Sara's yellow bathroom! Built in 1957.

Sara's yellow bathroom! Built in 1957.

Recently, I have recommended plastic laminate on several residential projects to see people recoil back and be very surprised about the recommendation.  Many people today have an unfounded hate relationship with plastic laminate.  With this being said, it is very common in commercial architecture is it is used often used for cabinets and countertops, (I have even specified it for custom ceiling panels in a restaurant once) and up through the early 2000s it was the choice for residential kitchen and bathroom designs. 

There are many reasons to love plastic laminate:

  1. It is durable - It does last!  Some of the plastic laminate in my house was installed in 1957 and looks new.  It is difficult to stain (most stains come out with a Mr. Clean magic eraser) and handles heat well.  The only downfall is that it does scratch and is not repairable.  So as long as you use a cutting board instead of your counter, you should be fine.
  2. It is affordable - The cost for product plus installation can typically range from $10 per square foot to $40 per square foot.  Many of the other stone type countertops are $25 and up for materials only!
  3. It is changeable - You can cover right over your existing laminate with new laminate.  There are recover products, one in specific is “Re-cover” by Wilsonart.  It is laminate with adhesive already on the back.  All you have to do is peel and stick onto a clean level surface. (Please refer to the installation guide provided by the company prior to installation)
  4. It’s not stone (granite, quartz, etc) - Some predict that stone countertops are on the way out, and I think they should be, see item 5 below.
  5. It is more sustainable that stone countertop products - Plastic laminate approximately 1/16” thick and is made from wood and resins.  Many of the well known companies use FSC certified wood.  The plastic laminate then is installed on MDF or particle board. In my opinion this is much better than using stone, stone is a natural product that has a finite amount available.  Kitchen remodels appear to have a very short life span, and what happens after stone gets ripped out of a residential kitchen after 15 years? There are a few scenarios, it gets repurposed into smaller pieces and reused, or it goes to the landfill…
  6. Laminate patterns look better and more real than ever - There are a wide range of standard available patterns, some replicating other materials like stone and wood, while others designs are specific to laminate.  Some plastic laminates now even come textured to match the visual pattern which makes them more convincing and real looking. And most importantly plastic laminate comes in every color of the rainbow!
  7. It is customizable - You can design your own patterns.  One company doing this is Wilsonart though their “WilsonartXYou”.  They have some design guidelines but the possibilities are endless.
 A close-up of the visual texture in this 60-year-old plastic laminate. Still going strong!

A close-up of the visual texture in this 60-year-old plastic laminate. Still going strong!

I love the plastic laminate in my house and I am in the process of redesigning my kitchen and it will be plastic laminate.

Sara is an Architect, Interior Designer and Sustainable Designer with zeal for practical applications of materials. Follow her on Instagram: @sara_shonk

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