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Why Laminate?

Laminate countertops “The Comeback Kid”

If you have shopped for a new countertop recently I'm sure you have been introduced to an endless array of materials from which to choose displayed beautifully in your local retailer or home center. From granite & quartz to stainless steel and even concrete. These “high end luxury” tops are popular and have some nice advantages, but like everything else they also have their disadvantages too. Namely the outrageous cost.

Today folks are taking a second look at laminate tops, and for a good reason. Laminate still boasts the largest selection of colors available of any countertop materials. The advancements in finish and durability combined with the advantages of cost make it an even more attractive option in today's down economy, and its still the only product where you can “do it yourself.”

Wilsonart Ebony Eclipse 1848-45
Wilsonart Ebony Eclipse 1848-45

Beginning in 2009 Wilsonart brand laminate introduced an enhanced performance AEON finish to all of their HD color group and most of their premium color selections. This new finish technology greatly improves clarity, and color, plus 3-5 times the durability of their standard finish.

If you've been shopping for new countertops, chances are you've been shown the latest in granite, quartz, or even concrete. But has anyone reminded you about the advantages of, and the advancements in the most popular countertop surface today: decorative laminate? It's a story that sometimes gets lost in a sea of high-priced, heavily-promoted “glamour” countertop materials from company's and fabricators that seem to spring out of nowhere. Here today-gone tomorrow company's. But when your money is at stake, it's a story you need to hear.

Laminate has been a surface of choice for more than 50 years. It came into its own after World War II, when America's housing boom was in full swing and it was the “cool” new alternative to linoleum countertops. In fact, these installations are now “cool” again, with a new generation of consumers seeking out original laminate countertops and dinette tables to re-use in their retro-schemed homes.

Many new laminate countertops are being designed with a nod to this illustrious past – with updated metal edges that recall the dimensional molding that was used on so many tops of their time. But customized, upscale edge treatments are just one of the reasons people are returning to laminate after flirting with other, more expensive options.

Noted kitchen designer Joan Eisenberg, ASID, CMKBD, has seen the countertop consideration cycle getting more complicated – and frustrating – over the past few years.

“When consumers get bombarded with today's range of luxury countertop options, they're likely to be dazzled, then intrigued, then confused. It's difficult to sort through all the promotional messages and to compare all these new choices,“ she says  “especially when they're also doing the same thing with cabinetry, faucets, appliances and flooring!”

It's when people get their cost estimates, points out Eisenberg, that they stop in their tracks and collect themselves. They realize that luxury countertops can become a burdensome share of their overall construction budget, and could prevent them from getting that professional range, custom cabinetry, or built-in refrigerator they had their hearts set on.

Quite often, that's when they come back to laminate – and learn about the design, performance and affordability advantages it offers,” She says. “It's also when their enthusiasm for their project is re-kindled.”

Today's laminate countertop can be thought of in two parts – the visual style of the surface itself, and then the edge treatment. Both areas offer more options than ever before, and can be combined for a limitless range of end results.

Formica 180fx Corbeau Montana
Formica 180fx Corbeau Montana

“The laminate designs available are just amazing,” says Eisenberg. “You can pick from a rainbow of solid colors, bold graphics or attractive and pleasing natural looks. The laminate stone design of today is not what you saw just a couple of years ago. The manufacturers have really upgraded the visual qualities of their designs” You need to look no further than Formica's new FX 180, its simply amazing, everyone will swear you have a granite countertop, only you'll know otherwise, and rejoice in the thousands of dollars you saved.

Countertop fabricators today are using a beveled edge technique to eliminate the “dark line” of the traditional standard laminate edge, and when combined with a stone-design, like the FX 180, it will deliver the impact of more expensive granite or marble for a fraction of the price!

Another plus offered by laminate is you know what you're getting, you don't have to worry about the unpredictable visual variation that comes with granite and marble. “The furniture industry calls it ‘natures touch' when a consumer complains about variation in a woodgrain dresser, for example,” says Eisenberg. “It's the same with natural stone, except by the time you've installed a countertop in someone's kitchen, it's too late-the homeowner is stuck with it.”

“There's a consistency and reliability about laminate countertops that appeals to a lot of people-you know what you're getting.” Eisenberg recommends that consumers look at large samples of any countertop they are considering. “You can also visit the websites of the different laminate manufactures to order their larger samples. There's no way you'll get an unfortunate surprise after that!” she adds. 

Laminate has always enjoyed a position at the bargain end of the cost spectrum. While special edges and finishes can add to the final price tag, an upgraded laminate top still leave plenty of room in the budget, compared to other materials.

In terms of how laminate countertops broadly compare to other materials from a pricing perspective, several guides are available on the Internet. One major consumer magazine's Web site reports these figures for various countertop options:

Product/MaterialCost per linear foot
Pre-fabricated laminate top from a homecenter (uninstalled)$20
Basic installed laminate top$35
Installed laminate with custom edge$65
Solid surfacing, simple installation, common colors$100
Solid surfacing, custom edges with solid surface sink$200
Imported granite or marble$300
Stainless Steel$150-$750

For homeowners seeking the most value-packed combination of visual style, easy maintenance, durability and low price, laminate remains the top choice.

Courtesy of ARA Content