Two examples of tasteful leopard print
Lucite, now mostly associated with decor of the 1960s and 1970s, was introduced by DuPont in 1936, the same year Rohm & Haas debuted Plexiglas (the same polymer, under a different brand name).
Both made a splash at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, but after the advent of World War II, the clear acrylics were reserved for military use. They were light, shatter-resistant and cheap to produce, making them practical for submarine periscopes and aircraft windshields.
Following the war, interior decorators began using Lucite in tony homes in New York, Paris and Hollywood. Claudette Colbert displayed her 1934 Best Actress Oscar for “It Happened One Night” on a Lucite table in her living room.
Artists and fashion designers, influenced by the popularity of space age design, began using futuristic materials in their work in the 1950s and ’60s. Dalí painted on Perspex, the sculptor Leroy Lamis made geometriccubes from Plexiglas and Marilyn Monroe donned Lucite sandals.
Furniture makers, anxious to capture the modern aesthetic, used Lucite in chairs, tables and light fixtures, often incorporating molded or sculptural elements. The French designers Estelle and Erwine Laverne, who opened their New York furniture company in 1938, were famous for their Lucite chairs. Making the case for transparent furniture in 1959, Erwine Lavernetold a New York Times reporter, “The most important element in rooms is people, not furniture.”
The Lavernes introduced the Lucite Champagne chair in the late 1950s. You’ll notice it bears a striking resemblance to the Tulip chair, designed by Eero Saarinen for Knoll in 1955-56. This was intentional: Estelle Laverne, speaking in 1959, said,
“[Saarinen] cleared up the clutter of legs in rooms [with pedestal furniture], but we wanted to go one step further.”
Lucite’s popularity boomed in the 1960s and 1970s, thanks in part to designers such as Neal Small (“The Prince of Plexiglas”), John Mascheroni, Charles Hollis Jones, Dorothy Thorpe, Joe Colombo, Paul Laszlo, and Mark Eckman for Karl Springer.
Lucite furniture remained popular in the 1980s, although later designs “didn’t have much design merit,” says Peter Loughery, owner of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.
But in the last decade or so, there’s been revived interest in Lucite, with many companies producing designs inspired by the 1930s and 1940s. Plexi-Craft and Aaron Thomas sell acrylic pieces; CB2 has its popular Peekaboo nesting tables.
The monetary value of vintage Lucite pieces, meanwhile, has skyrocketed. After Helena Rubinstein’s death in 1965, her nine-piece Lucite suite was broken up among four buyers at a 1966 auction, bringing $1,500 all together. The bed sold for $200, about $1,330 in today’s currency. At the 1975 New York Art Deco Expo, the New York antiques dealer Alan Moss listed four of the chairs and the sleigh bed for $10,000, just over $40,000 in modern currency.
There is plenty of clear acrylic furniture on the market today. Clear furniture is perfect for when you want a sense of visual lightness in your space — and when don’t you want that?
Of course, there is acrylic and then there is acrylic. Some of these prices may seem absurdly high, but compare them in person to the cheaper stuff and you’ll be able to tell the difference. Expensive acrylic can be thick and luxurious, crystal-like, seamless; cheap acrylic has a noticeably more plastic look and feel. But that’s not to say it can’t still do the trick and look great in the context of your interior.
Caring for acrylic is harder than you might think. According to designer Patricia Gray: ”Clean lucite with hot soapy water using a soft cloth. The type of polishing cloth you use will make a difference. The ideal cloth is nonabrasive, absorbent, and lint free. To eliminate any chance of scratching lucite , use only disposable cloths. Reusable cloths can retain abrasive particles, but you won’t know for sure until the damage is done. Do not use sprays such as Windex or Fantastic on lucite.”
"Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent."
The relationship between fashion and interior design is an interesting one. Fashion trends are fleeting by nature, but interiors require longevity. Certain trends in fashion are able to translate to the realm of interior design in the form of color splashes as seen in these Biagetti chairs, borrowing inspiration from the neon craze the swept the Spring/Summer collections.
Suprematist Composition: White on White by Kasimir Malevich, 1918
This is my favorite painting. This is a traditional painting exclusively in the sense that it is an oil painting on canvas. After this fact, all ties with “traditional” painting are severed, and that is the point. Suprematist Composition: White on White shows a stark white square (with beige tones) matted diagonally against a background of almost the same stark hue. It seemingly lacks iconography and narrative, and to the common viewer it is quite intimidating. Painted in 1918, this work arrives on the heels of Cubism and Futurism, which were both artist-defined movements that challenged the boundaries of what art was expected to look like. But the cubists and futurists still held onto iconography, narrative, and titles that acquainted the viewer with what he or she was looking at. Malevich’s Suprematist Composition: White on White in and of itself has no reference point for the viewer to latch onto. Or does it? Malevich is credited with being the painter who “terminated the tradition of five long centuries in Western painting, departing from the triumvirate of fundamental tenets that had secured creative man in his world: a ceaselessly illusionistic representation of observable experience; realism as a measure of truth; and requisite accuracy proclaimed through perspectival systems.” How much of this statement should the viewer accept as fact? We find that upon deeper inspection, Suprematist Composition: White on White has more similarities to narrative, traditional art than meets the eye.
One can’t discuss Black & White in design without mentioning The Mark Hotel re-design by Jacques Grange. Growing up on Manhattan’s UES I remember having drinks at The Mark with my friends as a teen (back then we were very rarely carded), and I also remember being a little upset when I heard around 2007 that they were renovating it. Why mess with perfection? Boy was I wrong. Jacques Grange, the celebrated French designer, has done an incredible job, and this is an excellent example of how to do black & white with color.