When it comes to countertops and cabinetry, when we think “green” our first impulse is to utilize natural products in their purest form. For instance, a marble countertop’s cold, hard weight and smooth tactility connects us with terra firma.
“When you touch something you feel the quality of it,” says Brian Pontolilo, Editor of Fine Homebuilding magazine. “There’s something instinctual about natural materials.”
But nature’s bounty is not always sustainably sourced. The process of mining stone is invasive, and once quarried from Italy or Brazil, the delivery of marble by freighter and truck comes with a heavy environmental footprint. Add in the cost and sheer weight of using real stone in a kitchen redesign and the average homeowner starts looking for alternatives.
Enter laminate. Though not a surface we think of as being natural, stone and wood are two of the finishes that well produced laminates can mimic artfully. And the product is closer to nature that we might expect.
The laminates produced by Temple, Texas-based Wilsonart are 70 percent comprised of paper—both recycled cardboard and FSC-certified responsibly forested wood fibers. The natural fibers are then saturated with resin and cooked to create a high pressure decorative laminate, with no harmful VOCs.
Sustainability was a key attraction for TV personality Danny Seo to adopt Wilsonart laminates in his kitchen redesigns. “It’s one of the only surfaces applicable for LEED certification,” says the book author and eco-stylist spokesperson, who has used the product in his kitchen remodels for celebrities.
Merging style with sustainability, Seo goes well beyond countertops, using laminates vertically for back splashes and wall coverings. “It’s super easy to fabricate complicated patterns,” says Seo, pointing to a chevron design created for his “Modern Luxe” concept kitchen, on display at this year’s Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS) in Las Vegas.
But affordability—the Premium line from Wilsonart runs $33 a square foot—was another lure for Seo. “Laminate is my secret weapon,” explains Seo. “Celebrities make a lot of money but they don’t want to spend a lot, and laminates allow me to get more bang for my buck.”
“Laminate is a great option for an affordable kitchen redesign,” adds editor Pontolilo. “It doesn’t patina the way that wood or concrete does, but it holds up well.”