17th Feb 2022

Material Palettes - Synthetic Materials

With my last blog, I discussed wood and metal palettes. This week, we are looking at synthetic materials.

With furniture, the idea is usually to build structure with synthetic materials and then clad them with natural or natural looking materials. This allows the manufacturer to save money on materials and production while still getting a product that looks “natural.”

The idea behind a synthetic material palette is to “admit” to the use of synthetic materials and even celebrate them. That this should be a “bold” thing to do is a strange symptom of our time.

As early as 1855, attempts were being made by chemists to create artificial silk. The first synthetic polymer was invented in 1869. Synthetic materials have been around for a long time and are no longer just about replicating and replacing natural materials with artificial imitation, but have become a material class in itself and that no longer needs to visually relate to anything natural.

Synthetic materials carry a lot of connotations that are complex and even controversial. There is the immediately recognizable nature vs. artificial dialectic that comes with synthetic materials. This actually clouds our thinking on synthetic materials by immediately considering them in relation to their “opposite.” The relationship between natural and synthetic is better thought of as a gradient or spectrum than a dichotomy. For example, plywood, chipboard and particle board are all synthetic amalgamations of wood fragments. They are examples of materials that are not quite natural and not quite artificial.

Chipboard - natural, synthetic, or both?

The current social environment in America is fascinated with “natural” and “organic” - not just in terms of diet - but in all aspects of life and consumption. It is a misguided mind-set that attempts to align itself with environmentalism and world-health, but does so in a superficial and irrational way. Synthetic materials have an important place and role in a sustainable society, and should not be maligned based on a shallow understanding of ecology and an overriding social sentiment whose momentum is based on popularity and appearance. The idea of artificial will shed its negative connotations as we move collectively towards a balance between consumption and resource.

In the mean time, a lot of furniture designers and manufacturers have been embracing synthetic materials as part of an overall philosophy about authenticity and transparency. It is this attitude of embracing honesty that runs opposed to an aesthetic rejection of synthetic materials.

Here are just a few of the hundreds of contemporary furniture options on eurway.com that celebrate synthetic materials.

The Orange Sabine Dining Chairhas a unique translucent orange polycarbonate seat with patterned voids.

The White Oak Chicago Chairleaves the edges of its plywood exposed, revealing the synthetic aspect of its material. The striations complement the curving forms and add to the dynamic visual aesthetic of the chair.

The Snow Accent Tableis formed from resin and painted a glossy white. It is unabashedly artificial.

The Blue Oh Dining Chairhas a blue molded polypropylene seat that communicates its synthetic nature with its shape, finish and color.