"This is a slow moving industry, but technology's got to catch up with fashion. There's new blood in the system, and I think Formica's going to come back with a vengeance."! Susan Grant Lewin's `Formica & Design, From High Art to Counter Culture' is published by Rizzoli, New York, priced pounds 29.95 Owain George: 0171 820 1974. K IS FOR ALEIDOSCOPIC COLOUR Colour is exciting, refreshing and emotive; it affects mood, and can effectively warm a place up or cool it down. "I think people still see it as a Fifties covering for kitchens," says JAM's Jamie Anley. "We want to take a fresh look at laminates." But will Formica collaborate?"We are very keen to keep in touch with fashion trends," says Formica's European design manager, Ruth Hewett, who confesses that the company "has not been good at it in the past".
There is a problem in that the production process is now so industrialised (she compares it to volume newspaper printing) that it is difficult to respond to small orders. "If an individual just wants 10 sheets of zany purple laminate, it can't be done," says Hewett. "The big distributors call the shots they tend to be very conservative. His rolling, coasting chaise longue is made of canary yellow laminates and sheets of real aluminium.JAM, a three person design team who specialise in "perceiving materials within new contexts" have produced furniture and accessories from washing machine drums and Zotefoams and Polyformes (otherwise known as swimming pool floats). Formica is on their hit list of under-exploited materials with potential.
Another is about to surface.Formica's ColorSystem range includes a rich palette of matt and textured shades from Chrome Yellow and Tropical Blue to a limey French Green and oh so wonderful Clementine. The new Decometals include brushed, embossed and coloured aluminiums, coppers, chromes and hammered pewters. Serigrafica reinvents classic designs, such as Boomerang and Softglow. There are marbled and glitzy mirrored surfaces, a collection of original Fifties patterns are going into reproduction later this year, and Terence Conran has entered the fray with a range of four new designs for Formica competitors Polyrey."As a vehicle to carry colour and design, there's nothing like it," says John Hodkinson. A number of pioneers among the Britpack of young contemporary furniture designers actively agree with him, although products by Abet Laminati and Polyrey tend to be their chosen material. "They are cheaper and offer a bigger choice of colours," says Steve Jensen of design group Juggernaut, adding that Formica is still king of the woodgrain.