Monday, January 25, 2010

Future interiors from the past 1: Bakelite House 1957

Modern Materials for Modern Living (1957-detail)

Whilst our exploration of retro transport will largely focus on the twenties, thirties and forties we will also be looking at some retro interiors from the fifties and sixties. This was a time when artists foresaw shiny new home interiors based on modern materials such as plastics, with no place for old fashioned furniture. In a way, this approach was a dead-end with today's homeowners having to remove efforts to cover up features from earlier periods which were hidden in the fifties and sixties by people who wanted to be modern. Today multiple styles and periods co-exist and the one style future look for interiors never came to pass. This is quite different from something like cars where contemporary styling tends to be much closer across all manufacturers at any given time.

George Cooper Rudolph Jr.

This splendid painting by architect George Cooper Rudolph (1912-1997) comes from a 1957 advertisement for Bakelite. From its plastic furniture, to its floor to ceiling windows, split level interior and swimming pool it screams late fifties aspirational. You can bet that the man by the pool is a Playboy subscriber, drives a Ford Thunderbird and the bikini clad girl is not his wife.

Fancy a ride, darling?

Bakelite, or as your scientific advisor would call it, polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride, was invented in New York in 1909 by Belgian born chemist Dr Leo Baekeland (1863-1944 -another famous Belgian!) whilst looking for an artificial shellac. It was the world's first practical plastic and became very popular for items like telephones, radio casings, and in anything which had electric parts due to its high resistance to electricty, heat and chemical action. However, it was brittle and could only take a few rather murky colours so it was soon overtaken by other plastics which were more flexible and could be made in brighter colours.

Rudolph's full painting displaying futuristic plastic roof.