Vintage View: Lucite a clear winner for collectors

Vintage View: Lucite a clear winner for collectors

Kya deLongchamps sees Lucite as a clear winner for collectors.

Trending for jewellery in 2020,lucite was a largely forgotten material, that is heading for a huge revival in the misbehaving, sophistication-heavy move to the late 1960’s- and 1970’s-influenced interiors.

Plastic made a prodigal return in the 1990s, and acrylics are already an acceptable inclusion for tabletops and chair shells everywhere from Bo Concept to Harvey Norman.

Just think of Phillipe Stark’s Ghost and Master chair series, or the multiple jelly seats-styles of Calligaris and its multiple glassy-eyed followers.

Many of these are influenced by the opaque fibre glass work of the mid-century: Charles and Ray Eames, Arne Jacobsen, and the great Eero Saarinen.

Clear icy lucite in elements and full furnishings, never really went away. It’s popular flash on extravagant cruise liners and Miami hotel suites. Cosmetic company Helena Rubinstein slept in an early Lucite four-poster bed c.1935. You can still buy a full lucite crib from Amparo Calderon Tapia in LA for a mere €30,000.

The work of our own Sasha Sykes in acrylic screens, benches and furniture,curating and preserving found materials in clear acrylics, has now moved fully to the top interiors galleries, sashasykes.com.

Lucite is an honest, vintage survivor and is set to receive a more universal appreciation as lush luxuriance of the 1970s prepares to make a dramatic showing in upcoming interior trade shows this spring.

Lucite (or polymethyl methacrylate) is a polymer, a form of glass acrylic. Invented in 1931 by US chemical company DuPont,it was commissioned as windshields for jeeps (safer than shattering glass) and as a protective coating for the nose cones and gun turrets of military aircraft.

Milo Baughman sofas with Lucite panels supports by Thayer Coggin (NC). Found vintage, Lucite can be carefully polished by an experienced restorer. Image: Chris Howard Antiques.
Milo Baughman sofas with Lucite panels supports by Thayer Coggin (NC). Found vintage, Lucite can be carefully polished by an experienced restorer. Image: Chris Howard Antiques.

It’s licensed to Dupont and the standard-bearer for good acrylic suited to commercial and domestic architecture and interior decorating.

Lucite’s cool, perfect translucence is comparable only to glass in weight and finish. It could be poured into moulds and could take a colour or inclusions.

Though vulnerable to cosmetic scratches with heavy use, itwas physically tougher than celluloid or bake lite in the 40s, and could be carefully bent, worked to a high polish, carved into and combined easily with other materials with rivets.

Soldiers and factory workers would take splinters of the raw material and carve it (just as 19th-century sailors had once whittled whalebone), into love trinkets for their sweethearts.

Its scratch-resistant, semi-precious appearance could deliver a crystal flash or a fascinating opalescent, and made lucite perfect for structuring light, chic little handbags in just a few pieces of cut or poured cheap material. These boxes and shell styles remained popular right up through the 1960s.

Many of these bags were left completely see-through or semi-transparent, their contents only obscured by gilded decoration or heavily moulded relief.

A woman would swathe her lipstick and compact her in a silk scarf and drop it into her clear lucite bag to complete her outfit. In sheets and compounded and poured into shapes, lucite’s crystalline glamour was soon steeping out over marble flooring in the best Hollywood interiors.

Clear quality acrylics like lucite combine perfectly with wood, metal and stone, and get out of the way of a great fabric in seating and the view from a monumental window.

For a good example of just how impressive the material can be, structurally and aesthetically, look up Milo Baughman’s floating sofas and chairs. Designed in the late 1960s for Thayer Coggin these utilise sheets of clear lucite as full ends and backs for his Love seats and Bond Chair.

Wildly popular with rich decorators in the 1970s, they are still in production today by Thayer Coggin in North Carolina in the US.

If you’re tired of the bent steel framework that beat the market to death last year, this clearly-supported look is worth looking out for. Vintage examples of Thayer/ Baughman start in the low thousands in reasonable condition for a 70s piece. Try 1stDibs and Etsy.

To make couture impact with lucite, take it to the legs of the piece rather than just the top surface or deliver the greatest portion of the piece crystal clear.

The lucite bubble chairs of Eero Aarnio for Adelta c.1968 are hard to find in good condition, but can be buffed and polished by an experienced restorer. Prices start at around €3,000 and, be warned, they are widely faked.

These lamps are from Romeo of Paris, who made a wide range of sophisticated lamp bases with inclusions from used artist’s paint tubes to semi-precious stones. Try 1stDibs for vintage examples from 1970 1979. 1stdibs.com.
These lamps are from Romeo of Paris, who made a wide range of sophisticated lamp bases with inclusions from used artist’s paint tubes to semi-precious stones. Try 1stDibs for vintage examples from 1970 1979. 1stdibs.com.

Go for a new, authentic bubble from €3,999 with a buttery leather insert pad from the Finnish Design Shop, finnishdesignshop.com.

The name to conjure with in collectable lucite furniture from America is the influential mid-century master, Vladimir Klagan —a museum-quality, Lotto buy. His basesin criss-crossed lucite are likely to beplagiarised shamelessly in the coming year.

The French and Belgians were fond of lucite furniture in Art Deco and Empire. The first pieces you are likely to find in a market like the Marche aux Puces de Saint-Ouen in Paris, or larger mid-century modern sales in Dublin, will be coffee tables in lucite with gilded or polished metal supports, lucite table lamps in blocks, neo-classic rods, stacks of sheet lucite (always seek a pair), shelving in interconnecting sheets, books ends and boxes.

These various trinkets and accessories were layered with antiques to add mesmerising luxe to every upscale Parisian city apartment with urbane edge and flash by the 70s.

In the right line, a good lucite occasional table will sit easily in a period or modern interior as it doesn’t have the visual heft of an opaque lump of timber. Combine with bright silks and velvets — the right lucite-made furniture hovers and shines.

My current favourite European lucite lovelies have to be the lamps of Romeo (Paris) c.1970 -1979, which include everything from old artists paint tubes to semi-precious stones in clear lucite slabs. Rock and roll decorating at its very best. From €3,000 to €5,000 a pair.

American designer Jonathan Adler makes spectacular use of lucite, and is doing the rounds of European trade shows. Pick up a Globo cosmetic box from Adler for €167, niche-beauty.com. In rare English lucite, the Dunhill range of Aquarium table lighters are super rare.

Designed and handmade by Ben Shillingford through the 1950s they have maintained a firm following, and you can find out more about them and other desirable flints in my ancient article here.

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