Furniture that doesn't get in the way of the view



Visual lightweights normally are not a good thing in interior design. But the trend toward simplified, uncluttered living spaces remains healthy, and furnishings that are barely there are making unusually bold strides.

Acrylic -- in the trademarked form of Lucite or Plexiglas and other formulations of plastic -- is assuming a visible role in the home. Clear or color-infused, transparent materials are being fashioned into chairs, chaises, tables, lamps, shelves, folding screens, wall panels, clocks, speakers, sinks and even faucets.

Transparent materials satisfy a number of design objectives. Like glass windows in architecture, transparent objects have the ability to visually lighten space, fooling the eye.

That's especially important in floor plans that are not spacious. With textured acrylic, there's an added tactile element and even a refraction quality. With a bit of color, light play is amazing, bouncing prisms for a delightful kinetic effect.

Perhaps most surprising, the use of see-through furnishings today is not confined to contemporary spaces.

Take Philippe Starck's Ghost Chairs, for example. The French designer adapted a classic oval-backed Louis XVI profile, translating it into polycarbonate, an injection-molded plastic. And with that brilliant redefining of the material in a form more often associated with gilding, fine woods and silky fabric cushions, plastic sheds any cheap connotation.

Lebanese designer Nada Debs looks beyond Plexiglas to the objects it houses. Most fetching are seats cloaked in fabrics from the 1970s, as well as leather, classical brocades and antique kimonos whose vibrant patterns show through their acrylic frames. It makes the pieces appear to float.

A company called Jump Designs, based in Jackson, Miss., was fascinated with brightly hued laminated acrylic circles, inspired by color and shape. The result is a table with a base built of interlocking 1-inch-thick discs that look like giant gumdrops. Dee Talbot of Jump Designs says she likes acrylic as a medium because it adds texture.

"It's just another dimension, something to look at. It's very entertaining. It has an effect like crystal, almost ethereal," Talbot says.

A more fluid, streamlined treatment also changes the tone of acrylic furnishings. A sunny orange chaise, such as one designed for bath fixtures manufacturer Dornbracht, is molded from a single piece of plastic and seems to float on a steel frame, making it appear sinuous and sculptural.

When high-voltage coloring is used in transparent materials to create shelves or cabinets, as Dornbracht has done with its Meta Plasma series, the pieces seem artsy, almost glowing as natural light hits them. Some cube-shaped cabinets and shelves combine colors to ratchet up the boldness. Lighting within may add still another exciting dimension.

Elaine Markoutsas writes about home decor for Universal Press Syndicate.


Dornbracht USA: (800) 774-1181 or

French Heritage Reproductions: (800) 245-0899 or

Hickory Chair Co.: (800) 349-4579 or

Jump Designs: (734) 845-6489 or




Served in Style: Silver Collection of the Maryland Historical Society is a new exhibit on the second floor of the historical society's museum, 201 W. Monument St. The exhibit highlights 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century silver from the society's collection of more than 2,000 silver objects. Admission: $8 for adults; $6 for students, seniors and children ages 13 to 17; $4 for children ages 3 to 12; free for members. Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 410-685-3750, or



The Carroll County Farm Museum's Learning Lunch for October features antiques expert Jim Holland discussing changing styles and materials in high- quality American period furniture. Noon to 1 p.m. at the museum, 500 S. Center St., Westminster. Cost: $2 per person; free for members. 410-386-3880 or / farm.



Liang's Garden: New Work in Clay in by Harvey Sadow opens Thursday at Meredith Gallery, 805 N. Charles St. in Mount Vernon. A reception will be held from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and the exhibit will continue through Nov. 30. Gallery hours: Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. 410-837-3577 or



Horticulture magazine and Brookside Gardens are co-sponsors of "Crafting the Artful Garden: How to Edit, Select and Plant for the Elusive Four-Season Paradise" on Oct. 18. $119 for Brookside members and Horticulture subscribers; $129 for others. Registration for the daylong event at Brookside, 1800 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton, is available online at or by calling toll free, 877-436-7764. Deadline Oct. 16.

Send notices of garden and home decor events to harry.merritt@baltsun. com.

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