Retro counters get an update

When Jeannette Noyes chose laminate countertops for the remodelled kitchen in her 1915 Indianapolis home, it was about more than cost.

Jeannette Noyes poses in her newly remodeled kitchen

When Jeannette Noyes chose laminate countertops for the remodelled kitchen in her 1915 Indianapolis home, it was about more than cost.

“I didn’t want to take the kitchen to a level that was way beyond the rest of the house,” says Noyes. The new kitchen, she says, fits the house and “doesn’t overpower it.”

Of course, the savings didn’t hurt. The estimate she got for granite counters was about $4,000, compared to $800 to $900 for Formica.

Given the price difference, even homeowners who want a totally modern look are now thinking twice about laminate countertops, as are some new home builders, says Mark Karas of Adams Kitchens in Stoneham, Mass. For a long time, granite was a given in new construction “no matter what the price point,” he says.

“Now we’re going back to basics.”

In flooring as well, traditional materials such as linoleum, which had fallen out of fashion, are boasting updated looks, improved quality and lower cost.

These materials have come a long way, says Daniel Dietz of D.J. Dietz Designs in Reedsburg, Wis. As his company’s website says, “It’s not your grandma’s counter any more.”

You can choose laminate countertops in hundreds of colours and patterns, from several brands.

“The colours are always being updated to match the trend in colours,” says Karas. Some patterns replicate stone more closely than ever before with textured finishes; others are abstract patterns that just do their own thing without copying a natural model.

Laminate also is longer lasting and wears better than it used to. And with material coming in 3.5-metre (12-foot) lengths, just a little planning eliminates the need for most seams.

It’s also possible to have the undermounted sink that’s typical of granite countertops — that clean look without an overlapping lip.

“A huge benefit of the granite or solid surface was the undermounted sink. Now we can get that look at one-third or one-fourth of the price,” says Dietz.

If you don’t like the look of those dark seams where the material meets along the edges, the easiest solution is to choose a medium to dark colour, so there isn’t as much contrast with the core. Some lines of laminate have also introduced “solid-core,” where the colour goes all the way through.

There are also installation techniques that eliminate the line, including bevelling the edge and inserting a thin stripe of the material facing out, and “rolled edge,” in which the sheet of laminate is bent over the edge of the countertop.

If you have your heart set on stone, Karas says some suppliers are coming down in price. However, the price can only drop so far because the process of shaping stone is more labour-intensive, and there may be fewer choices; his firm currently offers five stone colours comparable in price with the highest-end laminate.

As for flooring, Dietz says, “I think traditional vinyl floors are very underrated. The looks are better than ever, and so is the wearability.”

An even more traditional choice is linoleum — and there’s a modern reason to pick it, too.

“Because it is made of sustainable materials — primarily linseed oil — the popularity of linoleum has skyrocketed,” says kitchen designer Sandi Perlman of Indianapolis, who oversaw Noyes’ remodelling.

“You can get linoleum in just about any colour imaginable” these days, says Perlman.

Karas cautions that new flooring can cost more depending on what’s underneath. If you have several layers of old flooring, it can be a bad idea to add another layer of linoleum or vinyl on top, but stripping those layers adds to the labour cost. A more expensive flooring material that can be installed over the top might end up costing less in labour.

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