Throughout the housing boom of the early part of this century, natural stone countertops like granite became the fashionable choice for high-end kitchen projects. The cool, smooth, polished surface of granite gave designer kitchens a distinctive look which easily set those kitchens apart. Then as the housing boom cooled and supplies of granite rose, the price difference between granite and laminate narrowed to unimagined levels. Laminate countertop manufacturers scrambled to play catch up, tasking their engineers to develop a new generation of high-definition surfaces designed to rival the appearance of granite.
Today’s laminate countertop choices share little in common with their 1950’s originals, although you can still get lime green, burnt orange, and fire-engine red if you are looking for that “retro” look. Contemporary technology and materials provide a much greater color palette, allowing manufacturers to create life-like color matches for virtually every natural stone option, even the venerable “Uba Tuba.” Distinctive surface textures have been introduced that allow laminate surfaces to mimic the irregularities you will find with natural stone surfaces, giving these countertops the actual feel of granite to match their appearance.
While the rapid advancements in laminate materials have clearly helped to improve the “quality” perception, so to have the fabrication methods. Gone are the days where all laminate countertops featured a blocky straight edge complete with facing seam. Skilled countertop craftsmen can now apply many of the same edge profilesformerly reserved exclusively for natural stone and engineered solid surface (like Corian®) to laminate countertops, producing a look that is nearly indistinguishable from their more expensive counterparts. Some of the many edge profile options that are available with laminate include:
- Euro Edge
- Beveled Edge
- Ogee Edges
These advancements in quality and craftsmanship have not come without a price. Today’s premium laminate countertops are significantly more expensive than in the past. Coupled with the shrinking costs of granite, you might think the difference is insignificant enough to spend a little more for natural stone. But if you take the time to compare, you will probably be surprised at the price difference today. Industry estimates suggest that laminate countertops can still be as much as two-thirds less expensive than comparable granite, although prices will vary by dealer and across geographic regions of the country.
Beyond price, laminate countertops also have other well-documented advantages over natural stone. Damage to a laminate countertop is relatively easy and inexpensive to repair, while similar damage to a granite counter can necessitate complete replacement. Poorly sealed granite counters are susceptible to staining, can hold odors, and can become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. There have also been numerous reports which have linked harmful radon emissions to natural granite countertops.
So if you are thinking about remodeling your kitchen, or perhaps just replacing your countertops to get a fresh new look, don’t forget about laminate surfaces. You might just be surprised at how affordable near-granite realism can be.