Friday, February 27, 2009

eBay and Mid-Century Modern Design

Scandinavian Hall Table

If you are looking to find some mid-century modern items for your home, one of the best resources available today is eBay. True, there are more sophisticated vendors and collectors using the site today then there once was, but if you spend the time searching, you can still find some great deals and unique items for minimal cost. Just be sure to assess the sellers rating and determine the shipping costs prior to entering your maximum bid price.

There are a number of ways you can search eBay for mid-century modern items:
  1. From the main page type "mid-century modern" - this provides the broadest search.
  2. Find a specific Category and type in "mid-century modern" - brings back only items in that category.
  3. Go to the Collectibles category and find Vintage - select the decade that interests you and search.
  4. Enter mid-century modern buzz words - i.e., "eames", "saarinen", "danish teak", "federal glass", "blenko", etc.
Have fun treasure hunting!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Wool - One of Our Best Natural Resources

My favorite textile has always been wool, both for its beautiful texture and wide versatility. In these times of earth friendly products and taking advantage of natural resources – wool is the perfect choice for many of your decorating needs!

There are many natural advantages of wool and it can be used for many design projects. Some of my favourite uses are upholstery, drapery and of course area rugs. Check out these great felted wool faux stone ottomans!

Shape Retention
The natural elasticity of wool fiber allows it to stretch up to 40% beyond its original length and return to its original size. Therefore, it’s a great choice for upholstery and carpets since they will bounce back from body pressure or furniture crush.

Water Repellant & Stain Proof
Wool fibers repel water and stains due to a unique membrane covering the fiber core. Spills will remain on the surface, allowing the liquid to be blotted up with a clean and dry cloth.

Easy to Clean

The natural membrane found on wool fibers allow for easy cleaning. This membrane prevents dirt and dust from sinking below the surface, permitting regular vacuuming to keep items looking clean and new.

Fire Safe
Wool has many natural safe characteristics, including flame retardant, high ignition temperature, low flame spread and the ability to self-extinguish.

Improves Air Quality
Wool naturally resists static and mildew – static by wool’s natural moisture retention up to 30% and mildew by its naturally low pH. Wool also improves and maintains indoor air quality by absorbing contaminants without re-emitting them into your environment.

Natural Insulation
Wool works as a natural barrier against noise and an insulator for heat or cold. For example, a wool rug will absorb the sound and noise level within your room and wool drapery will insulate your windows and keep the temperature consistent within your room.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Retro Style of Bakelite


Dr. Leo Baekeland, a Belgian scientist, immigrated to the United States for better career opportunities. In 1907, while working as an independent chemist accidently discovered the compound of carbolic acid and formaldehyde. When he tried to reheat the solidified compound he discovered it would not melt, no matter how high the temperature. He trademarked the compound "Bakelite" as well as two other variations, "catalin" and "marblette" - today also referred to as Bakelite. This was the first completely synthetic plastic, therefore, Dr. Baekeland became the father of the present plastics industry.

Due to its durability and beauty, Bakelite's uses were limitless. Its popularity grew very quickly, and within 15 years it had taken the world by storm. You could find everything from electrical plugs to ornate jewelry made from Bakelite. It was even used on the dashboard face of the Mercedes Benz car. Bakelite could be produced in a wide array of colors, but the most common were white, brown, green and red. Pieces dating back to the 1920s-1940s have oxidized and developed a wonderful patina that is sometimes a completely different hue than the original color. For example, white often turns to butterscotch, light blue changes to forest green, and pink turns to orange.

Original or Reproduction
So how do you determine if a piece is genuine Bakelite?
  1. Smell
    When Bakelite is heated it has a very strong odor which comes from the carbolic acid in the composition. On some pieces you can release the smell simply by rubbing them hard with your thumb and creating heat. Others will need very hot water to release the odor. On some the odor is so faint you may not detect it.
  2. Sound
    When you tap two Bakelite pieces together they will make a deep clunking sound, rather than the higher pitched clack of acrylic or Lucite plastics.
  3. Hot Pin Test
    Bakelite is a thermoset plastic so it cannot be remolded with heat. To test if a piece is bakelite get a very very hot pin from an open flame source, then touch the pin to the item. If it is Bakelite it will not penetrate. It may give off the acid smell and it may leave a purple burn mark. If the pin penetrates or melts the plastic then it is not genuine Bakelite.
  4. Formula 409
    This product works very well to test whether an item is Bakelite. Make sure the item is clean, wet the end of a Q-tip with Formula 409 then touch it to the piece. If the Q-tip turns yellow then the piece is genuine. If you believe a piece is Bakelite but it doesn't pass the 409 test, don't count it out. Sometimes polished Bakelite will not react or pass the test.

Although these tests are foolproof, they will determine if a piece is genuine Bakelite.

Stopped Production
Bakelite has always been known as "the material with 1000 uses," and it surely did earn this name. It is now treasured for its unique, irreproducible beauty. When the Bakelite patent expired in 1927, it was acquired by the Catalin Corporation that same year. They began mass production under the name "Catalin". The Catalin Corporation was responsible for nearly 70% of all phenolic resins that exist today.

In 1942 Bakelite-Catalin stopped sales of their colorful costume jewelry in order to concentrate on the nation's wartime needs. The company produced thousands of products that found their way into the military. By the end of the World War II, new technologies for molded plastics had been developed. These new products consisted of plastics such as Lucite, Fiberglass, Vinyl, and Acrylic - all which were molded. Thus, Bakelite and Catalin became obsolete, except in the hearts of collectors who still pursue it today.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Quality Control in Living Room Basics - Coffee Table

Our last item to discuss in our series of Living Room Quality Control is the coffee table.

Like most wood furniture, coffee tables can be made of hardwood or softwood. For durability, look for a "solid wood" table and not one labelled "all wood". Solid wood tables are made of solid boards, while furniture labelled all wood is madeof engineered plywood and particleboard. Tables that are veneered may be either solid wood or engineered wood underneath, be sure to ask the retailer.

A well-made table shouldn't be wobbly or creaky. It should have legs permanently attached with mortise and tenon joints, or, in the case of removable legs, with brackets and lag bolts. Tables with legs that are stapled or glued won't have the same longevity. If the table has a drawer, look for one with dovetail joints. Dovetail joints are much stronger than stapled ones.

The finish should never feel rough or sandy. On a quality piece the finish will feel silky. The underside of a quality piece will also be stained and lacquered, to prevent moisture from penetrating the wood.