Curved postformed laminate counter top edges — as early as 1952

postform counter top

Anatomy of GE’s Monotop laminate counter top with postformed edges and backsplash: Profile view of framing, circa 1953.

In the early days of the blog, I recall, there was a bit of a commenting cat fight. I showed a plaid laminate counter top with curved front edges and an integral back splash — it was all curvy, too. You know what I’m talking about — the counter has no edging on the front edge and the whole thing continues in one piece even up to and including a (typically) 4-inch backsplash. This is called “postforming” — or a “postformed counter top” — that is, when you bend the laminate to curve around edges, rather than cut it and square off everything. It’s an innovation that does not seem to have been immediately available with laminate counter tops. Not available, we presume, because it was tricky to get the laminate to curve without breaking.

GE MonotopBack to the cat fight — which was actually between my mother (or maybe it was me, arguing on her behalf) and a reader. They disagreed on whether the curvy postformed counter top I was showing could have been from the year I said it was — like, circa early 1960s. The reader said no. My mom said yes. My mom said she HAD the counter top, in our adorable little bungalow in Carlsbad, California (the first house I ever lived in that I still remember… sweet memories.) I believed my mom — because we homeowners remember these things!  Although, it is highly possible I am remembering this blog story incorrectly. Because I cannot find it on the blog. A prize to anyone who can.

GE Monotop

Verified: Postformed laminate counter tops as early as 1952

Are you still with me? Anyway, when we recently featured a complete catalog of 1953 Textolite — I finally saw some proof of just when postformed counter tops may have begun appearing in the U.S. marketplace. According to the catalog, GE offered its first postformed design — the GE Monotop — in 1952.

GE Monotop surface properties

Above: More info about the GE Monotop. The laminate for the Monotop was three times thicker than “Standard” laminate — Monotop laminate was 3/16″ thick vs. 1/16″ thick for Standard. I hypothesize: This is why the stainless steel “connectors” were required where the laminate pieces met. According to the Surface Properties list, Monotop could withstand much more abuse from certain everyday substances. And if you go back to the very first photo shown in this story, it appears to have been so strong it did not need to be adhered to a full substrate. Wow. It was available in only five Cross Current colors. Here’s the Cross Current palette from the catalog:

cross current laminate

In a nut: The postformed GE Monotop counter top must have been pretty darn high-end.

So who was the very first to manufacture and sell postformed counter tops?

That is, which laminate maker was the very first to market with postformed counter tops?  I will keep my eyes open and hope to wrestle this question to the ground one day. For now, the stake goes to GE, 1952, because of the confirmation in this catalog.

For this story, I reached out to Formica with this question, and their initial response was “late 1960s” for their company. I am skeptical of this answer, though, because once I started looking more closely through my photos of kitchens featured previously on the blog, I quickly found photos of postformed counter tops from 1954 and on.

1954 micarta counter top

Here’s a great view of a postformed counter top that does NOT have the stainless steel divider strips. I am not sure if this was an “advancement” or whether this laminate is just thinner and therefore, more easily joined at the seams. This image is from Micarta (one of the earliest laminate makers) — 1954.

1954-american-standard-pink-countertop-cropped_0

American Standard kitchen —  yup, postformed laminate counter tops in this ad from 1954.

Are postformed counter tops “authentic” for 1950s houses?

Suffice to say: If you are wondering, “Is it authentic for me to have a postformed counter top and back splash in my mid century kitchen?”, the answer looks to be: Starting in at least 1952, yes, postforming was available. However, I will make an educated guess — these were upscale — maybe even “the granite counter tops of their day”! Looking at the GE diagram, it appears that creating a postformed counter top took real finesse — this was a special factory order, you could not post-form this counter on-site. Note, I am talking “early days” of postforming here.

Laminate with edging: Much more common for many years to come

On the other hand, it was relatively easy for any contractor or even an intermediately competent DIY homeowner to adhere laminate on to a flat surface and then edging the flat edges with with aluminum, stainless steel, laminate or wood. So I bet, that squared-off counter tops with edging were even more common, because of all the subdivision and tract housing that was going up across the nation. In these developments, the so-called merchant builders would have been looking to shave off pennies and dollars wherever they could. I’m betting they installed their own substrates and rolled on the the laminate themselves — finishing the whole design with squared-off edges and back splashes.

All this said, by the early 1960s (again, I hypothesize), postforming became the norm. No more edging. I am guessing the technology was (1) either improved to make it cheaper or (2) the look became preferred, and as Americans became increasingly more affluent, they were willing to pay for the upcharge, no problem.

Images of GE Monotop courtesy the Building Technology Heritage Library and archive.org via creative commons license.

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Comments

  1. linda h says

    If post formed counters are a bit more expensive, I am surprised that they were used in a late 1990s remodel of mid century Navy housing where we lived in Norfolk. I loved those counters! Making military families comfortable should not be considered wasteful military spending, by the way.

    • pam kueber says

      I should have clarified: I hypothesize that they were INITIALLY more expensive. The bending technology must have been improved over time, and postformed counter tops became the norm by the early 60s. I will correct the story. Thanks for pointing this out!

  2. Jay says

    You might have the earliest documentation to date for post formed counters. I agree with you on disagreeing that Formica started this in the 60s but maybe they were late to the game. I can’t believe the laminate manufacturers would let GE get a leg up. My 57 house had post formed counter tops. A lot of construction went into those counters – there was no particle board used. Since a whole neighborhood of identical houses were built, I suspect they were made as a lot order in a factory somwhere, same as the cabinets.

  3. Sandra says

    As one gets older, one starts to learn what one’s elders learned before one: some of the “experts” on history may be ridiculously young!

    Some people think if it hasn’t been digitized, it didn’t happen. It is wonderful to have so many people busy converting this data from old tech to new before the people who were there and can amplify on it, are all gone!

  4. Robin, NV says

    My house was built in 1962 and the countertops are a mix – curved outside edges but flat backsplashes. It’s entirely possible that the laminate is original – it’s sort of cream colored with gold speckles and a pastel “falling leaf” pattern. Sadly I’m going to have to replace it when I remodel because it’s pretty banged up and faded in places. I plan to keep as much of it as I can for use in a hobby room though. It’s just too fun and cool to toss out.

  5. Terri says

    Okay, this is just made of awesome. I am going to redo my 1980s butcherblock formica countertop in my 1950 Cape Cod with one of the new Formica retro patterns (Red Ellipses to be exact.)

    I was going to go with squared off edges and backsplash, but those do create a maintenance/cleaning issue. Now, with these images, I can get the ease of post-formed and still be period correct. *hugs the retro reno blog*

  6. AnnWesleyHardin says

    The countertops in the Koravos Kitchen (the inspiration for my kitchen) were post-formed and that was 1957. My handyman said post-form is still only available factory made. It’s a thinner laminate, which makes it more bendable, and cannot be done on-site.

    As a result, we had to fit my cabinets to my post-form countertop during installation, instead of the opposite. This involved cutting into the drywall of my crooked old walls 😉

  7. Rebecca says

    Wow, just been contemplating new counter and love the ease of the post-formed ones. Also, thanks for confirming that it would be period appropriate to strip my cabinet doors down to the wood and leave the bodies painted. Doors I can do…I was dreading the bodies!

  8. Scott says

    Wow, interesting stuff. And G-E Textolite being impervious to fly spray made me fall off my chair laughing. Awesome. 🙂

  9. Marta says

    Anyone considering post-form countertops should be aware for the need to scribe the back in order to exactly fit your wall or else you will end up with gaps between the wall and counter. Unless, that is, you have perfectly straight and plumb walls, in which case your kitchen might become a builder’s shrine. While you can fill in the gaps with caulk, it can be pretty ugly.

    Also, the depth of the backsplash leaves less room for the sink cutout, so make sure yours fits. Cleaning around the faucets with post-form is usually a bear because there’s so little clearance. I swear, my next kitchen is going to have wall mounted faucets so cleaning is not an issue.

  10. Kate says

    Wow. That’s a long list of chemicals that are safe to use on the counters. I don’t know if most of that stuff has ever been in my house. Heck, I don’t know what some of that stuff is!

  11. Ruth says

    I’m still gawking at the mix of the mustard color countertop and that pink sink/drainboard combo. I’ve seen tons of pink bathroom sinks, but don’t ever recall seeing a kitchen sink in that color.

    • pam kueber says

      Nice! They say, “Nothing Like It.” I wonder if that means — it was the one and only at the time? I worry, though, and making that proclamation based on Marketing Hype. Thanks, 52pnb!

  12. Joe Felice says

    There absolutely were post-formed laminated counter tops in the 1950s, and they were all the rage. I was actually very surprised to read that Formica did not enter the game until the late ’60s. Our 1952 home in University Hills (Denver) had them, as did my first home, also built in 1952. Mine had a gross imitation marble look. The joints separated, and started to curl. I moved before I had a chance to replace them.

  13. Tim says

    I am in the process of restoring some vintage metal cabinets, identical to these: https://archive.org/details/AmericanKitchensStyledInSteel
    I have the original countertops, are these “postformed”? According to the 1947 catalog, “heavy battleship linoleum” was “bonded to the steel under pressure for a lifetime seal.” Unfortunately, my countertops seem to be near the end of their lifetime. At some point someone put some sort of adhesive contact paper over the linoleum, and it is not coming off too easily. The original linoleum is thick, about 3/16″ to 1/8″ inches. But there the cabinets have seen water damage and rust on the edges, the linoleum is cracking away.
    I’m wondering if it is worth restoring these old countertops? Should we remove the old linoleum and replace it with a similar material? If so, what? Where can we find something that thick today?
    Thanks so much. Love this blog, and apologies if this has already been addressed elsewhere.

    • pam kueber says

      Tim, you can read about different countertop materials in our category Kitchens/Countertops … BUT PLEASE FIRST heed my regular warning: There may be vintage nastiness such as lead and asbestos in the old materials in our houses — get with your own properly licensed professional to assess what is in your house’s materials and layers so that you can make informed decisions.

      • Tim says

        Thanks Pam.

        And apologies, after rereading this post, I think I am dealing with a different type of countertop entirely from what you were referring to.
        I have found a source for modern linoleum through greenbuilding supply. I wonder if anyone else has tried restoring these late forties countertops as I’m thinking of doing?

        • pam kueber says

          Sorry, Tim, but I’m pushing back again. This is not a DIY site per se, where readers offer DIY advice. Also, I know what kind of countertop you are referring to and my advice stands — before you start messing with that material and with the adhesives involved, get yee an expert who can help you know what you are working with.

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