Happy 100th Birthday, Formica

Scanned ad/Screen capture

Fifty years ago, almost nobody had granite counters in their kitchens. But even the fanciest kitchens had plastic laminate, invented a hundred years ago to replace mica as an insulator in electrical equipment. (for-mica). It was (and is) basically layers of paper bound together with phenolic resins. Being paper, it could be printed with almost anything.

It was cheap, could be rolled so that you got an integral backsplash and anti-drip edge at the front, and it's pretty practical. (My mother-in-law has been using the same counter for almost 50 years) Oliver Wainwright describes it in the Guardian:

It was in the optimistic postwar world of the 1940s and 50s that Formica came into its own as a cheap and cheerful surface. It exuded the popular streamline styling of the day, with an endless catalogue of exotic patterns, bright colours and woodgrain effects. Peace and prosperity ushered in an era of explosive construction across America, with new suburbs popping up overnight, each brimming with bright breakfast bars and dazzling dinettes.

It is due for a comeback. It is now made with FSC paper, uses a lot less (now formaldehyde free) resin that all those solid surface countertops, and the granite craze is, I hope, finally over.

Happy birthday, Formica, you never looked better.

Tags: Kitchens | Materials