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. Cosmetics mogul Helena Rubinstein was one of the first to commission furniture made of the clear hard substance. The Carnegie Museum has one of the first transparent chairs made by Rohm & Haas for Ms. Rubinstein.

“The chair was designed by Rubinstein company designer Ladislas Medgyesis and is fascinatingly modern and traditional,” she adds.

That marked the beginning of Hollywood Regency, a style that embraced the glamour of modern materials. But it wasn’t until the ’60s that Lucite and acrylic became strong components of contemporary home decor.

Crystal side table of clear Lucite by Mariette Himes Gomez for Hickory Chair. Crystal side table of clear Lucite by Mariette Himes Gomez for Hickory Chair.
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The most recent incarnation of plastic with a sense of place came in 1992 when Italian furniture manufacturer Kartell introduced the Louis Ghost Chair by designer Philippe Starck. It was an instant hit, spawning many imitators, including Zuo Modern (at a lower price point). The idea of taking an antique silhouette and doing a molded plastic chair was the perfect marriage of classic and contemporary.

Going for Baroque, Kartell came out with the Bourgie transparent lamp, another instant winner. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Ghost chair, Kartell made a limited edition with Mr. Starck’s signature. Over the next 10 years, the company also introduced color and images to its acrylic collection.

Along with infusing color for contrast, today’s manufacturers are also encasing Mother Nature’s most accommodating material — wood — in resin or acrylic, a message in a bottle, if you will. Are we encapsulating the planet in plastic or preserving nature’s beauty for eons?

If you like the see-through look but prefer a more recyclable material, there is always glass. Theodore Alexander did a glass seat on its Regency-style Floating Klismos chair, while Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams used glass and nothing else for its Claro curved cocktail table and nesting tables.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Patricia Sheridan is a writer for the Post-Gazette.

Contact Patricia Sheridan at: psheridan@post-gazette.com.



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