24 January 2008

i ♥ lucite: maison21 explains the care and feeding of one of his favorite materials

maison21 loves lucite- loves, loves, loves! after reading a couple great posts lately regarding lucite furniture and accessories from fellow bloggers alkemie and absolutely beautiful things, maison21 thought he'd share a little lucite lore of his own with y'all.

the first post miason21 was inspired by was "sources for lucite furniture" from the san francisco-based blog alkemie- if you haven't been to her blog, go read up on the sources she's listed for the lucite and then read her gorgeous and hunger-making series of posts on french pastry maker, ladureé,. be sure to visit this week, as one of my favorite blogging friends, the delightfully colorful and upbeat, all things bright and beautiful is guest blogging from hong kong!

maison21's second inspirational post was from the well established down-under design blog, absolutely beautiful things. one of the first design blogs maison21 started reading, and one of the inspirations for starting a blog of his very own. anna from abt posted this great oversized, monogrammed lucite graphic tray from iomoi (pic is from abt). proving that great design minds think alike, maison21 was all set to order one of these trays (the smaller, cheaper version, mind you) as a christmas gift for a friend but at the last moment switched instead to this modernist lucite dog bowl feeder from everyday studios in san francisco, purchased via supermarket (i realized the tray is more my house, the feeder more the style of my friend's home).

lucite is such a beautiful and versatile material, with incredible optical properties, but a material that is surprisingly fragile when one considers it's a form of plastic. it is one of maison21's absolute favorite ways to add a little shine and glam to a room without overwhelming it with sparkle (you know like with a bedazzled zebra figurine). over the years maison21 has owned (and sold) more lucite than he can remember, and had both success and heartbreak in trying to bring neglected pieces back to life. now, it's time to pass on some of that knowledge to you, grasshopper...

as stated, lucite is plastic and the name "lucite" is actually a trade name, owned by dupont- the generic term is acrylic and the technical name is "polymethylmethacrylate". even though lucite is a trade name, as a term it's pretty much interchangeable with acrylic, and we definitely prefer to use the term "lucite"- it sounds more a little more upmarket than "acrylic", which sounds to us like a badly pilled 70's knit sweater. if you want to sound all fancy and english like madonna, you can call lucite "perspex", the trade name from across the pond.

the chemical compound lucite is compsed of, was discovered in 1928 (wikipedia) and brought to the market in the early 1930's which is why you'll see it first used in deco and moderne pieces from that era. of course lucite's use as a decor material really took off with the forward thinking designs of the 60's and 70's, and some of the many designers that used the material extensively during that period are dorothy thorpe, neal small, charles hollis jones and karl springer. (links are to 1stdibs for more examples of their work)

dorothy thorpe candlesticks sold by maison21

neal small tables at treadway-toomey aucitons

charles-hollis jones table sold by maison21

springer lamp at lobel modern on 1stdibs

as mentioned, lucite is a somewhat delicate material, and care should be exercised in use and in cleaning. household cleaners like windex shouldn't be used as they can cause surface crazing. "crazing" is a series of hairline cracks to the material. they are especially visible when struck by strong light but can't be felt on the surface, and often can develop deep inside the material. they can't be polished out, even when they appear to be near surface. besides chemical cleaners, crazing is most often caused by extremes in temperature, so try to avoid exposing your lucite to heat. extreme heat can also sometimes cause the lucite to turn cloudy, another condition for which there is no cure. note- the same optical qualities that make lucite so pretty can cause it to heat up when left in direct sunlight for prolonged periods, so keep that in mind in hot climes. below is a lucite ice bucket from maison21's personal collection with some severe crazing to bottom portion- maison21 isn't sure how damage occurred as he acquired it in that condition, but he assumes it was used for it's intended purpose, holding ice, then immediately rinsed in hot water causing the frost like crazing (actually the most extreme example i've ever seen- which makes it kind of cool!). lucite is still quite usuable and pretty when crazed or clouded, but one should be aware that is not it's original state- don't let anyone tell you otherwise!

so how do you clean lucite if you can't use cleaners or hot water? mild dish soap with cold or lukewarm water does the trick, along with a clean, soft cloth or sponge-. NEVER use a scrubby sponge as you will scratch the lucite badly. if the item is really dirty, rinse it under running water first to remove any dirt particles before wiping with cloth or sponge, because if there gritty particles on the lucite while wiping, you will scratch it.
there are also commercial sprays available to clean lucite- one of maison21 favorites is called "brillianize" and you can order it direct from their website, or some hardware stores carry it as well. maison21, being a big ol' ebay hag, likes to buy his from follow sellers there. it's really the best way to keep your lucite looking new and fabulous.

if you don't want to invest in a special product to make your lucite shiny, a cheap and easy way to shine up dull lucite is with a regular car wax, like turtlewax- just buff with a soft cloth and you'll be amazed at how good even the dullest acrylic will look. turtlewax has an advantage over brillianize in that it can remove faint scratches as well. the disadvantage as that sometimes it can leave a bit of a haze, visible in certain lights.

if lucite has sticky residue, like from a price tag, nail polish remover will remove it quickly and easily.

now if lucite is not just dirty, but is scratched as well, the solution is another commercial product called "novus 1-2-3". novus is a three step system: 3 for heavier scratches, 2 for fine scratches, and 1 for general cleaning (1 seems to be very much the same as brillianize). once again, you can order these from the company's own website, or get them off ebay. to buy them locally, you'd need to go to a specialty plastic store (maison21 goes to hasting's plastic in santa monica). the novus products produce remarkable results on even the most scratched up lucite- just follow the directions, and you'll be pleased with how new your item looks. and while it can't remove deep scratches, novus will at least polish up those scratches, reducing their visibility- the below sculptural vintage bowl was in pretty bad shape when maison21 found it, but looked rather amazing after a little novus and a lot of elbow grease! for really deep scratches, you can use use 600 grit sand paper followed by a buffing compound applied with a buffing wheel, but that's waaaaayyy too DIY for maison21- he just isn't that butch of a lesbian (no offense meant to my sapphic sisters- you girls know you are naturally good at stuff like that). maison21's advice is that if the lucite is that messed up, send it to a professional!
now maison21 is sure he isn't the only one with a lucite obsession- would anyone else care to share photos of their favorite lucite objets d'amor? (and link, if applicable)- he'll post a follow up post with pictures if enough of his threes of readers care to respond...

also, if you try any of m21's tips, email to let m21 know how much you love the results! or if you need further advice, maison21 is happy to help!


Pigtown-Design said...

Are those Ghost chairs lucite? Love the candlesticks. What great form!

maison21 said...

hey pig- yeah- those candlesticks as well as her platinum banded glassware are dorothy thorpe's true claim to design immortality. oh, her "persimmon" china is awful pretty too...

the ghost chairs are actually polycarbonate, a harder form a clear plastic- if the ghost chairs were to be made of lucite that thin, they would collapse! ps- i have no idea if my cleaning tips work on polycarb- anybody out there know?

Noel said...

Hey Maison,

That is a great article on Lucite. I'm surprised that you didn't include anything that we have created though, we at Aaron R. Thomas Design use nothing but the best American made acrylic for all of our acrylic furniture, lighting, and accessories. The difference in this is that our acrylic is resistant to hazing, crazing, and discoloration that is common to cheaper acrylic. Also ours is much more durable and resistant to scratching. Best of all we offer free recycling for acrylic if anyone has cheaper acrylic that is at the end of it's useful life. If you ever need anymore information on acrylic care, fabrication, or recycling please feel free to contact me at

maison21 said...

hi noel-

thanks for visiting! the focus of this post was more on the care of vintage lucite, but if i do a post in the future (andi just might) on custom lucite pieces, i would most definitely mention you guys as a great resource.

of course, a free or near free lucite game table that maison21 desperately needs for his living room would make that post happen FOR SURE!

just kidding! you guys are a great resource, especially for those of us in southern california with the recycling thing, so you are in my source file for future reference- table or not!

Suzy said...

M21,I haven't begun to obsess about lucite yet, but I have had my eye on a pair of Charles Hollis Jones side tables on 1st Dibs, so I'll keep all that in mind!

Mrs. Blandings said...

Love, love, love lucite. Have a lucite bench in front of the (non-working) fireplace. I have a funny friend who sat there once and said, "I wonder what this looks like from underneath?" We were all too lady-like to look, naturally.

katiedid said...

I am another lucite fan. I do have two ghost chairs (thanks for the info about what they are made of) and I had a waterfall console table made, which I tried to photograph for you, but it just doesn't show up well enough! I am going to buy some of that brillianize I think. It needs a little spiffing!

maison21 said...


thanks for trying to take a picture for me! lucite is incredibly difficult to capture well- gives me fits, every time! the inspiration for this article was a lucite console i'm cleaning up, and i thought people might be interested in the process, but after taking literally dozens of photos trying to capture the "before" state of the lucite, i gave up and did the post sans photos of my current project.

you'll love the brillianize, you're console will sparkle like new- it's good stuff!

Anonymous said...

um a very dear friend gave me a lucite "crystal" ball a la Stevie Nicks as well as a lucite bowl - and of course the chicest ever gift - square lucite bookends!


maison21 said...


lucky you! what a chic friend to gift you with such fabulous treasures. sounds like you two have a delightful friendship...

oxoxo back 'atcha

All Things Bright and Beautiful... said...

Maison!1 thank you so much for the mention!! and thank you for the mention that I was over at Alkemie - I thought no one was interested there for a while!!!

You know I'm one of your biggest fans!!!


About Emily... said...

I love all the lucite- especially that charles-hollis jones table! gorgeous!

IzzyLu said...

I had an antique dealer tell me once that you could use marble polish with an old t-shirt to polish Lucite. I tried it and it worked really well. Thanks for all the information on Lucite! I have always loved it, but never knew too much about it.

maison21 said...

hi iizylu-

most marble polishes do indeed work, but i didn't want to include them in this post because there are a lot of products on the market, and i'm certainly not familiar with all of them.

toothpaste will work in pinch too!

thanks for reading!

design dna said...

superfine turtlewax tip m21! thanks!

Anonymous said...

Check out this fabulous Moorish Lucite table!

Anonymous said...

anyone seen a lucite doodad like this - got it an estate sale this weekend...

maison21 said...

it's very cool anon- i wonder why it has the different sized hour glasses- maybe it was a timer for a specific activity.

i like it!

Anonymous said...

I just bought a pair of red lucite carved fu dogs which need to be cleaned and I will look for the cleaners you recommend. In order to get into the deeply carved areas, would something like a soft mushroom brush work without scratching? Also, one dog has become detached from its base (no damage to either piece). What would be the best way to glue them back together? Thanks for your help.

AustinModern said...

What a great article, you've just saved many fine pieces of vintage lucite from a sad demise! Windex is the WORST! When we rent lucite pieces for movie sets we're very specific about what can and cannot be used for cleaning.

Have to add this, do not try a buffing wheel DIYers! You need a very very light hand to use an electric buffer with these.

We had a designer buy a set of 4 stunning CHJ tub chairs from us and when he decided to buff out a tiny flea speck of a spot his dremel was set at too high of a speed and he burned an ugly scorch mark right into the back of the chair.

He called me in tears and though we were able to sand down and repolish the spot (not fun), there was a permanent divot where the "burnt" lucite had to be removed.

Apparently it went from fine to melty smudge in a matter of seconds..
Just found a stunning DTC crystal tray with lucite pretzel handles, can't wait to clean it up and make it pretty again!

Cyn said...

Hi Christian,

I wanted to drop you a line and thank you a hundred times over for this post. I recently bought an old lucite table that was in terrible shape for a client and used the Novus 1-2-3 system and the table is as good as new.

I have one very happy client, and I have a new favorite product.

Love your blog!

Merry Holidays!

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