Sunday, November 1, 2009

Where's my jetpack, anyway?



Formica. WHY? Seriously, why did this ever happen to us? When was this preferred to stone or wood or whatever? Was this part of The Future, at some point in history? Like Tang or jetpacks or astronaut ice cream? I want some answers. I know there are some old people reading this. You need to step up to the mic and explain this, pronto.

52 comments:

Jesse Lu said...

girl, you crack me the f*ck up. period.

Jenniferina said...

I'm 46 and the only thing I remember before formica was something with a metal edge. Do I want formica? Hell No! Is it better than that other stuff that I remember? Yes.

Anonymous said...

My parents had it. I liked cooking on it. You could be messy, careless. It wiped down fast, with a Handi-Wipe and a spritz of WIndex. You didn't have to "seal" it every year, or buy special products for it, or worry if the food that touched it was acidic or red or if you accidentally left it on the counter overnight. It was good-natured and forgiving.

Kitchens didn't use to bristle with status anxiety in the Days of Formica. Appliances didn't pretend to be restaurant-grade, and people didn't talk about range hoods as "the mantle of the kitchen." No one did "backsplashes." You painted the wall with glossy paint and if you spattered it, you sponged it down.

The kitchen really was similar, in its lack of status symbols and "taste" considerations, to a laundry room. Just a workspace, with necessary tools and nothing you had to experience aesthetically.

Decorno said...

Ok, I get that. And I can appreciate it. But this kitchen is like a hospital, right? Kinda sad, like someone is about to die, and the best part for everyone is that they can just hose it all down when the worst is over.

Decorno said...

Oh - and I have never heard range hoods referred to as the "mantle of the kitchen." That makes me irritable just thinking about someone saying that.

Anonymous said...

I am in my sixties, and what I remember before formica was a linoleum type stuff that had that metal edge on it. It caught dirt something awful and could get dings that were permanent. My great grandmother's kitchen in the 1960's would appall you, a pump handle for water, wooden counter tops and absolutely no cabinets. the windows were wall to wall and it looked like an old porch that had been enclosed. And she was lucky, I saw many kitchens with no counter space except what was on the table. That is what those old cabinets called hoosiers were for.

leni said...

haha! genius post. i'm right behind you on this one. what were people thinking?!

Anonymous said...

You're right; that kitchen is dispiritingly institutional, and treats food preparation as a potential bloodblath or some other imminent bio-catastrophe.

It's been forever, but my recollection is that formica came in a big range of colors and patterns. My parents chose something with glittering...things in it that I guess were supposed to mimic flakes of minerals or something. (Wincing.)

"Mantle of the kitchen" was a phrase I read on Cote de Texas.

Tamisha said...

Formica is functional. While this kitchen is unfortunate in its blandness, formica is built to last. Before I did a mini-reno on my last kitchen, the formica had lasted 45 years. Not sure what else can do that. Like Anonymous said, it's impervious to stains, needs no special maintenance, and cleaned up easily. I agree that kitchens have become more status symbol than functional space. I'm moving into an 88 yr old home in two weeks and our mini-remodel will feature (too strong of a word realy) formica counters because they are cheap and durable. When I get to "do" the kitchen, it will have soapstone which is age appropriate and equally durable.

Anonymous said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formica_%28plastic%29

mlessirard said...

Back in the late 70's I remember cararra marble, some black types of marble being available and soap stone. All were too expensive, and because of the porosity- horrible maintenance issues. Counter top choices were either tile or laminate.

Getting Stone out of the earth and cut into slabs was difficult, they didn't have the technology and the type of cutting tools we have today. Developing those tools made the materials more affordable.

Post modern architects loved the look of laminate, clean lines and all. Most modern housewives didn't even know stone-granite and marble was available.

Karen@StrictlySimpleStyle said...

Formica is the most heinous material used in a kitchen-ever. I have a very vivid memory of leaving a hot pan on a formica counter when I was babysitting. The woman called me the next day to cuss me out and tell me I'd never babysit in this town again! Apparently, there was a large circle scorched in her beloved white and black speckled formica counter. Oops.

HOBAC said...

Really? I like it. But, I also like linoleum. There is something nostalgic about the old "cutting edge" materials.

LLove said...

I have formica in my current apartment rental. 1980s formica by my best estimation. It's white and it stains. I have to use clorox to get it back to it's original color and even then some permanent marks remain. If I put my tea pot on it and a little ring of tea gets on it, ugh, it's the end of my day. My formica counters are not the easy, careless drama-free material 10:09 describes.

stephendrucker said...

Don't think "hospital." Think "Courreges go-go boots."

The Countess of Nassau County said...

I think Anonymous pretty much nailed it.

There was also a period where there was a lot of loopy colors like avocado green, orange, and rust. You could easily and pretty cheaply find just about any color you could dream of.

I think part of the reason you see much less color in the kitchen is because it is costly to redo the kitchen and people pick colors that will last forever.

my favorite and my best said...

perhaps it's so bad it's good. so ugly it's cute. like E.T.

reclamationdesign@yahoo.com said...

Wow this discussion is really helpful. Thank you Decorno for the question and thanks to everybody who gave such thoughtful answers. I'm live in one of those old, great (rent stabilized !) apartments in New York. It was built in 1948 and the counter is that linoleum w a metal edge. Formica would indeed be an upgrade.

sarah said...

I feel the same way about Corian counter tops.

Brilliant Asylum said...

After shattering several wine glasses and my brand new blender on my granite countertops, I am all for laminate and formica to come back in style. Actually, if they made foam rubber countertops, I would be happy.

Reggie said...

The kitchen in my early 19th century house was re-done in 1959, when the owners installed up-to-the-minute "Colonial-style" maple cabinets (think Ricardos move to Westport), formica "marble" counters, and a linoleum floor. We've done a mini update in the meantime (painted the cabinets/updated hardware/replaced the appliances), but the formica counters remain in place, and it'll take a wrecking ball to get them out when we (finally) renovate. Whatta work horse--barely a stain or scratch--not bad for almost 50 years old. A quick wipe, with a sometime scrub with the Bar Keeper's Friend, and they are clean as a whistle. Of course they look nothing like marble...

Einat said...

100% agreed! My parents kitchen gives me hives. I beg my mom to re-do it EVERY time I am there.

Anonymous said...

"I also like linoleum."

I'm with HOBAC. The whole "better living through chemistry" vibe of '60s synthetic materials is nostalgic for me.

(Plus, I'm a sloppy cook.)

jeanine said...

This kitchen looks like it's from the 80s, it might be pretty awful even with a better counter top material.

My parents have formica as their counter top material. It's been there since the house was built in the 1970s. Although I can't say it would be my first choice for anything, it certainly is cheap which is why people still use it today. It's fairly low maintenance since you only need to wipe it clean or stick a sponge with your favorite harsh cleaning product on it over a spot for a few hours if it does stain. If you aren't the type to do yearly sealing on it and like to scrub at stains with the full arsenal it's an okay choice.

I have used it in inexpensive office renovations. They get granite counter tops but p-lam (formica) cabinet doors. Kind of like wearing Target with your Louboutins if you have cost restrictions. I haven't yet had to use it for a residence though thankfully.

Not many people get excited about formica but it certainly has it's place. And some styles are less offensive than others.

home before dark said...

I think one of the neatest things about growing older is that you realize every newest, hottest thing is some other generation's nightmare. It's just the gift that goes on giving. Tomorrow when people just hate that granite that looked so up date until last year, it's going to be a very expensive do over. I am for maple and stainless steel let the patina tell a story.

Anonymous said...

I kind of remember the metal edge. I guess it was to solve the biggest problem with Formica, which was the gap where two planes of the stuff (vertical and horizontal) came together. It calls to mind old rental apartments.

Anonymous said...

Oh, decorno. There is much to love about humble formica... even Rudolph Schindler used laminates in some of his houses. Not to mention lots of other great architects and designers whose work you probably admire.

You, of all people, should know it is not all about the material. It's how the material is used.

Haven't we all seen some really bad kitchens that utilize nice materials? And some great kitchens that utilize humble materials?

I'm setting up a modest home office, and want a custom desktop. I will most likely go with formica. I'll be able to get exactly what I want in terms of shape and size. It will be affordable, and low maintenance.

Anonymous said...

That Formica was one the hottest, cutting edge product on the market. It was very modern and everyone wanted it.

In the future people will be laughing about our granite counters. It is just the way life is.

sketch42 said...

I just read a whole article or blog post about how all the finishes we are using today are going to be as dated to turn of the century as an avocado green refrigerator or a conversation pit... Stainless steel, all white, granite, two tone kitchens, industrial appliances... will soon embarrass our children!

Anonymous said...

We got our formica countertop (black with white speckles!) at Home Depot for $90 bucks ten years ago. The thing is impervious. I love the fact that there's not one fussy thing about it.

ellen said...

I friggin' love my *turquoise* Formica counter tops. Without shame.

Tracy said...

You can't blame that whole kitchen on the countertops. Where's the coffee pot? Where's the toaster? How about some flowers in vase? Does anyone live there?

Anonymous said...

fk formica, but leave tang be. in 70's eastern europe, it was nothing short of aspirational, all extraterrestrial orange looking and powdery and stuff! you had that - you had access to the western world, and were cooler than shit.

sad? yes. character-building? sure.

Decorina said...

Anon 10:04, you totally nailed it.

"Status anxiety" indeed. I love you, let's get married, K?

My 1969 avocado green countertops over site-built painted wood cabinets contrast uncomfortably with a Stickley-built, Ubatuba topped island acquired at a consignment store a week ago. The Stickley island is just that; suffering mightily from status anxiety while I try not to drop anything remotely ceramic on the polished granite.

That laminate is so much easier to work on a keep clean. Had to remind my neighbor that she had missed a spot on the granite with fingerprints so she could go home knowing that the entire top was smeared with them.

Anonymous said...

The problem with that kitchen isn't material, it's color: The countertop is so much whiter than the rest of the room. It's like the architectural equivalent of the 55-year-old midlife-crisis guy who gets his teeth over-whitened.

Snowiye said...

Our rental apartment had formica countertops, and they do stain, and leave marks if you put something too hot on it. Now in our house we have a kitchen from the 80s I think, with the ceramic tile backsplash, countertops and maple cabinets. And as ugly has our countertop is, I love that it does not need to be babied the way granite and marble countertops do. I can put any darn hot plate, pan, or pot on it, and it does not matter if I spill acidic or red stuff on it and not wipe it up immediately. The only thing I don't like is the grout, and I am hoping that if I ever retile it I will have a lot more options with nicer grout!

Anonymous said...

Good grief. We need to get over ourselves. Not everyone can afford Carrera marble. It was an affordable solution at that time, just as paperstone is today.

Anonymous said...

My parents' kitchen has red counters with gold specks and a round silver edge. The floors are green and white checkerboard tiles with speckles (and you can tell the most traveled paths because there are fewer speckles in those tiles).

I want to inherit that house so I can fix that shit.

Anonymous said...

I have some kind of laminate now--either Formica or a knockoff. It's been 42 years, and no stains yet. And it's white.

Cyn said...

My parents had it until a couple of years ago and they loved it - It really didn't look that bad in hindsight.

Ina Garten's old kitchen, pre-barn, had formica on her countertops (not on the island) and extolled her love of them in HB magazine and her cookbooks for those who cared to listen - Not that that means anything significant, just mentioning it.

Lisa said...

The problem isn't formica. The problem is that every single wall that used to separate the kitchen from the living room has been torn down. Formica was never intended to be decor.

Susan said...

The stuff with the metal edge was linoleum. Formica was in existence in the early 1950s and was just about all that was available until Corian came along in the late 1970s or early 80s. Sure, some had wood countertops, but they were not common.

Formica was actually a good surface. Stone is a relatively recent thing for kitchens.

Anonymous said...

Decorno - I'd like to see the kitchens of your formica loving commenters. Just to see that it really can be done well. otherwise, I call BS.

can we have a contest for the best formica counters in kitchens?

Decorno said...

Anon 3:54... you mention paperstone. What is that?

I think the kitchen in the photo is really homely. And the souless look the formica imparts (in the context of the rest of the kitchen) is a bummer. But it's not that marble is the answer. Maybe I just don't know what other materials are out there today that are both handsome and affordable? Maybe I will post just about that and gather up recommendations.

Kevin said...

I don't mind formica if it is done tastefully. A garish pink granite would not improve this kitchen.

Anonymous said...

"Decorno - I'd like to see the kitchens of your formica loving commenters. Just to see that it really can be done well. otherwise, I call BS."

You missed the point, Anon 6:42 pm. We never said it looked glamorous and magazine-y. We said it worked, it was easy to care for, and it didn't give us a moment's trouble. That's not something you capture in a snapshot.

pve design said...

Alright, you asked for formica.
pve

Anonymous said...

i design kitchens for a living and i have to say i love formica. here's why: many beautiful stone countertops like limestone and marble are too much maintanence for regular people. same with wood. also when it comes to budget stone can really blow. in the end stone is kind of wasteful energy wise due to the quarrying, shipping and fabrication. formica is so forgiving to abuse and it comes in so many colors and patterns. when it has a layered wood edge like eames stuff or even the cheap ikea countertops it is quite cool. think also alvar aalto. i've done it all: soapstone, quartz, granite, caesarstone, concrete, slumped glass, butcher block, stainless steel, tile...but i think formica is still great-people will use their kitchens more and their savings means they can get an awesome light fixture or just nice food.

laura said...

I grew up in the 60s with charcoal boomerang Formica in the kitchen and I love that stuff. My dad made a coffee table out of the piece that was cut out for the double sink, and I still have the table.

That kitchen, however, looks like a veterinary surgery.

je dois said...

I think Formica was for building new in the 70s when money was expensive. This is opposed to building new in the 2000s when money was cheap and design shows and blogs shamed you into granite or marble. But then again, this was when middle class was happy to be middle class, not trying to convince everybody of their fabulousness.

Anonymous said...

We just rebuilt the 4,000 sq ft home we lost in a fire 2 years ago. In the kitchen we have soapstone countertops but in the pantry and laundry we have formica. No metal edges-nice squared off ones and I had a terrible time selecting the color for the formica - there must now be 500 choices!

Anonymous said...

"...this was when middle class was happy to be middle class, not trying to convince everybody of their fabulousness."

Damn that uppity middle class.