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luciteOf the many passing fancies exhibited at the 1939 World’s Fair, one has proven its staying power: the acrylic resin known by the trade names Lucite and Plexiglas.
These materials were first developed in the early 1930s, by DuPont (Lucite) and Rohm & Haas (Plexiglas). Crystal clear, easily shaped and strong. Today as it did in its heyday, Lucite adds modern chic to any room.


• Lucite jewellery, purses and shoes add a crystalline look to fashion ensembles.
• Lucite furniture and accents, from chairs to coffee tables to chess sets, are sold as home décor items. In addition to appearing in furniture and accessories
• Lucite has many industrial uses, including vehicle windshields and automobile light covers.
• A Lucite piece can be a whimsical accent in a room, adding a hint of luminescence.
• And since it’s nearly invisible, it doesn’t take up visual space. The joints and seams almost disappear in a wellmade piece, whether it’s a clean-lined design or a new take on an antique style. Lucite was commercially available by 1937, and the material was soon being used in various designs, from jewellery to handbags to furniture.

One of the earliest and most famous suites of Lucite furniture was commissioned for Helena Rubinstein’s New York City apartment (images above and right). The suite was totally unique and almost comically glamorous — no surprise that it was designed by the artist Ladislas Medgyes, who was not only an interior decorator but also a stage designer who had started a school of stagecraft in Paris that helped promote a Surrealist aesthetic. Rubinstein’s acrylic furniture was manufactured by Rohm and Haas (sometimes erroneously credited as “Roman Haas,” but the company was actually named for a Mr. Rohm and Mr. Haas, both of whom were coincidentally named Otto) around 1939-1940.

During World War II, Lucite was in common use for military applications, including airplane windshields, bomber noses and submarine periscopes. After all, it was highly durable, low in density, and resistant to wind, water and UV rays, which are definitely the qualities you look for when you’re building a military aircraft. After the war, manufacturers needed to find nonmilitary uses for Lucite, so they licensed it widely. It became a favorite material for handbags and jewellery, and by the 1960s it was often found in furniture, as well. Karl Springer, Vladimir Kagan, Charles Hollis Jones (image above) and Gaetano Sciolari (image below) are just some of the designers who are well-known for their work in Lucite beginning in the ‘60s, but they were not the only ones who found the material simultaneously flexible, durable and chic.

Lucite is a material often associated with either Hollywood Regency glamor or Disco-era, stripper-shoe ‘glam,’ but 80 years after it was first created, it is still a versatile and beloved material in interiors.

• Designer Alexis Bittar set a Lucite comeback in motion when he began selling hand-carved Lucite jewellery in New York in the early 1990s. While this revival was not instant, other designers eventually took note in a big way.
• Lucite made a strong showing in the spring/summer 2010 collections of such design powerhouses as Michael Kors and Prada. Manufacturers like Kartell have kept acrylic furniture classy through the decades. The recent Lucite renaissance can probably be traced back to 2002, when Philippe Starck introduced his Louis Ghost Chair, produced by Kartell. Today, Lucite is used in interiors of varied styles, its light touch belying its military past.

The popularity of vintage Lucite has shown that this plastic of the past and present has timeless appeal.

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.”

• Naturally clear and transparent, Lucite can be tinted and made opaque when joined with other materials. While Lucite boasts the icy look of glass, the two materials are distinctly different. Lucite does not shatter, there is no green edge, and it is much clearer than glass, providing a clean look that many find desirable. Jewellery label Circa Sixty Three compares the difference between Lucite and standard plastic to the difference between glass and crystal, noting Lucite’s more durable nature over plastic, as well as its absence of seams due to the fact that it’s carved rather than molded.
• Appeal Vintage Lucite pieces evoke an era of the past and show a level of detail and craftsmanship that draws increasingly large numbers of collectors. Vintage Lucite furniture enthusiasts admire its clear and light appearance, which lends a polished and clean look to an interior, a quality that is useful in smaller rooms where the illusion of space is a priority.
• Vintage Lucite jewellery can be either clear or tinted. Many Lucite jewellery items of the past feature bright colors and eye-catching stripes. Sturdy and glamorous, clear Lucite pieces have a strong yet neutral appearance, giving them the ability to mesh with a variety of ensembles.


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