Peter York
J. Abbott Miller Preface and Design
Metropolis Books/Formica Corporation, 2013, English
Nonfiction, Product/Industrial Design
6.5 x 9.5 inches, paperback 408 pages, illustrated throughout
ISBN: 9781938922152
Suggested Retail Price: $39.95

From the Publisher. Formica® is 100 years old! To celebrate this centennial, Formica Corporation has published Formica Forever. The book takes us on a lively, information-packed walk through the life of this much-loved material: from its humble beginnings as electrical insulation; to its initial adoption by designers including Donald Deskey in the 1930s; to a golden age ushered in by the post–World War II housing boom; through global expansion in the second half of the twentieth century; to the laminate’s inventive uses by designers, artists and architects such as Jasper Morrison, Daniel Buren, Frank Gehry, Laurinda Spear and Zaha Hadid; through to the present, which finds the Formica Group working with young designers to push the limits of this pioneering material. The book’s designer, Abbott Miller, has brought together an exuberant array of archival illustrations of original product samples, advertisements and other ephemera. These are anchored by three essays by Phil Patton on the history of Formica Corporation; by Alexandra Lange on Formica Materials and the design world; and by Peter York on the “wipe-clean world” made possible by Formica laminates. Also included are an illustrated chronology and “100 Years of Color and Pattern,” a 128-page Formica-by-color sequence, modeled after a 1960s Formica swatch book and punctuated by excerpts from literary works by luminaries such as John Updike, Janet Evanovich, Jhumpa Lahiri and Ian Fleming that refer to Formica materials.

On 4 book lists
Allison Arieff

Glamour! Durability! Beauty! Sequins! Submarines! The rich and varied history of, yes, Formica, is explored in this perky paperback, Essays by design critics Phil Patton and Alexandra Lange and Peter York, a management consultant and author, bring depth, getting beneath the surface, if you will, of the lowly (or luxurious, depending on your perspective) laminate. Lange explores the essential duality of Formica by delving into the real meaning of luxury: “Is it rosewood and leather, silk and lacquer, gold leaf and silver? Or is it the freedom from the cost of installing and maintaining these fine natural materials...?” The jury is still out on that one but I'm guessing the ability to pay for someone to maintain those natural materials is the ultimate luxury for many. York argues that as the  “wipe-clean” material, Formica became a symbol not only of low maintenance but of societal progress. In his detailed and comprehensive historical essay, Patton recounts the materials struggle for popularity throughout its history as in the 60s when “a rebellious generation sought the natural, the organic...[Formica] was, after all, the material of their parents.”

The literary references to the material are a real treat (Updike, Atwood, Ian Fleming). “The Laser Age” by Justin Tussing from a 2005 issue of The New Yorker is a favorite: “Miss Lowe drew shapes on the Formica tabletop with her fingertip: ‘Do you ever get lonely, Thomas?’”

The familiar hues will make you smile (or shudder) about countertops and vanities of yore. I love the design (by Abbott Miller) save for its inexplicable perforated pages that serve no real purpose. (Yes, I know it’s modeled after a Formica swatch book but it feels gratuitous here).

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