laminate countertop beside stove
Photo by: Nancy Hill
These days, laminate countertops have an undeserved reputation as the stuff you settle for if you can't spend the $100-plus per linear foot for solid surfacing and natural stone. At just $20 to $30 per linear foot, good-quality laminates are easier on your budget, but they have much more going for them than price. They also withstand years of use and abuse, and can turn a rundown kitchen into a showplace. Laminate counters are formed from layers of decorative and kraft papers saturated with melamine resin and bonded together under pressure. Because the decorative layer can depict anything, manufacturers offer hundreds of colors and patterns?far more than you'll find in solid surfacing. You can also enhance the standard designs by customizing your project with a contrasting edge treatment. The most crucial concerns with laminates are picking the right color and design for your kitchen and, because each counter is custom-built, making sure the countertop is assembled and installed correctly. These inside tips from professional designers and fabricators will help you meet both of those challenges.

Choosing Although most new countertops are part of a major remodel, you can transform a tired kitchen by replacing just the counter and leaving the appliances and cabinets in place. Whichever approach you take, you'll have plenty of laminates to choose from. Consider Wilsonart and Formica, which produce 75 percent of the laminates sold in the United States. Wilsonart offers 230 different colors and patterns, and Formica stocks 96 solid colors along with dozens of patterns. Don't worry about being overwhelmed by all the designs available. Home centers and kitchen dealers often feature samples arranged on pegboards, allowing you to see all the possibilities at once. That lets you zero in on a color group quickly and narrow down your choices. Formica takes the process a step further. Its selection system is based on matching counters with popular cabinet colors, because cabinets take up most of the visual space in a kitchen. The system suggests bold colors for the daring and neutral ones for more conservative homeowners and those who plan to sell their home in the next few years (neutral colors are less likely to turn off buyers). The trend in colors is toward deep, rich hues. "Six years ago everything was white," says Ren�e Hytry, director of design for Formica, "but there's a strong movement toward colors inspired by nature?greens and vegetable colors, such as orange, eggplant, rusts and ocher." Finishes that work. Most of the colors are available in a variety of sheens. Glossy, shiny finishes make a kitchen sparkle, but it's difficult to keep them clean. Stick with a tough, easy-to-clean matte finish for a working, family kitchen. Beyond the counter. If you feel hesitant about splashing bold colors throughout your kitchen, try using a neutral color or pattern for the counter and applying a bright accent color on the backsplash. "Consider butting the counter against the wall and tiling up to the cabinets, using a tile that picks up one of the counter colors or a contrasting color," says kitchen designer Mary Fisher, of Mary Fisher Designs in Scottsdale, Arizona. Another option is to install matching or contrasting laminate up the wall as the backsplash. You can also use the edge treatment as an accent area by adding a contrasting edge strip or even a different material. Once you've narrowed down your choices, determine if the samples go with your cabinets, floors and appliances. Leave them in place on your current counter for a day or two to see how they look under different lighting conditions.
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