Two retro modern laminates now available for countertop use

When you are hunting for laminate for a countertop, be sure to check that it is specified for “horizontal” use. Some laminates are made just for “vertical” use — intended for commercial customers who want to put them on walls or the sides of things that don’t get much pounding.  Kitchen and bathroom countertop need the durability, though. Lab Designs is a laminate maker that has a growing number of laminate designs — and has two laminates — Ebony- and Ivory Retro — that were previously ‘vertical’ now available, ‘horizontal.’ Both are nice options for Retro Renovators.

Above: Lab Designs’ Retro Ebony laminate sample sitting on my existing countertop, tucked up against my stainless steel edging, with my vintage Kitchenaid dishwasher below. Looks nice, huh (though I wouldn’t pair a jaspe floor with a jaspe laminate countertop in real life.  

Above: The company sent me samples. They are shown above on my kitchen table, unretouched, natural light.

I first wrote about Lab Designs laminate in 2013. Recently, reader Melanie let me know that this laminate is now available in horizontal grade:

I just received my requested samples from Lab Designs. They now have Ebony Retro in matte or high gloss for HORIZONTAL surfaces. I was debating between that pattern and the Black Pearl pattern. Unfortunately, the Black Pearl gloss is vertical only.
I also got a sample of the Black Celestial – gorgeous flakes of mica! BUT…vertical only.

Thank you, Melanie!

Matte finish

The horizontal-grade laminates have a matte finish, although I’d call it more of an eggshell. I think it’s quite nice. Over the many years of this blog, many readers have bemoaned that finishes on various laminates available today were not high-gloss, like they remembered from back in the day. This doesn’t bother me at all. I have matte-finish Formica aqua Skylark boomerang on my kitchen countertop, and it’s dandy.

High gloss shows scratches and scrapes much more so than a matte or satin finish. I also tend to believe that lots of countertops back in the day were actually what I am told was called a “furniture” finish. This had a lot of sanding and a lot of coats of melamine. Ya ain’t gonna get it today, no one would be willing to pay what it cost.


Back to the two Lab Design laminates. I would call these retro-modern or retro-contemporary — not true-retro. The design has a “today” feel more than a, say, 1958, feel. Why? The lines of this laminate are too… literal. More like a photograph, less like an illustration. More of a fine point.

formica charcoal boomerang laminate
Still available today as a stock laminate, Brook Stevens’ Skylark design for Formica. Alas, the only color that sold enough to keep making after an 00’s try: charcoal. Dogbone White is another “document” design you can still get today.

Remember: The great laminate designers of the 1950s and 1960s were not trying to make their designs pretend to be something natural. Their view of the new miracle material was: Let it be what it clearly is: Man-made. With their fun illustrations — Brook Stevens’ Skylark boomerangs, as the supreme, iconic example — they were not apologizing for being something they were not. Plastic was being: celebrated. [note, link earns me a commission if ya buy anything]

In addition, retro-modern because: No real color-color. And dar-nit, I wish that the off-whites in more of today’s abstract laminates were yellow-off-white not gray-off-white. Gray-off-whites were just not much of a thing back in the day. And you know how I feel about gray anyway. 

Even though they don’t quite pass my true-retro test (and so few do), I feature these two Lab Designs designs because if the colors are what you are looking for, they are worth considering, if you are okay with their retro-modern-contemporary direction. 

Where to get them:

More research on laminate and who sells it:

  1. Teresa says:

    Thanks for your comments about a more highly coated melamine finish on the old laminates. We are about to replace glossy white with gold glitter laminate tub/shower walls and ceiling (circa 1970) with Wilsonart pink boomerang. But I’m now wondering if the current product will be as water tight. Our supplier says that they are still installing laminate tub enclosures. What do you think Pam? I wonder if I should do pink tile instead (yuk – grout maintenance). I love this site!

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      I think: Contact Wilsonart. Note, it’s not Wilsonart pink boomerang, it’s Retro Renovation by Wilsonart First Lady Pink!

  2. Jan OConnor says:

    Well, it is a promising start… but if they some green, blue, orange, red, pink, tan, cream and yellow colourways to that line up they would be getting there!

  3. I just realized how lucky I am to have original Skylark counters in lovely, GLOSSY yellow with teal and mustard boomerangs! Didn’t know till today that they now make only matte for “horizontal” use. These high-gloss counters are also bullnosed — no seam at the front. Wish I could get them some kind of historic protection so that someday, some misguided future owner can’t rip them out and put in concrete or some other of-the-moment design mistake!!

  4. KarenfromPhilly says:

    Pam, the ebony retro is so close to what I have in our original 1959 bathroom. I need to replace our original Kohler Tahoe sink with hoodie as the sink has rusted out at the drain and I was hoping to find a countertop like the original and here it is!! I am sooooo happy! I also like it very much in the light colorway. Thank you so much for helping me to save my pink bathroom! Karen

  5. Mary Elizabeth says:

    Love both of these colors, and I think they would cross the boundaries between retro and current modern. Re: the trend toward poured concrete counters. Our friends just had them taken out of their architect-built house in Florida because they stained like crazy–wine, kids’ grape juice, beets, etc. If there was a product to clean out the stains and/or put a protective coat on them, they didn’t find it. So now they have quartz. Anyone have experience with this type of counter? I know I see it on the home network shows all the time, but I haven’t heard of any protective finishes.

    1. KStacey says:

      I can admit that while I am not a fan of the trendy granite and other stone countertops? Some quartz can be sooo pretty! Anything sparkly is a-ok with me!

      1. Cloudy says:

        I received a ton of sparkly samples from them today. Amazing. I had no idea they had all these colors. The whites, blacks, and even tons of the metallics (including turqoise, gold, bronze, copper, silver, and just too many to mention.)

  6. Carolyn says:

    Well, it isn’t a trend (the current stone trend which, by the way, is now trending toward concrete) so it has that going for it. It does give a nod to today’s stone trend by being so neutral. There are a lot of homeowners who want to keep or bring back their favorite era but have too much pushback from family and friends who see anything vintage or retro as “old” – ?! We love us our boomerangs but other people don’t get it.
    I like the drama of the Ebony and can see a cheery kitchen or bath using Ivory to brighten a darker room.
    Who knows? Maybe this is the bridge across the trend vs ageless divide?

  7. Jeff Holmquist says:

    We used Lab Designs’ Arctic Retro (= Ivory Retro?) for counters in both baths and the kitchen last year. I agree– it’s more of an eggshell. It’s holding up great so far. We thought about gambling with one of their cool gloss/vertical products in the bathrooms, thinking that those surfaces would have less use, but we chickened out and stayed with the matte/eggshell everywhere. We like the pattern a lot. I think that only 8′ sheets are available which might be a problem for some installs.

  8. AnnF says:

    Thanks for the tip. I did not realize that most laminate is not made for countertops. I have been putting off remodeling my kitchen for 8 years now, and it looks like quite a few more years before I can actually do it. I always wanted marble countertops, but have been rethinking that. I have actually never had a problem with laminate counters — they have been fine when they have gotten wet, and I have placed hot pots on them often. I will never cut directly on them, so why not just use laminate?

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      Hi AnnF, I am not saying that “most laminates are not made for countertops.” I actually don’t know the split.

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