Countertops Magazine Archive

Moving Solid Surface Beyond the Countertop

Unlimited Design Potential?

Solid surface certainly has made an impact in the countertop world. Though we know the strengths of solid surface in the kitchen countertop - cove backsplash, seamless sinks, large color selection and inconspicuous seams - not to be overlooked is its unlimited design potential. This greatly widens the areas designers and architects can use solid surface in their projects. If you, as owners and managers of fabrication businesses leverage this design potential, everyone benefits, including the bottom line.

We have seen it used as cladding for buildings, pools and houses. It has also been used in the creation of water fountains, benches, furniture, shower pans, cabinetry, interior walls, electronics and jewelry. The list seems endless. I’m sure you have seen many innovative uses of solid surface yourself.

Why is it a good material for such diverse use? Let’s examine a few reasons:

  • It can be worked using woodworking tools such as routers, saws, lathes and sanders. Because of this, craftsman and designers that are familiar with woodworking have been able to use solid surface for many projects that were once only attempted with wood.
  • Acrylic solid surface has the ability to be thermoformed into shapes. The process requires heating the material up to 350 degrees for about 12 minutes. It can then be fitted to molds based on different designs, such as a curved bench or a walk-through arch. Once it cools, it retains the shape of the mold. Your imagination is the only restriction.
  • The sizes available to work with add to the flexibility of design. The thicknesses available range from ¼ inch, ½ inch, ¾ inch and almost 1-¼ inch (3cm), with lengths as along as 144 inches.
  • It is a strong material. Solid surface is among the strongest surfaces available. Tests have proven that solid surface has a high impact strength when compared to many other popular surfaces. It’s also heat resistant up to 350 degrees (as attested to by the temperature required to thermoform solid surface). All of this means it has a low maintenance cost. Plus, if it does get damaged, it’s easy to repair.
  • It comes in a myriad of beautiful colors. Color is very important in design. The solid surface industry has the ability to keep up with the ever changing world and all its color trends. In fact, even custom colors are available.

It’s easy to see why we say solid surface has unlimited design potential.

As a fabricator, you might be asking how you can embrace this type of work. Fabricators that have been successful in using solid surface in atypical applications have made considerable investments of money, time and effort to get a design off the ground. That is why I strongly urge you spend time doing research to determine if an idea is marketable and profitable, before diving in head first. During this research process, you should be creative in coming up with ways to build the design, as it can mean the difference between a profitable project and a complete flop. Take a wall system for example. Some of the things you should be asking yourself are: How will I attach the wall panels? What brackets or hanging systems are available? Can a metal shop make what I need? Do you see the train of thought?

I bring up those questions not to discourage you, but rather as a way to help you make your project successful. I’ve talked to many people who had a good idea, but became discouraged because they didn’t see the effort required to actually bring their ideas to fruition. Aligning yourself with a designer and working as a team could help in this area.

If you are a designer or architect, you might be asking how you can incorporate solid surface into your designs. The first step is to attend events where solid surface is on display, such as NeoCon and the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF). The sheet manufactures have various solid surface projects on display that show the material being used in different designs. You can also try searching the internet to find projects that inspire you. Another option is to reach out to solid surface fabricators in your area to learn more about the material. Most importantly, when you’re thinking about what material to use in a design, make solid surface a top shelf option. As an example of just what is capable, I once was involved with a building project for which the designer was trying to find a way for the structure to really stand out at night. Because the building was round, finding a material that could be shaped was also a challenge. The answer was solid surface that could be illuminated. This was a great fit because of its ability to be thermoformed to the desired shape without killing the budget, while still providing a striking appearance.

Those of us who work regularly with solid surface already know it is a wonderful material. But to show others that sometimes requires that we think outside of the box and go beyond just using it for kitchen countertops. Taking this extra step and thinking up innovative ways to incorporate this very cool surface will continue to drive its usage, and more importantly, its profitability, helping to insure our individual success as well as the long-term future of the industry as a whole.

About the Author

Jon Olson works for DuPont as a key account consultant for Corian and Zodiaq surfaces in New England and has more than 30 years involvement in the solid surface industry, with experience in all aspects of fabrication and sales. He is the past recipient of ISFA’s Fabricator of the Year and Innovator Awards and can be reached at [email protected].