Top Repair - Your Countertops Like New Again
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Articles by Jim Heaphy
for Kitchen & Bath Design News

Innovative Uses for Solid Surfaces - December 2002


Kitchen countertops, bath vanities and tub/shower enclosures are the best known applications for solid surface materials, and these account for the vast majority of residential sales. However, these are by no means the only possibilities for use of solid surface in the home.

Other, less commonly found uses of solid surface can complement the expected uses in ways that create a distinctive image that will help set your company apart from your more mundane competitors. These can then be incorporated into your marketing literature, put on your Web site and worked into your showroom design.

The elegance and versatility of solid surface materials makes them particularly suited to such innovative applications. And, skillful salesmanship can transform such creative ideas into profitable sales opportunities.

The Possibilities
An obvious, but often overlooked, possibility is a tabletop intended to be used somewhere near the kitchen, whether in a breakfast nook or in a separate dining room. If the space is immediately adjacent to the kitchen, the color and/or edge detail of such a tabletop can match the kitchen countertops. If the space is clearly separated from the kitchen, as in the case of a dining room, you may choose to adopt a different style or color scheme to help make it clear that the room is more than just an extension of the kitchen. In either case, a homeowner who is already sold on solid surface materials for kitchen countertops is also likely to want a tabletop made of the same material. Don't forget to ask.

Other work surface possibilities include desktops in the home office, as well as tops for dressers, hutches and sideboards. Consider the humble window sill, especially when confronted with such issues as the uninspiring appearance of the usual painted wood and long-term maintenance problems due to exposure to intense sunlight, dramatic temperature changes and condensation. Solid surface materials are an outstanding performer in this application, and are installed quite often in kitchen windows to match the countertops. Why not create solid surface window sills for any and every room of the home? What could intrigue the eye and perform better than windows in an elegant master suite finished with sills in a bold granite-patterned solid surface material, rather than the expected antique white paint on wood?

When remodeling a bath that had badly rusted metal shelves in the medicine cabinet, I replaced them with slabs of solid surface material for a distinctive look free of maintenance problems.

And, have you ever considered installing a fireplace mantle made out of solid surface materials? The elaborate molded-edge profiles of classical fireplace designs are easy to duplicate. However, I don't recommend these materials for a hearth that will be exposed to hot embers.

A Common Practice
It's also common practice to give a kitchen countertop buyer a cutting board made out of scrap solid surface material left over from the fabrication. Typically cut into a simple rectangle, such an item attracts little attention. Then I got the idea of making cheese serving boards shaped just like a map of my home state of California, which is America's largest cheese producer. Those of you who live in Wisconsin could try a similar item, although Colorado and Wyoming residents might find little recognition for their efforts.

My California cheese boards gained enthusiastic attention, so I later took the concept overseas when my wife and I hosted a fundraising dinner with an Italian theme. I cut a large piece of solid surface material into the distinctive boot shape of Italy, along with the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. We used it to serve appetizers before dinner, to the great interest and enjoyment of our guests.

If you have skill in thermoforming, you may want to try molding solid surface material into a bowl shape. A shallow, two-piece mold will be required, and each mold half can be lathe-turned. The resulting bowl blank can also be turned on the lathe, to smooth it and define its details. The result is a beautiful decorative bowl than can be used for displaying fruit. The bowl can hold a cactus garden or bonsai trees, or it can be filled with attractive rocks and a small water pump to function as a table fountain.

Jewelry boxes are another elegant possibility. I designed one with inlaid hearts in red and pink for Valentine's Day, which rests atop my wife's dresser.

A number of years ago, I participated in a dinner for roughly 100 architects and interior designers, intended to promote innovative uses of solid surface materials. I designed a simple sculpture, consisting of six little lathe-turned columns and an archway. It was reminiscent of the facade of a Greek temple, and when assembled in a dozen copies, served as centerpieces on the tables and as conversation pieces during the dinner.

I've kept one of these sculptures in the dining room of my home ever since. As a child, I hoped to become an excellent chess player and gain fluency in a foreign language. Unfortunately, I am only a mediocre chess player, and the less said about my foreign language skills, the better. However, I have designed and built beautiful chess boards out of solid surface materials over the years. In addition to the two contrasting colors used for the playing surface, I usually incorporate at least two additional colors into a decorative edge border. I've seen hundreds of prospective customers run their fingers lovingly over the chessboards I've created.

To help promote my business, I've donated quite a few of these chessboards to charity auctions, and have been honored by the favorable comments they attract.

After you've taken the time to develop some innovative applications for solid surface materials, be sure to have your sales staff propose some of them to customers after that lucrative kitchen countertop sale has been made. With a little effort, you can add profit to the sale, and add the pride that comes from sending your creative efforts out into the world. Both your reputation and your bottom line will benefit.
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