Laminate Countertops Make a Comeback Laminate Countertops Make a Comeback
If you've been shopping for new countertops, chances are you've been shown the latest in granite, artificial stone, or even cement. But has anyone reminded you about the advantages of and 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" options that seem to spring out of nowhere. But when your money is at stake, it's a story you need to hear.
A New Appreciation for an Old Standard
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.
The Complex Countertop Decision Process
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 really 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."
Laminate Countertop Style and Design
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.
"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."
Hybrid Slate from Nevamar, for example, is not a photographic reproduction of stone, but a much more sophisticated blend of veining, coloration and scale that give it a rich, elegant effect. It's a perfect companion for stainless steel appliances, and it complements the visual tones of today's cabinetry.
Once you've determined your favorite laminate design, fabricator Jack Bergman of BB Countertops in Colorado Springs recommends you take some time to think about the various ways to edge the top. "The edge," he says, "gives you options - to upgrade the countertop's look, to integrate it with the backsplash, to integrate it into the cabinet scheme, or to set the counter off as a design element all its own. Starting with the conventional self-edge, people are now looking at adding a custom twist by using metal, or laminate in a different color."
It gets more interesting from there. You can make postformed edges by wrapping the laminate down the front of the top. If you don't want to see the "dark line" along the edge of traditional countertops, you can use a beveled edge, which, when combined with a stone-design laminate, delivers the impact of more expensive granite or marble.
"Many people like to use the beveled portion of the edge as an accent stripe - a green bevel on a white top, for example. This can tie in any other color from the room's scheme, and it's great for the elderly or visual-impaired homeowner, making it easier to gauge the edge of the counter as they approach it," says Bergman.
With Laminate, You Know What You're Getting
Another plus offered by laminate: You don't have to worry about the unpredictable visual variation that comes with granite and marble. "The furniture industry calls it 'Nature's 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 Nevamar Web site (www.nevamar.com) to view their laminate patterns in a 4 foot by 8 foot sheet format. 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 undermount sinks can add to the final price tag, an upgraded laminate top still leaves 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:
- Pre-fabricated laminate top from a home center (uninstalled), $20/linear foot
- Basic installed laminate top, $35/linear foot
- Installed laminate with a custom edge, $65/linear foot
- Solid surfacing, simple installation, common colors, $100/linear foot
- Solid surfacing, custom edges with solid surface sink, $200/linear foot
- Imported marble, $300/linear foot
- Stainless Steel, $150 to $750/linear foot
For homeowners seeking the most value-packed combination of visual style, easy maintenance, durability and low price, laminate remains the top choice.