A Clear Trend: Plastic by just about any name has shaped modern furniture

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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. 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.

Local Sources

Antiquarian Shop 506 Beaver St., Sewickley; 412-741-1969 or www.antiquarianshop.com

Artifacts 110 S. Main St., West End; 412-921-6544 or www.westendartifacts.blogspot.com/

Hacienda Furniture 2350 Railroad St. Pittsburgh; 412-904-4477 or www.haciendafurniturepittsburgh.com/

Hot, Haute, Hot 2124 Penn Ave., Strip District; 412-338-2323 or www.hothautehot.net/

Perlora 2220 E. Carson St., South Side; 412-431-2220 or www.perlora.com/

Today's Home 1840 Greentree Road, Scott; 412-343-0505 or www.todayshomeinc.com

Weisshouse 324 S. Highland Ave., Shadyside; 412-441-8888 or www.weisshouse.com

"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.

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 natures beauty for eons?

If you like the see-thru 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 Cloe curved cocktail table and nesting tables.

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Patricia Sheridan: psheridan@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2613 or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pasheridan. First Published March 19, 2013 4:00 AM


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