May 19, 2024

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Decades later, colour returns to the kitchen

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Decades later, colour returns to the kitchen

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Kitchens have long been referred to as the ‘heart of the home’ but a century or so ago, they were primarily utilitarian spaces used for food storage and preparation. Over the decades, they transitioned to colourful spaces and multipurpose rooms.

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Formica Brand, the creator of laminate countertops, celebrates its 110th anniversary with the book, Beyond Boomerang: A Celebration of 110 Years of Formica Patterns (Copyright 2023 by Shawn Patrick Tubb; published by Formica Corporation).

“The research for this book made it clear just how much Formica’s evolution has been a reflection of North American culture,” says Meghan Howell, North American design and creative director at Formica Corporation.

“We’ve designed the book to highlight our patterns over the years and the untold stories behind them – from the designers to the economic, political and popular culture influences.”

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The book provides a decade-by-decade look at each era’s prominent Formica patterns:

1920s and 1930s. North American kitchens combined storage and workspace and often included just a stove and a sink. Most homeowners had an ice box and purchased ice and produce daily. Formica’s patterns were primarily commercially focused and used for products like soda fountains.

In the 1930s, built-in cabinetry and countertops replaced their freestanding cousins of the previous decade. “Colours were bright and cheerful but very normal and primary compared to what we’re used to today,” says Howell.

1940s and 1950s. In a word, kitchens were ‘sleek.’ “Electric ranges and refrigerators were becoming the norm,” she says. “Finishes were very simple and utilitarian.

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The 1950s brought the post World War housing boom and everything became very cheerful and colourful. The kitchen became a new place for families to gather.”

Steel cabinets were common in the 1950s as manufacturers looked for new purposes for steel factories that had produced weapons for the war. Formica began to experiment with patterns and collaborated with designers like Morris B. Sanders, who created ‘moonglo,’ a pattern inspired by the shimmer of moonlight on the surface of a lake.

In 1949, the Formica Company introduced The Color Range. The first of what would become many named collections of patterns and colours, it featured hues like light aqua, putty grey, pumpkin and black.

1960s and 1970s. Colour and pattern became more natural with tones like harvest gold, avocado green and familiar wood grains.

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“It was the first time we saw a u-shaped kitchen that had the peek-through under the stove…and because they had to live with other rooms within the home, kitchens became more neutral.

Steel cabinets went away as wood cabinets became much more affordable, especially in North America with our abundance of wood. That also perpetrated the natural aesthetic.”

Countertops were typically neutral and colour was reserved for the wall tiles Formica produced at the time. Wood and harvest colours like burnt orange and mustard defined the 1970s kitchen, which featured technological advances like the dishwasher and microwave.

1980s and 1990s. As many more women began to work fulltime, the kitchen was no longer a domestic haven. Rather, it became much more about the family, serving as the ‘command centre.’

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As the open floor plan grew in popularity, kitchens became larger and the island became the gathering place.

Because it was increasingly connected to the rest of the home, the kitchen became increasingly neutral. Enter white and beige countertops and matching tile. Interestingly, commercial spaces were at the opposite end of the spectrum and bold geometric pops of colour were commonplace.

The neutral aesthetic continued into the 1990s but as design shifted to shabby chic, ornate cabinets and tiles with a country flourish trended. Appliances were larger and granite became the hot new material for natural countertops, which was reflected in Formica patterns.

2000s and 2010s. Thanks to the rise of channels like HGTV, homeowners were “spoon fed” kitchen designs, leading to a loss of personalization, Howell notes. Wood cabinets and large appliances remained on trend, but stainless-steel appliances began to make their mark.

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High contrast was also on trend and white cabinets and dark granite stone countertops created a dramatic aesthetic. During this time, Formica released a high-end luxury laminate with no repeat on the width of the pattern to accommodate large kitchen islands.

The 2010s ushered in a reclaimed look, with rustic flooring, subway tile backsplashes and farmhouse sinks. White and grey with pops of navy were favourite hues and stainless steel remained popular.

“The most noticeable trend in the 2010s was the rise of social media, which gave homeowners not just a place to share their kitchens and home aesthetics but a place to look for inspiration,” Howell says.

2020s. Social media continues to drive the trend to personalization. “We’re seeing more smart appliances, which continue to get larger, and more diverse tones, patterns, textures and colours.

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Gone is the stark white kitchen. Everything is warming up so you’re no longer seeing stainless steel paired with a cool white or cool grey. Larger assortments of stones and materials are available so you can play with materials like porcelain, soapstone and quartzite.”

What’s on the horizon? Howell predicts texture will be incorporated into countertops and backsplashes and believes rich woods like walnuts and oaks, along with concrete, will trend.

“Wood flooring remains the predominant choice for floors. Homeowners are personalizing their spaces, maybe with something they bought on a trip or a family heirloom or antique.”

Most interesting to Howell is the evolution of colour. “We went from colourful tones to the greys and whites of the ‘90s and early 2000s,” she says. “I love that colour is coming back in style and can live today in appliances and accessories.”

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