surfacing materials

Focus on: laminates

When times are tough (and even when they're not) a project can require some drastic corner cutting. And usually the first area where designers will scale back is with materials.

For many, gone are the luxury products such as natural stone or granite and even wood. Thankfully, a healthy alternative lies in laminates— a material surprisingly composed of approximately 75 percent paper, not plastic, making it a truly green option that mimics the same look and feel as the real thing at half the cost and twice the performance.

So while designers certainly have asked more of laminate producers in terms of design and texture over the years, wood grain patterns are still winning the popularity contest. The bad wood reproductions from the 1970s and '80s have evolved, as the quality of printed papers that make up the design of the laminate has increased dramatically. Exotic wood prints—some of which can't be sourced anymore or would cause ethical problems as with Rosewood or Koa—are still available to designers thanks to laminates. Lamin-Art's Premium Wood Prints collection is just one example, as well as the Formica Group's Naturelle and Luxe finishes that add depth and realism.

Formica's new 180fx™ series features nine exotic granite patterns. Thanks to new technology that allows more digital information to be stored, the laminates are far more true to scale and feature the color variations and veining of a full-size natural granite slab.

And although laminate producers acknowledge that we are living in "culturally conservative times," many customers are asking for more design options and finishes than ever. Texture and feel are at the top of everyone's lists, and manufacturers have continually stepped up their game to comply, with pearlization, metallics, glosses, and further digital capabilities. Abet Laminati's Collection Digitalia, designed by Karim Rashid, displays a myriad of options, and the group's HR-LAQ gloss finish called LUC-2 maintains the level of shine much longer than standard gloss finishes while maintaining a maximum resistance to wear.

Not only have laminates become more durable thanks to better overlays, resins, and refined materials, and more fashion-forward with an increase in design options, but the product category is also a highly sustainable choice, contributing to a number of LEED credit areas and many offering a higher recycled content rate than ever. Abet's Tefor line is a 100 percent recycled surfacing material made from non-virgin polypropylene and phenolic dust, which is part of the waste generated from the manufacturing process. And Lamin-Art's Abacá collection incorporates recycled banana fibers, which are sprinkled over the surface to create a random motif and texture.

Laminates are also low-emitting products, and most North-American suppliers produce GREENGUARD-certified offerings. The papers used to create laminates are usually made with pulp sourced from rapidly renewable plantation forests and contain a significant proportion of pre-consumer recycled content. For example, the filler paper used in Formica Brand Laminates is provided by a company that is third party certified to the Sustainable Forest Initiative®. With sustainability, design, and performance, it looks like laminates are a triple threat.

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