Using the terms "high-end" or "luxury" in conjunction with countertops made from laminates might seem like an oxymoron. After all, laminate countertops have long been considered an inexpensive, bargain choice when it comes to countertop material.
Even the surge in mid-century modern design trends, with the fondness for laminates, hasn't completely wiped out the reputation of laminate as an inferior countertop choice. Generally speaking, countertop materials such as quartz, solid surface, or granite add value to a home, while laminates struggle to remain on that list.
To adapt, the laminate countertop industry has begun to change that by offering laminate counters designed to appeal to buyers and remodelers interested in higher-end kitchens and bathrooms.
HPL Laminate Countertops
Most premium laminates fall into the category of high-pressure laminates (HPLs).
High-pressure laminates are second-generation descendants of the original plastic laminates. They often include special properties such as high resistance to wear, fire, and chemicals. Some grades of HPL can be shaped into ornate edging treatments.
HPLs are produced with multiple layers of kraft paper bonded with phenolic resin and topped with a printed decor layer, which is then fused under high heat and pressure to form a rigid laminated sheet. The high temperatures used in the manufacturing process create very strong bonds that make for a very durable product.
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Pionite is a brand from Panolam Surfacing Systems, who is also the parent company of Nevamar, one of the biggest names in laminates.
Pionite HPL (High-Pressure Laminate) performs well in commercial applications, but you'll find that it works well in your home, too. While Pionite does offer the usual solid colors and woodgrains, this division of the Panolam Surfacing Systems company also has an enticing Abstracts series that mimics certain natural stones, as well as some patterns that look simply... abstract.
Patterns and colors aside, these products are also available in a variety of finishes, ranging from textured matt finishes to sleek, shiny glosses.
With hundreds of variations, Pionite HPL includes the greatest range of options among the luxury laminates offered by the major manufacturers.
Laminate is sometimes thought of as being less than durable. Pionite has a line called FRL Fiber Reinforced Laminate that incorporates fiberglass in the panels to resist incidental damage and to slow down long-term wear and tear. While FRL is mostly used in commercial applications, it can be used in the home, as well.
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Wilsonart HD (High Definition) Laminates
Wilsonart has always been a dependable name in laminate countertops, and their HD® product line features laminates with greater visual depth and up to fives times the wearability of standard laminates.
These products also incorporate antimicrobial protection. To identify these luxury laminates, look for Wilsonart products identified as including AEON technology.
The HD line includes 36 different options in a variety of stone- and wood-look patterns. With design patterns as much as 60 inches across, it is relatively easy to create countertops that realistically mimic natural stone and wood.
Also worthy of mention is Wilsonart's LUJO Collection: strikingly 3D designs that faithfully duplicate woodgrain and which can fool even the closest inspection.
If none of those designs satisfy you, create bespoke laminate with the Wilsonart By You (WXY) program. Simply upload your own design to the Virtual Design Library for the ultimate in "personalization, branding, and unexpected style," according to Wilsonart.
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Absolutely the most recognized name in laminate counters, Formica has shaken off many of its associations with the past with its 180fx™ series. There are 36 different patterns offered, including large-scale images of real, natural stone and a wood-grain walnut.
The large patterns allow for full countertops that don't have the pattern repeats that defeat the realism of many stone-look and wood-look laminates.
The 180fx series offers a full, one-year limited warranty against damage.
To avoid that brown edge that declares that the countertop is laminate, Formica has an IdealEdge option: curved, clipped, or square edges that completely eliminate that telltale seam. These edge profiles look just like the fabricated edge of quartz, solid surface, or stone countertop.