By Sarah Bolwell
It’s the start of 2013’s London Design Week and I’m at the Islington Boat Club, courtesy of plastic laminate company Formica Group. An array of brightly-coloured Formica laminates, balloons, a barbeque and a photo booth ensure that these plastic-fantastic enthusiasts are kept thoroughly high-spirited. Formica Group celebrates its 100th birthday this year and as Autumn sets in, we can reflect on what 2013 has already seen for the iconic global brand – the launch of its ‘Anniversary Collection’ of 12 new laminate patterns and an impressive publication to boot. Taste is a fickle thing and Formica laminate’s wipe-clean no-nonsense aesthetic is a la mode once more.
All aboard HMS Formica
Peter York, a contributor to the book is here. On board HMS Formica (a barge on loan from The Floating Cinema Club, which is moored on the Regent’s Canal), he pontificates his most sincere worship of Formica high-pressure laminate and extolls the virtues of its “no-entry” policy to dirt and odour. Peter’s primary interest lies in Formica Group’s social history and he talks us through archive images from marketing campaigns from the 1940s and ’50s; whether or not the dishes were indeed done by women wearing court shoes and long evening gloves is suspect, but nonetheless the campaigns struck a chord and were a clear contributor to the enduring success of the crucially nonporous counter-topper. In a post-war western world desperate to modernise, Formica laminate established its pivotal role in the Ideal Home.
The History of Formica laminate
More archive images guide us on a whistle-stop journey of the last 100 years and the brand certainly has much to be proud of. From its humble beginnings in Pennsylvania as an electrical insulation manufacturer, to its partnership with the QE2 and its high-shine-high-spec interiors, Formica Group proves itself a tour de force not just in the home, but in industry too. Its collaborations with designers are also boast-worthy. When Frank Gehry was asked to design a piece of furniture to help celebrate Formica Group’s 75th anniversary in 1988, he presented a fish. The story goes that Gehry threw down a piece of the laminate and it shattered, inspiring a series of Formica laminate fish which were lit from within – apparently its curved scales went on to serve as stimuli for the Guggenheim building in Bilbao. 2008 saw another collaboration: Zaha Hadid RA designed a chair using Formica laminate. The brief was to design a piece of furniture to fit in an 8x8ft space. In her signature show-woman style, the architect used every inch. Her intensely complicated and intricate design took 48 hours to assemble.
Happy Birthday Formica Group!
But you know you’ve really ‘made it’ when your brand is referenced in Harry Potter. Accordingly Formica laminate has entered the upper echelons of notoriety – becoming a member of the J. K. Rowling-spearheaded collective reserved only for truly household names. Fiction notwithstanding, Formica Group is a solid, well-established brand with a rich, chromatically diverse history. It’s all about bold colour, technical design and fun. The ‘Formica Forever’ heart and the anniversary anvil beam out from around the room; the red of the heart casting a warm glow as I struggle to remember what a temperate summer we’ve had. I can’t think that there is a token to signify 100 years of marriage, but a blood-red heart seems to fit the bill – ‘forever’ red. Happy birthday Formica Group, here’s to the next 100 years!