Enter the lip gloss house. Statement walls sparkle, brightly colored side tables reflect low lamps, and sunlight bounces through the shaded hallways. Even the ceiling has a mysterious glow. The secret? Lacquer, a glossy finish for wood that has been used decoratively in East Asia for about 2,000 years.
âI love the richness of lacquer,â says designer Suzanne Sharp, whose 16-piece collection for The Lacquer Company launches this month (starting at Â£ 195 for a small Castello tray). Unlike the heavily decorated traditional lacquer, the Sharp furniture set is guided solely by color. She sees each item as “the equivalent of an incredible pair of shoes or socks,” designed to add the finishing touch to an otherwise classic room. âI wanted to put some color in unexpected places,â she adds, pointing to a bottle green desk accessory set.
For interior designer Susie Atkinson, it’s about balancing texture – âespecially when a design is too matte,â she says. âLacquered pieces bring things to life by adding movement, shine and contrast. Recent updates to its furniture collection include four geometric side tables finished with 16 coats of glossy resin (from Â£ 1,040 for a cubic design). Atkinson suggests contrasting them with historic pieces, a trick taken up by the design studio Yellow London. âContemporary lacquer furniture pairs well with most antiques,â says co-founder Cath Beckett, whose own bedroom places bespoke glass tables on either side of a floral headboard designed by Viennese Modernist Josef Frank.
It’s also a finish that lends itself to curves, especially the Memphis-inspired wiggle trend. Jonathan Adler’s pastel blue Ripple Lacquer cube (Â£ 495) doubles as a table and shelf, while Dutch brand Pols Potten created their stools and tables in cheerful lacquer (Â£ 253 for the Tam Tam design; madeindesign.co .uk) over the past 20 years. New for fall is the Roche Bobois collection with designer Eugeni Quitllet, where a curvy dining table with lacquered legs takes center stage (Â£ 3,780). But for Priya Khanchandani, head of conservation and interpretation at the Design Museum, the object she covets is the Brandy table from ENOstudio (from â¬ 1,689). Its appeal, she says, is its “glossy finish, which catches light, is richer than plastic, and is also quite practical.”
More daring pursuers will seek to create a wall, ceiling, or even an entire room. The latter works well in spaces lacking natural light, explains Clara Ewart, design manager at the Kitesgrove store. âIts reflective qualities mean that the color subtly changes depending on the lights and contexts,â she says. As Ewart suggests, hairspray can add glamor to areas that aren’t generally loved – see Suzy Hoodless’s project for a windowless bathroom at London member’s club AllBright, where a rich lacquer ceiling is paired with a tiger print wallpaper.
But what about the color? âThe most effective are strong and dramatic,â says Joa Studholme, color curator for Farrow & Ball, which highlights Inchyra Blue and Bancha, a warm olive green. Both options are available in Full Gloss (Â£ 66 for 2.5l), a simpler alternative to hairspray, which typically requires between seven and 12 coats – not to mention the polish in between. Greater fineness can be achieved with a primer, a good option being Architects ASP from Paper & Paint Library (Â£ 42 for 2.5l). âIt’s an extremely tough primer,â says Andy Greenall, brand design manager. âPerfect for surfaces in high traffic areas such as hallways and landings. “
Interior designer Nick Olsen also prefers a lively palette. A recent project for a New York apartment saw him replicate an electric blue hue of a Sultanabad rug as vibrant lacquered walls. Another involved lacquering a client’s ceiling in aqua to give the impression of “living below the surface of the ocean”. However, as Studholme points out, neutral hues are just as desirable, especially when creating a bright workspace. Take a sheet from the portfolio of New Jersey designer duo Toledo Geller and transform a dark desk with a glossy wash of light blue. Less adventurous decorators can reserve a chandelier for cabinets, doors, and trim, as seen on the ceiling beams in co-founder Virginia Toledo’s dining room.
London-based decorator Henry van der Vijver has been working with lacquer for more than two decades. He describes the process as a âlabor of love,â based on Japanning, the 18th-century European imitation of East Asian lacquerwork. Projects begin with an assessment of the surface, which is then treated with anti-crack fiberglass (lacquer tends to maximize imperfections). The “30 Processes,” from multiple rinses of marble-based putty to sanding the entire surface flat, ends with over 20 coats of paint, glaze and lacquer. âIt’s not for the faint hearted,â says van der Vijver.
A less demanding approach comes from design firm Andrew Martin, where founder Martin Waller, a self-proclaimed enthusiast, has created a collection of lacquer-effect wallpapers (Â£ 44.40 per roll). âIn every room there should be something dark, something light, something dull and something shiny, and the lacquer lends the latter,â he says. “It’s a vibrant shake of green, a shock of exquisite yellow or a touch of scarlet among the quintessential textures of a home space.”