Affordable Kitchen Makeovers: What’s Below the Surface

Top-Rated Kitchen Cabinets, Countertops & Flooring

Manufacturers of kitchen countertops and flooring have cooked up new features and lengthened warranties. Kitchen-cabinet manufacturers sweetened the pot by making soft-close features standard, but the price of touch-to-open mechanisms might leave you sour.

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Tightened credit standards—particularly those that pertain to home-equity lines of credit, which often are used for home improvements—have placed the kitchen-remodeling industry in a vise, experts tell us. We wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that makers of kitchen cabinets, countertops and flooring—as well as kitchen faucets and sinks—would have been standing pat with the design of their products. To the contrary: We found refreshing changes aplenty. What’s better yet, some of those changes were added at no extra cost.

ROUNDING OUT. Manufacturers of laminate countertops haven’t let a listless economy get in the way of innovation. In 2012, two major countertop manufacturers, Formica and Wilsonart, introduced—at a price—moldings that add rounded edges to all four sides of laminate countertops, including those that are curved—a feature that previously was exclusive to stone and solid-surface products.

In February 2012, Formica Group introduced Ideal-Edge, which is a molding that can be attached to any of its laminate countertops to add ogee (intricately curved) and bullnose (rounded) edges. Wilsonart followed suit in March 2012 by introducing Cascade and Crescent curved moldings.

Although niche manufacturers have sold edge moldings, and Wilsonart previously marketed a beveled-edge molding that wasn’t capable of being curved for its countertops, these newest products aim to make the features more accessible for consumers. How? The manufacturers made it simpler for countertop fabricators to add these moldings quickly by using basic tools—a router to cut grooves and a miter saw to form tightly knit corners.

Previously, the countertop fabricators, who buy laminate sheets from manufacturers and build and sell the finished countertops, either had to buy large and expensive manufacturing equipment to create the rounded edges on laminate countertops or had to order laminated countertops that had curved edges from large manufacturing facilities. Even then, they weren’t able to have the feature on four sides (of a kitchen island, for instance). Our hands-on analysis revealed that these basic procedures make the molding indistinguishable from the countertop’s main surface. Unlike on most countertops that have flat edges, we found no unsightly brown seams.

The innovation means that if you order a Formica or Wilsonart laminated countertop, not only will it duplicate the contours of a granite countertop, but you also will get it faster than before, because a local countertop fabricator can create it in his/her shop, instead of waiting up to 2-1/2 weeks for it to be delivered from a factory.

We believe that adding edge moldings on all four sides of laminate countertops eliminates the last at-a-glance difference between the two products, surface material aside.

Homeowners like the variety of shaped edges that were available from a factory-made laminate countertop, but they were unhappy that these shaped edges were limited to countertops that have straight edges (no curved or crescent shapes) and to just two sides of a countertop, says Crit Richardson, who is president of Mid-Atlantic Manufacturing, which fabricates laminate and solid-surface countertops for cabinet manufacturers, millwork shops and contractors. (On an island countertop, or at countertop ends that are next to a doorway, for example, the ends couldn’t have ogee or bullnose edges.) Until recently, Richardson had to steer his customers toward stone or solid-surface countertops when they insisted on these features.

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For now, it seems as though Formica and Wilsonart will be the only manufacturers that will make molding that’s attached easily to their laminate countertops. Other laminate-countertop manufacturers tell Consumers Digest that they have no plans of doing so.

Unfortunately, the new edge moldings increase—and sometimes double—the cost of a laminate countertop, says Susan Verdi of Advanced Cabinets & Tops, which is a laminate- and solid-surface-countertop dealer. Several factors contribute to this result, including the added labor: Even though fabricators can do the work more easily than the manufacturer can, it’s more work for them, and thus, results in higher costs for consumers. Also, because Formica and Wilsonart sell moldings in only 12-foot lengths—and not every countertop edge is divisible by 12—fabricators most often have to overorder to have enough laminate moldings for a project. In other words, if your kitchen’s island includes 16 feet of total edge length, you’ll pay for 24 feet of molding.

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