Lucite - giving plastics a good name
Updated: Feb 2, 2020
Designer Charles Hollis Jones on Lucite:
"And the most important thing it does: it carries light. Glass reflects light. Lucite holds it and carries it. If you play with it, you can make a lens to look at something in space. It’s that good. It’s purer than crystal."
Look at these lamps and tell him he's wrong. Poly Methyl Methacrylate; AKA Acrylic Glass, AKA Plexiglass, AKA Lucite, is a wonderful, exceptionally beautiful material.
Developed and brought to market in the 1930's (by Otto Röhm in Germany, and, simultaneously and independently, in the UK by Rowland Hill and John Crawford at ICI). Initially Plexiglass (Germany) and Perspex (UK) was put to use for the war effort of both the Allied and Axis forces. Replacing submarine periscopes, aircraft windshields, canopies, and gun turrets because of "a greater compatibility with human tissue than glass". In the US, DuPont commence production of Acrylic sheet and register the trade name Lucite. These early developers would never guess at the directions their safety glass would take over the next few decades.
Only after the war was it drafted in for more commercial purposes, being commonly used in jewellery design in the 40's and 50's alongside that other miracle of the modern age, Bakelite. It fully realises it's potential in the 60's and 70's when a young Hollis Jones sees past the utilitarian and pushes plastic into the luxury market: "Glass, when it comes to tabletops or household furniture - you usually don’t see anything thicker than three-quarter inch. But you see acrylic that’s an inch and a quarter, an inch and a half. That becomes a luxury thing, because there’s nothing else like it around."
Jones began creating pieces for showrooms, such as Hudson Rismann. His work was well received, with Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Jonny Carson among the first to commission pieces for their homes. His influence would soon be seen in Europe, where acrylic found it's way into high end design houses such as Maison Jansen.
While it will forever be associated with 70s Hollywood, acrylic glass feels remarkably timeless. Big, bold and glamorous with a chameleon like ability to look amazing anywhere. Look at it this way: if you want furniture that captures, holds and carries light, you know where to look.