This week I got a phone call from a good friend: “I’ve got retro, wooden/metal, industrial, 1950’s, kitchen chairs, originally made here in Quillan, for your shop”. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw them, what a flash back in time. The retro glamour that lined 1950s compact kitchens and roadside cafés, hospital wards, train cabins, fountains and even luxury cruise liners, stood now right in front of me. These famous chairs, with their wipe-clean wonder surface, would sell like madness in Paris, so I am really happy, these real retro relics of chrome plated, solid wrought iron framework, , and quality, found their way to me.
Formica is an iconic brand inextricably linked to the invention of the original high-pressure laminate (HPL), designed to be an electrical insulator. Decorative plastic laminate is a durable flat sheeting material used in home and industrial furnishings.
We’ll have to go back to 1913 were the Formica founders (Daniel J. O’Conor and Herbert A.Faber) discovered the substitute for an insulation material called “mica”, hence the name. Cafés and nightclubs loved it for it durable and cigarette-proof qualities.
Initially served as engine parts for cars made by Chevrolet, Buick and Pontiac in the 30’s, the product even did better in the WWII with their new improved plastic-impregnated wood, used for propellers and bomb parts. It actually took till after the war, for it to become the symbol of modern lifestyle and to conquer the world. There was no limit to colour, pattern or finishes! Their lovely names: Spindrift, Skylark, Mayflower, Softglow, Milano, Sea Mist and Cameo certainly helped the sales figures.
Nowadays young designers are using new ways of working with it and are rediscovering its innovative potential (even the decorative possibilities of laser-cut veneers).
There was a time, when our neighbouring Pyrenees’ town, Quillan, was the major Formica production center for France. The laminate was produced here since 1952! Now all that is left is a large field that has to be restored and get rid of any residual chemical pollution. Nice to know is that nowadays the company strives to become a “greener” enterprise.
Have a closer look at the photos, would you believe me, if I told you that the material used to produce these chairs, is high-grade print paper? The inside, or filler, of Formica is made from brown paper bathed in an amber-colored phenolic/melamine resin, which is applied by rollers. The resin soaks through the paper, which then sets in a drying oven. The tougher substance could resist heat and abrasion, strength and thickness, while the paper opened up a wealth of possibilities for printing colours and patterns. Just find any Formica website and the whole production process will be explained to you!
Once Formica discovered, in 1927, that by adding decorative paper through a lithographic printing process, they could produce laminates with patterns that simulated wood grains and marble, thus more colourful and decorative, their product became a huge success!
I found a video on line (French spoken) showing the original old Quillan factory at work, process of fabrication from start to end:
As with most products, as Formica ages, it’s more susceptible to damage. People who had a Formica countertop in their kitchen, will tell you, although it was designed to withstand wear, heat and water, that it could still be damaged! But again no worry: small scratches will fade away when using laminate repair paste or countertop polish (this will only temporarily fix it, so you’ll have to reapply!). Contact cement will help you reapply peeling laminate. And for those of you who don’t like the colour, you can paint it! Always keep in mind that you have to preview a special repair if you want it to be wear/heat-resistant!
Will be sold in the Woohoocuties’ shop soon, I first have to work out shipping and insurance, if you can’t wait and want them straight away, contact me!
The word “Formica” was a pre-existing Latin word for a type of ant, but I think this business has certainly outgrown the ant-size!
Vintage greetings from