Published On: Mon, Oct 24th, 2016

WV Design Team: Give room a vintage vibe with metal, glass, plasticc

The typical American home is overwhelmingly filled with furnishings constructed of wood. Walnut, cherry, maple and oak have been traditional favorites. More and more over the past several decades, many pieces have been made of particle board or ply materials with the finish being a wood veneer.

While wood furnishings will likely always play a significant role in our homes, other materials can often bring an entirely new look and feel to a room.

Plastic Raw Material

WV Design Team: Give room a vintage vibe with metal, glass, plasticc

The introduction of items constructed of metal, glass or plastic can transform a room and offer a whole new set of options for decorating and utilizing a space. Sometimes this can be sleek and modern, and other times it can be rustic and industrial.

Plastic furnishings started showing up in the late 1940s, when plastic technology took great strides forward as the result of new materials to support the war effort.

Fiberglass, a plastic reinforced with glass strands, offered designers of consumer goods possibilities ranging from furniture to draperies. Fiberglass was a flexible, durable and cost-efficient alternative to natural materials. The molded shell chairs, originally designed by Charles Eames, took full advantage of this material.

With further development of stronger and crystal-clear plastics like acrylic and lucite, another leap was taken in the production of plastic home furnishings. These space-age materials fit perfectly with the futuristic aspirations of many people in the 1960s and ’70s.

While having the qualities of glass but a fraction of the weight, these plastics found their way into homes as chairs, tables, lamps and shelving.

Glass has a much longer history of use in homes. Glass topped tables, and its use as a shelving material has long been a standard. While plastic replaced glass in certain applications, the strength and scratch resistance of glass is an important factor.

Glass is frequently partnered with other materials, including wood, metals or plastics, and it is perfect to obtain a clean and sleek look. Glass and clear plastics have the benefit of providing form and function to a space without adding a lot of visual weight and bulk.

Using metals for home furnishing opens a veritable smorgasbord of opportunities for usefulness and design. Many of these pieces have long been a staple in homes.

The Hollywood Regency style of design of the 1950s and 1960s introduced a lot of brass and glass combination pieces. Chrome pieces were used extensively in the Art Deco period of the 1950s, revived again with more modern lines in the 1970s and are still used extensively today.

Metal offers great flexibility in finish. With some pieces polished to a near mirror-like sheen, others are brushed to a satin finish or even painted.

While many metal items are produced for home use, one of the more unique ways to utilize metal in home decor is by repurposing items. There are a nearly infinite number of unique metal pieces originally made for another purpose.

This industrial style of decor is one that allows creativity. Pieces can be reworked and retooled if necessary, but just as often can be used as is, showing decades of great patina and artifacts of their previous lives.

Often all that is needed to transform an industrial metal piece and make it home ready is a little elbow grease. The degree of change to the piece is up to the home owner and can range from a complete strip of previous finish to bare metal to simply removing any dirt, grease and grime.

Our preference is to generally protect as much of the history of the metal item as possible, including areas of random paint, scratches, dents and even rust. After cleaning away any soil or loose rust, lock in the patina by clear-coating the entire piece.

Metal pieces can often be a great do-it-yourself project, or find much of the work done for you already in vintage shops that feature such items.

All of these materials — plastics, metal and glass — when used in combination with existing furnishing or in designing a new space from scratch, can provide bold, exciting and dramatic avenues to explore.

By choosing carefully and by examining all home-furnishing possibilities, you can obtain your goal of a home that is comfortable, useful and expresses your design sensibilities and style.

Chuck and Connie Hamsher are collectors of 20th-century design and art and owners of The Purple Moon in downtown Charleston, which specializes in mid-century, industrial and contemporary home furnishings, art and accessories.