Since we’ve focused our spotlight on Formica lately — with our stories of Formica’s 100th Anniversary collection — and revisiting the 24 styles of boomerang laminates that are available today — we thought this would be a good time to immerse ourselves in this vintage Formica catalog from 1938. Its 12 pages are packed with historic information — capture 50 historic Formica colors — and showcase possible uses, construction diagrams, available colors and forms, and even technical illustrations for both home and commercial uses.
In 1938 — when this catalog was published — Formica certainly seems to have been promoting itself a a Thoroughly Modern Material. The catalog celebrates the range of color and design that could be fabricated, the ease of cleaning and durability. The company wanted builders and designers to know: You could put Formica on just about any surface. Take a look at the photo of the deco-style Toronto bank, above — Formica all over the place.
The catalog promotes Formica’s use on:
- Table and counter tops — including a special sheet designed to be cigarette-proof to guarantee against burning.
- Counter panels — which can be fashioned to include elaborate decorative inlays using color or metals
- Wainscot — installed with bright metal cover strips or flush joints
- Basing and mop boards — listed as able to provide long service due to high resistance to alkalies in washing solutions
- Doors — for adding a decorative touch to entry doors, revolving doors, elevator doors or use in restrooms as toilet partitions
- Kick plates and push plates — take much abuse, easy to keep clean and polish free
- Window stools — made with molded Formica that is fabricated in the factory
- Kitchen counter tops and wall coverings
- Bedroom furniture — for hotels, steamships and clubs they suggest using the cigarette-proof Formica
- Ornamental signs — made by inlaying contrasting color and metal — or by using special translucent Formica which can be illuminated from behind
According to this catalog, there were more than 70 colors available. 50 swatches are shown in the catalog. It seems though the possibilities were endless — any colors could be combined through inlays (we LOVE vintage dinettes with inlay designs!) or with metal — to create an infinite variety of looks.
The catalog tells us that Formica was also available in Realwood — a sheet in which wood veneer (rather than the more commonly used decorative later of “kraft paper”) was laminated — combiningthe beauty of a real wood finish with the durability of Formica. Perhaps when we see vintage furniture with laminate that “looks like wood” — it really IS wood in that laminate sheet???
The catalog also mentions a translucent Formica — available in several colors — that can be made with an opaque face. It could only be fabricated in flat sheets, but could be coaxed to bend by heating in warm water.
Today, we are so … bláse … about plastic. It kinda has a bad name in the mainstream home design world… we take it for granted. But when it was first introduced — it was transformational. It solved so many “problems”, and it was affordable to the masses. So cool to get a glimpse of the early days of laminate and the seeming excitement about its transformational design opportunities.
Special thanks to The Canadian Centre for Architecture via archive.org for making this catalog available; it is featured here via Creative Commons license: Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0.
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