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posted: 4/21/2013 4:00 AM

Plastic by just about any name has shaped modern furniture

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  • Memory Blocks designed by Bleu Nature: Table lamps with driftwood trapped in resin.

      Memory Blocks designed by Bleu Nature: Table lamps with driftwood trapped in resin.
    Patricia Sheridan/Scripps Howard News Service

  • Memory Blocks designed by Bleu Nature.

      Memory Blocks designed by Bleu Nature.
    Patricia Sheridan/Scripps Howard News Service

  • Kas Nesting Tables by Made Goods.

      Kas Nesting Tables by Made Goods.
    Patricia Sheridan/Scripps Howard News Service

  • 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.
    Patricia Sheridan/Scripps Howard News Service

  • Four Hands acrylic-and-log pedestal.

      Four Hands acrylic-and-log pedestal.
    Patricia Sheridan/Scripps Howard News Service

 
By Patricia Sheridan
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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 Rubinstein.

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"The chair was designed by Rubinstein company designer Ladislas Medgyesis and is fascinatingly modern and traditional," she said.

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.

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 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.

Scripps Howard News Service

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