Formica Goes Retro Upon Turning 100

By Marie Proeller Hueston | Updated Nov 14, 2013 1:12 PM

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Retro Formica

Formica's 100th Anniversary Collection

Formica, the colorful laminate used in American homes for generations, turns 100 this year.

It was back in 1913 that Daniel J. O’Conor, a young research engineer at Westinghouse Electric, first discovered that layers of resin-coated fabric, when pressed together, made a laminate that worked well as an electrical insulator.

O’Conor partnered with fellow Westinghouse associate Herbert A. Faber to start a new business, Formica, named for the insulating properties of the new material that acted as a substitute “for mica,” a mineral often used for electrical insulation.Although Formica laminate was used mainly in an industrial capacity during the company’s early years, it would prove to have other uses as well. Foremost among them, it made an attractive, easy-to-clean surface for countertops in homes, hospitals, and businesses across the country.

By the early 1950s, one-third of all new homes built in the United States used laminates, much of it the Formica brand.

Retro Formica - Red Elipse

Red Elipse from Formica

The company hired designers to keep the look of its products in step with modern tastes. Formica colors reflected the most popular hues in home decor, such as Sea Mist and Cameo in the 1950s, vivid Grape and Raspberry in the 1960s, ubiquitous Avocado and Gold in the 1970s, and so on. Simulated texture, too, became a signature detail in Formica’s appeal to American homeowners. Patterns that replicated the look of wood grain, fabric, and marble were especially popular.

With each passing decade, up to and including today, Formica has created colors and patterns that reflect the aesthetics of the era. Now, to celebrate a century of innovative design, the company is introducing twelve new patterns in their Anniversary Collection. “The patterns and colors of the Anniversary Collection acknowledge the brand’s past but without delving into nostalgia,” says head designer Abbott Miller. “The collection offers surfacing design that is unique in the market.”

Retro Formica - Dot Screen

Dot Screen from Formica

Each of the four fun patterns—Ellipse, Endless, Dotscreen, and Halftone—has three color options ranging from neutrals like White and Gray to brights like Blueberry, Citrus, and Mint. According to Renee Hytry Derrington, Formica’s Group VP of Design, “the Anniversary Collection is just one example of our commitment to continue the joint exploration with the design community to define the future of Formica for the next 100 years.”

For a closer look at the Anniversary Collection or to find a dealer near you, visit Formica.

For more on countertops, consider:

Laminate Countertops: A Buyer’s Guide
Kitchen Countertops 101
Top Tips for Keeping Your Countertops Like New