A short history of Lucite
Today we’ll take a look at Lucite; a material which is conversely inexpensive to produce and yet invariably conjures daydreams of Palm Beach matrons, Hollywood aristocracy and other such tastemakers. Trendsetters one and all have embraced it’s harsh aesthetic, casting it’s glimmering translucence and punishing corners against sculpted stuccoes and steel beams alike.
From it’s genesis, lucite was nothing if not cutting edge. Actually a branded high-density acrylic, it shares it’s composition with other well known products such as Plexiglass and Perspex. Originally developed for military and industrial application by the Dupont Chemical Company, Luciteshowed extraordinary promise as a cost effective material marked by durability and dexterity previously impossible to achieve. The nascent material’s ability to be contoured and sculpted set marketeers minds’ eyes alight as seemingly endless possibilities for new products and applications marched forth. Before long, the market played host to jewelry, handbags and walking sticks crafted from this polymer treasure.
The first instance of furniture made from Lucite was by all accounts that of those pieces commissioned by Helena Rubinstein, a Polish parvenu who had by that time amassed an immense fortune as a cosmetics entrepreneur. Among the pieces crafted for her New York City apartment counted an accent chair, a bed frame, and a modestly sized coffee table, albeit in forms foreign to much of the Lucite furniture we are so well acquainted with. These iterations of the precious plastic were dainty and feminine, delicately contoured and decorated by etched Hyacinth. Soon, the stylish everywhere were clamoring for transparent furniture, clocks, coasters and all other manner of accoutrement, from the 5th avenue arrivistes to the high born hostesses of Litchfield County, but it’s popularity was short-lived.
Then came the war effort, and Lucite production exploded, applications for aircraft windshields and periscope lenses governing it’s use. When the shells stopped dropping, manufacturers looked to satiate their margins by way of the retail markets in housewares, jewelry and accessories once more. Within a decade, furniture designers like Karl Springer and Charles Hollis Jones had latched onto Lucite a means to achieve unconventional design forms and for it’s unique abilities, being simultaneously light, durable, dextrous and of course, glamourous.
Although it has come in and out of fashion many times over since it’s mass adoption in the middle sixties, a recent perusal of design showcases and antiques shoppes on Palm Beach tell me that we are witnessing yet another Lucite revival. It still looks just as good on a Persian rug as it does against a stainless stairwell.