Thursday 17 April 2014

Formica, Fablon

Well, you live and learn. This morning, listening to the radio, I discovered the etymology of Formica, that ubiquitous wipe-clean, heat-resistant laminate. In as much as I'd given this any thought, I had assumed it was something to do with formic acid - but no. Originally, I learnt, the doughty laminate was used as a substitute for a mineral commonly used as electrical insulation - mica. Yes, it was substitute for mica. Formica. More like a crossword clue than etymology, isn't it?
 Any child of the Fifties will have memories - fond or otherwise - of Formica. All our parents fell victim to the Formica fashion, replacing all those old-style wooden surfaces with the smooth and characterless plastic, usually choosing strong bright post-Festival of Britain colours (my Formica memories seem to be mostly yellow). My mother seemed very pleased with the transformation, and my father was happy to go along with it. His moment was to come when the next transformative material turned up - Fablon, the original 'sticky-back plastic', which came in all manner of colours and patterns and could be used to cover just about anything: shelves, work surfaces, wood panelling, cupboard doors, tables. It also had a myriad of craft uses, as witnessed by Blue Peter week after week. Like many others, my father took to the stuff with relish, even using it to cover the broken-down spines of his old set of Arthur Conan Doyle. Not a pleasing effect, but it did the job. Isn't one of Doyle's historical novels called Micah Clarke...?


  1. Paints too. When multi-coloured household paints became widely available after the war, they set off an orgy of covering beautiful old wooden bannisters, mouldings and window frames & sashes with colours like landlady green and baby blanket blue. It was an aesthetic outrage on a par with the Destruction of the Monasteries.

    Formica, paint, linoleum, frozen foods--the fifties were the heyday of the artifical. Probably the only thing we have to thank the hippies of the sixties for was their cult of the natural.

  2. Yes indeed - and remember the backlash to Fifties colours when suddenly everything was painted in that bland non-colour called 'magnolia'? Ghastly good taste in a pot.