Laminate countertops obviously aren't new. But just because they've been around a while doesn't mean they can’t be stylish and trendy.
Laminate still retains all of its good character traits like low cost, ease of maintenance and abundance of color choices. But today there are new textures and lots of new patterns that more closely mimic natural materials.
If that's not enough, there are a number of different edge treatments you can choose that eliminate the dreaded 'dark line' seams. Laminate countertops prove once again that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
The longevity of laminate might lead you to think there's not much more to learn about them. If you're a kitchen designer, you may be right. But if you're a homeowner looking for some advice, the information that follows might be just what you need to know to make an informed decision.
Laminate is pretty basic but there are some important points to consider. Getting familiar with it can help you avoid passing on a product that might be right for your kitchen.
So why is this important? Just like with any product, knowing the kind of material you're dealing with helps you understand what it will and won't stand up to. Remember that it's basically a plastic, so it has some limitations, particularly with regard to heat and caustic chemicals. Also, the color or print on that middle layer of paper is susceptible to fading from UV light over time, just like other fabrics and colored paper.
Before going any further, lets get familiar with a few terms that you might encounter when perusing various product literature or talking with a kitchen designer:
Click On Each Image To Bring Up A Larger View To See The Surface Texture Details
Color-through laminate eliminates the dark lines that plague a lot of laminate choices.The edges of the laminate are the same color as the surface, so the result is a less conspicuous edge.
The range of color choices isn’t huge, so if a color-through laminate isn’t your cup of tea, choose a color/pattern that's similar to the dark brown or black color typical of laminate edging. Those seams will be much less noticeable.
And if that still doesn’t satisfy you, there are special edge treatments that get rid of the dark lines and provide a clean and finished appearance. KURV Edges specializes in edging that creates a relatively seamless look. It's a one-piece molding made from the same laminate pattern as the top of your countertops. Once it's added to the edge, it provides a neat, finished look.
The bottom line is that there are lots of reasons to take another look at laminate. With such a wide range of available countertop choices, laminate manufacturers have had to develop new ideas to retain market share. This kind of innovation comes at a price, however, and some of these features and premium laminates will cost more than a basic countertop. But for the most part, laminates is still one of the most cost-efficient countertop choices, particularly when you factor in its durability and longevity.
Like any material that's used for kitchen countertops, laminate has its plusses and minuses, so keep these facts in mind when considering laminate:
A lot of laminate patterns mimic the appearance of stone primarily because it's a sought-after look. Upon close examination, neither will be mistaken for the other. But if it's any help, the following information compares laminate with granite, mainly from an aesthetics point of view, along with a few refresher comments about the physical differences between the two surfaces.
When it comes duplicating the "picture" of granite on laminate, most manufacturers do a pretty good job of getting it right.
As an example, the photo below shows two sections of granite and one swatch of laminate (the granite imposter). Can you tell which one is laminate? See the answer below the picture.
A - Real granite
B - Laminate
C - Real granite
Whether or not your eye was keen enough to pick out the laminate or not I think you'll agree that the manufacturers do a pretty good job achieving a realistic representation.
A lot of granite countertops are highly polished although some are honed and have a more matte finish. Some laminates do come in a glossy finish while others have a more satin appearance. From that perspective, laminate does an OK job of looking like granite.
Some of the laminates with small pits and pock marks designed to mimic the small fissures that occur even in polished granite add a degree of additional texture. However, most granites don't have pits that large and whatever texture they do have is limited to very fine fissures.
Take a look at this picture below to see how the light "bloom" highlights the small pits in the surface. You be the judge on how good or not-so-good it looks (click on the picture to see a much larger view in a new browser window).
Where faux-stone laminate falls down -- in some cases -- is on the edging. Countertops with the standard 90-degree, squared-off edge look the least like a granite countertop. That's because even squared-off granite countertops have a small but smooth radius, or they have a more elaborate edge altogether.
However, there are some varieties of post-formed “granite laminate” countertops, like those made by VT Industries, with ogee and other elaborate edges, rather than the typical 90-degree edge. These countertops do a better job impersonating a stone countertop. The one drawback is that this type of edging is available on only one edge (the long edge).
Laminate positives include ease of maintenance and a more forgiving nature (your wine glass probably won’t shatter when it’s tipped over).
On the down-side, laminate countertops, even those made to look like granite, won't be mistaken for a piece of granite under closer inspection. It doesn't mean they won't look nice however. It's all a matter of personal preference.
Granite, as the other option, is durable and beautiful. Some varieties require periodic sealing while others don’t and it’s usually more expensive than premium laminate countertops. It'll also chip if you knock it hard enough.
You can compare laminate and granite countertops along with other countertop choices at the kitchen countertops page.
So let's get down to it. You obviously have choices among the different brands but are they all the same? The answer is a somewhat evasive yes and no.
For the most part, the laminate used for countertops is no different from manufacturer to manufacturer, just like Fords and Toyotas are all automobiles. The differences lie in the unique product distinctions offered by each manufacturer, that come in the form of textures, edge treatments, surface protection or a range of color options.
Virtually all of the manufacturers offer some similar color options like solids, wood grains, stone patterns and abstracts. The differences you'll see are in the quantity of choices or the inclusion of some unique offerings like solid core (color-through) options or three-dimensional texturing. It all depends on what you're looking for and whether a certain brand has it or not.
Other than that, it becomes an economic and logistics decision, combined with which products are available in your area.
For the record, here's a list of the main laminate countertop brands:
When it comes to laminate countertops, I suppose you could say I have a love/hate perspective. I grew up with them as a kid and lived with them in my current home for 17 years. In the end, they had plenty of mileage, were very dated and needed to go. They were so old in fact, they were sort of back in style. That retro style had come full circle.
So why did I keep them so long? It's a good question, but I think the answer lies with the fact that they did their job so well. Now, I'm not the kind of person that parts with money easily so just going out and dropping a few thousand dollars for new countertops isn't my bag. Regardless, it would be hard for anyone to justify throwing out something that held up as well as those counters.
I think what I liked best about them was that they were so low-maintenance. Laminate is easy to clean and I didn't need to fuss about whether I'd left spilled lemon juice on the counter too long or if they needed to be sealed again.
What I didn't like (beyond the color, pattern, etc.) is the fact that they were laminate. I just never warmed up to those dark lines on the edges. And I'd be lying if I didn't tell you I just wanted something more updated with a higher-end look.
When it came time to remodel we added granite countertops and have no regrets. They perform well and look beautiful. But I have to admit, I hate that pronounced "clink" sound every time you put a ceramic bowl or plate down on the surface. Stone is durable, but it can chip and our granite island top has two edge chips after several years of service. With laminate, you don't have to worry so much about that, particularly every time you set something hard down on the surface.
Laminate countertops will always be just that - laminate countertops. In my opinion, they'll never be confused with stone or solid surface. But that's ok. It's a durable, economical countertop that's shown it's mettle over the years. And when you look at what's been done from a style and design point of view recently, there are a lot more choices than what existed when my old laminate countertops were installed.
The point is this: laminate countertops may not present the same style presence as some other countertop options. But if that's not the driving force behind your decision, or other countertop materials strain your budget, laminate's a worthy choice. I've seen some very nice laminate countertops that look sharp, neat and tasteful.
Let's see: more design options, low-maintenance, durable, economical – I think there's something that's still very likeable about laminate countertops.
It's just one way to save some when it comes to finding a laminate countertop installer in your local area.