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Wrapped laminate cabinets from Quebec: up and coming

Today's best wrapped laminate cabinets allow very convincing wood grain reproductions of cherry, walnut, mahogany and dozens of other luxurious hardwoods. All for about half the cost of real wood!


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August 28, 2013 by Steve Maxwell

Though I can’t put any numbers on it, I’ve often noticed that Quebec has one of the strongest cultural connections with wood in all of Canada. They seem to use wood more often in visual ways in building, there are many terrific and traditional woodworkers in Quebec, and some of the greatest wood-based industries are found there, too. All of this is why Quebec’s widespread acceptance of wrapped laminate cabinet doors and drawer faces says a lot. More than 30 per cent of new kitchens and bathrooms in Quebec are now made with these components. If wrapped laminates are good enough to pull the Quebec market away from their beloved real wood, these materials must be pretty good. They also have financial appeal.

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Today’s best wrapped laminates allow very convincing wood grain reproductions of cherry, walnut, mahogany and dozens of other luxurious hardwoods to be available as part of kitchen cabinet drawers and doors – all for about half the cost of real wood.

I’m a cabinetmaker by trade, I still work with wood all the time, and I know my walnut from my imbuya. Despite all this I continue to be surprised by how authentic looking today’s wrapped laminate doors, drawers and trim are. I literally have to move inches away from the surface to recognize that this stuff didn’t grow on trees. Some homeowners find they can even pay for a granite countertop with the money they save moving from a solid wood kitchen to a wrapped laminate alternative that looks at least as good. And it’s not just a matter of appearance, either. The best wrapped laminate products also have woodgrain textures, so they have the rich feel of fine hardwoods.

I first discovered wrapped laminates about four years ago. A friend of mine who owns a wainscoting business showed them to me, and as far as I can tell, an outfit called Olon Industries (www.olon.ca; 800-387-2319) is currently the most innovative suppliers of wrapped laminate products in North America. They’ve got a Canadian branch and their NEXGEN doors and drawer faces are used by cabinet manufacturers and trim shops across the continent. These are called “five-piece” door and drawer faces because two stiles, two rails and one panel makes up each one.

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Besides good looks, durability is the main selling feature of prefabricated wrapped laminate components. Tougher and easier to install because there’s no need for site-applied finishes, wrapped doors and drawers also resist fading from sunlight. It’s actually difficult to harm wrapped laminate surfaces, even if you set out to try. Car keys, a screw driver or even a letter opener didn’t make a mark on the surface of NEXGEN doors during my tests, even if rubbed fairly hard. Toughness benefits clients but it also means there’s less likely to be damage during installation. Most door fabricators offer a five year structural and anti-fade appearance warranty that you can pass on to your clients, too. That said, from my research warranty claims even beyond this are virtually non-existent, so it’s not much of a risk.

You can order NEXGEN doors and drawer faces made from FSC certified wood products and they pass CARB Phase 2 indoor air quality standards for off-gassing. Versions are also available with anti-bacterial surface properties.

Real wood will never go away, but innovation is bringing the beauty of real, high-end wood to building clients who could never afford it before. The fact that this beauty also comes in a bulletproof package strikes me as a big bonus.


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