Mention the words Formica, plastic, laminate or acrylic in terms of household furniture and many people will throw up their hands in horror. Add a spattering of vibrant flower heads, stripes or geometric shapes to the image and they will guffaw as the ‘60s springs to mind.
But this isn’t a scene from 40 years ago, it is 21st century Scotland, where translucent acrylic tables and fashionable room dividers bearing colourful designs are being used to inject individuality and a sense of fun back into homes. And the lady behind this phenomenon is Glasgow textile designer Jan Milne.
On graduating from Glasgow School of Art with a degree in textile design in 1994, Milne naturally set about creating her own distinctive fabrics. Having succeeded in upholstering some of the top hotels and restaurants in America with her citrus fruit and exotic flower fabrics, she decided to research how she could apply her designs on to the furniture on a more permanent basis. The result is her printed acrylic tables and screens which, as well as being functional, are now also sought after as works of art in their own right.
"I worked on the printing process for about a year " says Milne. "Laminates were big in the ‘50s and acrylic was popular in the ‘60s. I have kept the retro shapes of the furniture with their radiused corners and soft edges but given it a 21st century look using modern technology to apply my designs and colour schemes. The translucency of acrylic appeals to minimalists and these pieces combine the minimalist look with vibrant colour. "
While stores such as Habitat and Argos sell ranges of single-coloured acrylic tables, as far as she is aware Milne is one of the first to add bespoke printed design to acrylic household furniture.
"I trained in printed textiles and moved onto customised laminates," she says. "That opened up a lot more opportunities for me. Always looking for new ideas and knowing that acrylic had made a comeback, I was keen to experiment with acrylic by incorporating my use of colour and design. Because the process is new, therefore quite expensive, I created designs for stock items, although I also offer customised designs."
The nests of tables, which sell for around £500, and the coffee tables are being snapped up for their individual detailing – both are available in striped or Eclipse patterns in a variety of tones. Needless to say, their hard wearing and wipe clean surfaces are appealing to many homeowners.
However, Milne’s room dividers and screens are also creating a stir. Essentially being used as unique pieces of furniture, some people are also hanging the individual panels in front of windows or against walls and using them as alternative paintings. When stood or hung where natural light can illuminate the vivid colours, the screens take on a stained glass effect.
"People are seeing these as pieces of art" smiles Milne. "I recently put my first screen into the Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh and it sold for £2,500 before the private preview had been held. Linda Reid in Glasgow has also commissioned screens to their own design. I try to make the screens to a standard size so they can be used directionally or functionally within a room or office space but I can also customise the dimensions. If someone chooses to separate an open plan living room and kitchen this screen does not make the areas feel blocked off because of its translucency."
Karen Richardson of interior guru Linda Reid’s Pollokshaws store in Glasgow has been astounded at customer reactions to the acrylic screens.
"We have been selling the screens in sets of two and as individual panels," says Richardson. "People like the fact they can stand them near a window or hang them on a wall where they can light them well and then get the colours reflecting through. The whole piece looks like it has been hand painted. We commissioned screens from Jan and she came up with designs following colours specified by our buyers. We have one with thistles on a green background and another with a Cala Lily on fuchsia pink and burgundy. The colours are just beautiful."
Milne, whose international reputation now means that she splits her time between her studios in Glasgow and Barcelona, is currently in talks with an agent who wants to export the printed acrylic tables and screens to South America. Her work is already prevalent in the States, where she has helped shape the interiors of Gloria Estefan’s Miami restaurant Bongo’s and the Samba Grill in the Mirage Hotel, Las Vegas. Closer to home, she has just completed a commission to design laminate wall panels for the new restaurant within the Home Office in London, and she also sells a range of soft furnishings through the National Trust for Scotland.
For the past 10 years, aficionados of Milne’s work have enjoyed experimenting with her mix of silk, satin, linen, velvet and organza fabrics decorated with exotic daisies, gerberas, lilies, fruit slices and feathers. One curtain material, showing a slice of lemon on a lime background, is widely nicknamed the ‘gin and tonic’ fabric. Milne’s eye for seeing the zest in otherwise everyday items and using them to bring colour and humour into the home is engaging. Her latest interior offerings look set to stretch this contemporary theme even further – and provides an appropriate table on which to set your G&T while admiring the colourful rays thrown across the room through the printed screen.
* To discuss a commission or hear more about the acrylic tables and screens contact Jan Milne on 0141 589 1446, www.janmilne.co.uk
* Linda Reid, Auldhouse Retail Park, Cogan Street, Glasgow, www.lindareid.co.uk