Acrylic furnishings are unassuming yet edgy…barely there but a total focal point…contemporary and somehow adaptable to almost any interior design scheme. These airy, modern, and flexible furnishings are all the rage across dozens of styles. While incorporating clear furnishings into the home feels ultra-modern, the trend actually dates back to the 1930s! Since their invention, acrylics have only become more and more widespread through the decades. But, what is it about crystal clear, almost invisible, decor pieces that attract us? In this Interior Design Glossary entry, my team of Austin interior designers and I review the definition, history, and benefits of acrylic furnishings. Plus, we share the interior design styles most suited for acrylic pieces so you can decide if they are suitable for your home.
What are Acrylic Furnishings?
Acrylic was developed under the Lucite and Plexiglas brand names in the early 1930s. The scientific compound that forms acrylic is called polymethyl methacrylate or PMMA. PMMA is a synthetic resin produced from the polymerization of methyl methacrylate. This thermoplastic is moldable at extremely hot temperatures and solid once cooled. During the heating process, acrylic is formed into shatter-resistant sheets, furnishings, or accessories. Some designers take advantage of the process to produce single-mold pieces, eliminating any visible corner joints for a truly crystal clear product. Acrylic can be used as a simple substitute for glass or formed into almost any decor piece imaginable.
A Brief History of Acrylic Furnishings
After its invention in the early 1930s, acrylic was marketed in two ways. First, plexiglass was utilized as a shatter-resistant glass replacement, appearing on window inserts and aircraft windshields. Then by 1937, Lucite products were used for consumer products like jewelry, handbags, and accessories. Acrylic furniture soon came on the scene as designers began experimenting with the new material.
In 1939, the cosmetics mogul Helena Rubinstein commissioned an entire line of acrylic furnishings for her New York City apartment. Ladislas Medgyes, a Hungarian artist and interior designer, designed the pieces—including an illuminated acrylic bed from which she held her daily business meetings. The designs were over the top and broke the conventions of the period. Even today, some may consider an entire apartment of clear furnishings eccentric.
After World War II ended in 1945, manufacturers began working with acrylic on a larger scale. By the 1950s, translucent acrylic accessories like trays, serving sets, and cake stands were staples among housewives. Speaking to the growing popularity of clear furnishings by the end of the decade, French designer Erwine Laverne told the New York Times in 1959 that “the most important element in rooms is people, not furniture.” Why block the view?
Acrylic furniture hit its popularity peak in the 1960s. Glass artists, accessory designers, and furniture makers took advantage of acrylic’s lightweight nature, easy flexibility, and low production costs to create trendy chairs, end tables, and bar carts. Designers including Baron Alessandro Albrizzi, John Mascheroni, and Charles Hollis Jones experimented with color, form, and function—creating iconic designs. Acrylic furnishings would carry through into 1980s interior design trends. As the popularity of acrylics began to dwindle, Philippe Starck released his iconic Louis Ghost Chair in 2002, reigniting a fascination with the material. Today, acrylic remains a go-to finish for interior designers and homeowners.
Ghost Chairs: The Most Iconic Acrylic Furnishing Out There
If you don’t have any acrylic pieces of your own, you probably know someone who has a Ghost Chair (or a copy of a Ghost Chair). The Philippe Starck Louis Ghost Chair was released by Kartell in 2002. Since then, the design has been imitated by dozens of producers, showcasing just how much the piece resonates. Modeled after the Louis XVI Chair designed for Marie Antoinette, the Ghost Chair blends old-world lines with a modern material—creating a beautiful contrast. It is by far one of the most iconic acrylic furnishings out there. To tell a copy from the Kartell original, look for corner joints. The original Ghost Chair is produced by injecting polycarbonate plastic into a single mold, meaning there will be no visible joint lines. Other acrylic copycats will have visible lines where two pieces meet.
What Interior Design Styles Accommodate Acrylic Furnishings?
Because they are crystal clear, acrylic furnishings and accessories can blend into almost any interior design plan. However, these are five of the top styles most suited to the look.
Since acrylic was invented in the 1930s, acrylic accessories blend beautifully with glamorous Art Deco interior design schemes.
Hollywood Regency interior design is all about glamor. A makeup mogul was the pioneer of the acrylic furniture trend, and she definitely knew a thing or two about living a glamorous life!
Because acrylic furnishings hit their peak popularity in the 1960s, mid-century modern designs often include acrylic tables and chairs in fun tinted colors.
Major trends from the 70s and 80s are back in style. Our team of Austin interior designers is calling this look the Retro Revival. If you want to bring an element of rad 80s decor to your home, try incorporating some funky acrylic pieces.
While acrylic was invented almost 100 years ago, there is something that still feels ultra-modern about clear furnishings. Acrylic pieces have an edge perfect for any contemporary design plan.
Benefits of Acrylic Furnishings
Crystal clear acrylic furnishings are versatile because of their transparency. For example, an acrylic tray or chair will blend right in no matter your style or color palette.
Lack Visual Weight
Acrylic pieces don’t have any visual weight because we can see right through them. An acrylic chair will allow you to incorporate more seating into a room without overcrowding it. Plus, acrylic accents serve as the perfect counterpoint to bold patterns and chunky furnishings.
Can Be Used Outside
Acrylic furnishings may look delicate, but their thermoplastic construction makes them quite durable. Consider using acrylic furnishing for indoor-outdoor spaces, like a screened porch, to pack in tons of style while remaining practical.
Capture the Imagination
The idea of invisible furniture that can support your weight still feels new, modern, and captivating after nearly 100 years of production. Acrylic pieces add an unexpected edge to any room and capture the imagination.
Should You Invest in Acrylic Furnishings for Your Home?
While they appear modern at first, acrylic furnishings are versatile and can be a great complement to any interior design scheme. Before investing in acrylic pieces for your home, assess your style and consider bringing in smaller items first to test it out. Acrylic trays, accent tables, and occasional seating are great places to start. As always, enlist the help of a design team to help pull off major projects and achieve the best result.
Want to learn more about residential design?
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.