Post-consumer design: Jane Atfield’s chair turns 30

Designing from post-consumer waste: Jane Atfield’s revolutionary recycled chair turns 30

New York gallerist Emma Scully revisits the groundbreaking design of Jane Atfield’s RCP2 recycled plastic chair, on the 30th anniversary of its creation

When British designer Jane Atfield created her now iconic RCP2 chair in 1992, it was groundbreaking. Austere in shape and made from recycled high-density polyethylene panels from plastic bottles, the chair looks almost painted due to its speckled, multicolored surface. The board was made by pressing and heating plastic shavings so that the fragments and shards were maintained in their final state. Atfield made the painting herself, collecting bottles of suntan lotion, washing-up liquid and shampoo from community collection points.

“Through the radical honesty of its evocative and colorful materiality, the RCP2 Chair’s former life as post-consumer waste is brilliantly exposed. Her aesthetic speaks volumes about the meaning of Jane’s statement on consumer culture and climate change as it relates to design,” says New York gallery owner Emma Scully, who commissioned new limited-edition colors of the chair to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Working with Atfield’s original plastic maker Yemm and Hart, whose recycled plastic panel originally inspired Atfield’s later version, Scully’s new colorways include a multicolored confetti iteration of the original prototype. , a blue version of the chair which is part of the permanent design collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and a completely original black and white version which did not exist before.

Elaborating on the chair’s design, which itself was inspired by Gerrit Rietveld’s 1923 military side chair, Atfield recalls: “While I was studying furniture design at RCA in the early 1990s, I was looking for ways to connect furniture to larger political issues when I came across a sample of recycled plastic that a friend had picked up at a trade show in New York.Made by Yemm and Hart of Missouri, the material has turned post-consumer plastics such as shampoo and detergent bottles into sheet building materials I saw the potential for using this material – the mounds of plastic waste that keep growing around us – to build furniture and other everyday objects.

She continues: “In the 90s, eco-design was somewhat marginalized and often seen as an eccentricity or a holdover from the hippie movement. At that time, the emphasis was on status and style-driven design, which I felt alienated from. Furniture design and the plastics industry were also very male dominated in the 90s, which was also alienating! Stumbling upon the USA Recycled Plastic Sample became a truly exciting opportunity and led to a decade-long research project pioneering and developing recycled plastics in the UK. The demand for plastics continues to grow, with less than 10% recycled worldwide despite the well-documented drastic effects on our health and that of the planet.

Scully concludes: “With such an innovative outlook, Jane’s work led to the widespread use of recycled plastics throughout the industry with many designers over the next 30 years working under the proactive precedent that ‘she created. Despite the challenges Jane faced as one of the few women working in furniture design at the time, she went on to found her own company to deal with recycled plastics, promoting the use of recycled plastic materials to his contemporaries in addition to selling his own creations. .’ §

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