The first thing to know about bioplastics, the material that artist and designer Caroline Zimbalist works with, is that there’s zero plastics involved. Rather, bioplastics can be safely made by melting natural and biodegradable ingredients like agar, glycerine, spirulina, corn starch, and vinegar on a stove. Then, as the mixture is poured out and starts drying, it can be shaped and warped until it hardens into its final form. The vessels, home objects, clothing, and accessories that Zimbalist creates—right from the kitchen in her Long Island City apartment—are made from original, patent-pending mixtures that she concocted herself.
“There’s two mixtures: One mixture dries hard and rigid; the other mixture I can engineer it to dry more flexible and breathable,” she explains of how her bioplastics range from sculptural home objects to soft, wearable fashion pieces. “I’m always experimenting with different fabric manipulations, like, ‘Could I create a pleated skirt out of my agar mixture or could I add a grommet into the garment when it’s still wet?’ It’s dissecting those traditional methods and using them in an unconventional way in my work.”
Zimbalist began her bioplastics journey at the recommendation of a critic she met while she was a student at Parsons School of Design. A book called The Bioplastic Cook Book by Margaret Dunne also offered Zimbalist a crash course in creating biodegradable tactile materials made from common household products. From there, Zimbalist began developing her own recipes and color combinations to explore the vast possibilities of these materials. When it comes to her vessels, achieving those watercolor-esque palettes is dependent on combining vibrant hues at different stages of the drying process. The results are objects shaped like abstract flowers with frilly, lettuce-leaf edges that look crystalized in time. While Zimbalist might have a general recipe for making a particular item, the way the final product turns out is always unpredictable. “I never know what it’s going to look like and that is what makes everything one of a kind,” Zimbalist says of her collection.
Since her Queens apartment currently doubles as her work studio, Zimbalist’s interiors are chock-full of her own kaleidoscopic, homespun creations. “It is fully covered in art. Even for my lighting fixtures, I removed the preexisting glass and replaced them all with my bioplastic shapes. Everything in the apartment almost feels like a gallery,” she says of her maximalism. “But aside from my own work, I really love pretty simple things. I am drawn to quirky, funny decor items or things that serve as nostalgic little memories.” Below, survey some of Zimbalist’s favorite home items including an Anna Castelli Ferrieri-designed storage module from Kartell, a dinner roll encased in epoxy resin that was then turned into a lamp, and a Jo Malone perfume that’s beloved by her great aunt.
“This is a bioplastic centerpiece for any dining table, nightstand, or coffee table. It’s pigmented with charcoal and looks like a surreal plant, seemingly alive in front of you.”
“With its minimalist design, these fit seamlessly into and anchor my color-filled studio. It’s storage with style, form, and function.”
“You can use this bioplastic vessel at home, with or without a flower arrangement in it, for color and conversation.”
“I love adding a unique novelty piece to my home. This rug gives a feeling of a landscape on my living room floor. The organic shape pairs beautifully with other staple furniture in your home.”
“I am greatly inspired by artistic food plating and the crossovers of food, fashion, and art. This designer uses real bread coated in a preservative epoxy resin to treasure forever. Sure to spark conversation with guests.”
“This is a nostalgic piece for me. My great aunt always had Jo Malone on her tables as home decor items. The chrome cap and elegant bottles evoke tiny, upscale vases. Wearing them has become part of my ritual as well. The Mimosa & Cardamom scent is my favorite.”
“I enjoy having a candle lit when eating dinner or unwinding. I like watching this particular candle drip as it melts, creating even more dimension to the color palette.”
“This designer makes her own natural pigments for the paints and adds them into different wooden sculptures. It looks magical as a home decor item even when not in use!”
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