The history of plastic furniture

Written by heather lacey
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The history of plastic furniture
(Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Tilo Erwin)

Affordable and functional, plastic furniture can be found everywhere, from formal receptions to isolated campsites. How and why was this modern necessity created?

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Origins

The post-World War II plastics boom prompted furniture designers to create unique pieces with the new material. The first plastic chairs featured a shell-shaped seat and metal legs. In 1955, Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen designed his famous tulip chair. The tulip chair had a plastic seat and single metal pedestal; the pedestal leg was coated in plastic to unify the chair.

Advancements

Improvements in plastics technology in the 1960s allowed furniture designers and manufacturers more options to create functional pieces. The injection moulding process was used to create a chair that was a single piece of plastic. In 1968, Danish designer Verner Panton created the first single form injection-moulded chair, an S-shaped stackable cantilever chair.

Mass Production

In the 1980s, the first mass-produced monobloc (single piece) chairs were created. As large manufacturers took over, designer elements of the chair were replaced by the need for a practical style, resulting in the type of plastic furniture now recognised on patios across the country.

Plastic Furniture Today

Most of today's plastic furniture uses the same injection-moulding process and design qualities as its predecessors. Although the equipment used to manufacture the furniture is very expensive, the mass quantities produced result in its low prices.

Fun Fact

Saarinen's tulip chair is best known as the model for the captain's chairs on the original Star Trek television series.

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