From plastic to design

April 16, 2020
Paul Bert Serpette

The evolution from natural plastics (amber, horn, etc.) to semi-synthetic plastics (celluloid, viscose, etc.) and synthetic plastics (bakelite, PVC, plexiglas®, etc.) has continued to influence the furniture sector. At the dawn of the 1950s, plastics presented indisputable technological performances, the fruit of a creative wealth for designers and architects in search of renewal.

 

Once upon a time there was Bakelite

Easily moldable and very good electrical insulator, bakelite is a thermosetting resin very popular at the beginning of the XXth century. Kitchen utensils, toys, jewelry and everyday objects were in bakelite, the houses are filled with these mass-produced products, enthroning the era of the polymer.

 

Games of shapes and colors

The industrialization of production systems and advances in petrochemicals led to the arrival of new synthetic materials in the 1950s. Plastics, once used to copy the appearance of noble materials, opened up a vast field of aesthetic possibilities, which artists and designer do not hesitate to exploit. New forms are emerging and, as plastics are permeable to pigments, colors multiply in interiors.

 

At the dawn of the 1950s, Charles and Ray Eames created their famous Plastic Chair, the back was made of a single block of glass fibers (ABS according to the manufacturer). The variation of colors is new for the time. Arne Jacobsen will also create his famous "Egg", "Swan" and "Ant" chairs.

 

1960, plastic or not to be

Inspired by the plastic qualities, architects and designers strive to innovate. Its shimmering color possibilities, its ease of maintenance, its low cost and its resistance to heat, chemicals and light effectively contribute to the craze around this material. Big names like Verner Panton, Marco Zanuso or Joe Colombo exploit these plastics. Large-scale distribution will facilitate publishing and distribution to consumers.

 

A new breath

PMMA appeared in the 1930s, better known by its trade name of Plexiglas®, sublimates the 1980s more beautifully. Shiro Kuramata or Philippe Starck use it in their creations, between concepts and games of transparency. Polymers, also used in the textile industry since the 1940s, regain their splendor with the Lycra and costume jewelry trend of the 80s.