On the Surface
The finishing touches give the final aesthetic look to a space. In fact, laminates and veneers play a big role in creating dramatic interiors, says Sapna Kulshrestha.
Trends in interior decoration are ever-changing. However, certain concepts are so ingenious that they create a long-term impact on the market. Using decorative laminates is one such trend that has remained a favourite with designers worldwide.
Clearly, laminates have come a long way from the gold-flecked designs of the 1950s. Contemporary designs include replication of natural materials, innovative new textures and technically advanced features. Architect Sanjay Porwal says, “Over the years, many new players have entered this segment. This has not only helped reduce prices for laminates and veneers, but has also made available a number of options to choose from.”
Spas and vacations are the influences that have inspired softer colours, comfort wood finish, raw and weathered appearance or a pearlescent look – which can be metallic yet translucent.
There is also a shift towards natural colours like firethorn and terracotta besides warm neutral shades in the beige, gray and taupe families. However, vibrant reds, oranges and mahogany are also making an impact and dark tones are gaining popularity.
As Tarun Saini, all-India promotions manager, Ventura, says, “Dark colours, smoky finishes and black in the natural veneers range; interweaved metal laminates for hospitality; and glass-like surface laminates for bar areas (due to their reflective finish) are popular.”
Additionally, Sarda Plywood Industries Ltd offers a unique collection of fabric impressions in laminates such as silk, denim, cotton or any other fabric of choice under their brand Fabply to give a rich look to any surface.
Interior designer Bhavna Lal says, “The leather finish is much in demand these days, especially for furniture.”
Similarly, digitally-produced images with designs and textures that closely emulate stone, natural tile, wood, metal and ceramic in vivid and bold colours are a rage in the marketplace.
Techno Rustic, the new design category, is a combination of new technology with aged or rustic elements, or finishes that can give a period look to a new surface.
Another new entry in the market is metallic foil laminates that lend a modern decorative look to interiors. They are considered ideal for use in the hospitality, gaming, entertainment, interior design, set design, retail, signage, display, cruise and furniture industries.
Vipul Chheda, owner, Kiara Laminates, says, “Metallic foils are pressed along with kraft paper to produce this special grade of HPL. Their bright, reflective aspects render the ambience a modern and sleek look.”
Similarly, the shiny look of brass has been replaced with an antique finish, silvery aluminium-painted metals, chemically-etched as well as textured and embossed metals.
Other laminate creations feature metallic copper striations, bronze, silver, steel and copper colours in various textures, which create a beautiful look for many contemporary projects.
In the natural veneers segment, the rustic look showing wormholes and sap marks continues to be popular. Light cherries, exotic woods and straight-grain oaks are proving popular for many applications – both commercial and residential. Walnut is also increasing in popularity.
Donear, Greenply, Kitply and Ventura are a few of the major companies that offer such a collection. Wood veneers offer an advantage when it comes to imparting costly wood-grain patterns like burls or bird’s eyes, which are replicated beautifully in veneers and yet are very affordable.
Architect and interior designer Mohan Bhopatkar says, “Designers once preferred real wood over wood-look laminates. But today that’s considered a virtue, because now no one wants to fell a tree to enhance their interior project.”
The traditional approach towards laminate and veneer treatment has also undergone a change. For instance, designer Veena Nagpal says, “In kitchens, the mix-and-match approach is quite popular. Instead of using one pattern or colour, there is a preference for interesting combinations – such as a cherry with silver or an antique white teamed with a dark colour or chocolate-stained wood colour.”
Also popular for kitchen cabinets and wardrobes is the pearlescent wood finish. When used with wood grains, it gives a natural final look.
The casual style is pegged on chocolate and cherry shades in furniture, as also textures such as distressing, antiquing, hand-rubbed and burnished looks – both for laminates and veneers application.
As Ramakant Mohapatra, branch manager, Mumbai region, Archidply, says, “The latest design trend is that of textures for residential and glossy finishes in commercial spaces.”
The office furniture and retail store fixtures show increased inclination towards metallic finishes. Swirl patterns and subtle brushed effects are gaining in popularity too. They are warmer than stark stainless steel, but give a nice clean appearance. Architect Ram Gopal says,
“A glossy finish is easy to maintain, so it is preferred for places that are prone to more traffic. It also subtly reflects light.”
Many companies such as Merino offer door skin laminates – an economical option for aesthetically covering doors. One can choose from a wide variety of themes from kids range and designs for worship areas to floral motifs.
It gives an impression of a fusion of different materials like glass and woods. Merino also provides the facility to order custom designs, say manufacturers.
A more economical version of the natural veneers are reconstructed veneers that are sliced from laminated timber blocks made from various wood species, dyed throughout and glued together under pressure in parallel configuration.
Stuti Rasiwasia, media head, Donear Plywood, says, “Reconstituted veneers are cheaper than natural ones, though they give the same look. Another benefit is the consistency in colour and grain of the veneer.”
Architect Suman Dua says, “The advantage of using wood veneer, natural or reconstituted, is that you achieve the look of real wood without having to worry about the possible disfigurations that can occur with furniture that is completely crafted from solid wood.
Also, natural veneer gives the same quality look and feel of solid wood without high costs. Its drawback is that grains of veneers may slightly differ in sheets – though they may be of the same type of wood.”
One thing is for sure, there are no more time lags between global trends and the arrival of products in India.
Globalisation has shrunk the world. Nagpal says, “Laminates in the Indian market now feature the widest range of innovative and elegant designs. Recent wood veneers add an incredible natural wood look to any interior application.”
They say, if plywood provides form to furniture, then laminates and veneers add life and elegance. And the biggest advantage of laminates is that they are cost-effective.
Especially when it comes to flooring, laminates provide a far cheaper option when compared to marble and natural wood. In addition, considering their long life and superb visual appeal, decorative laminates are considered an excellent option for interior application.
With newer technology and production techniques, the decorative laminates and natural veneer market is witnessing innovative products.
In the veneers segment, paper-backed and Phenolic-backed veneers have an advantage over raw veneers.
These are available in large sheets where smaller pieces are joined together prior to adding the backing – quite helpful when veneering curves and columns, since the veneer is less likely to crack. Similarly, Laid Up veneer (which is a raw veneer that is been joined together to make larger pieces) can be ordered through some companies in any size, shape or design.
Among the new products is the Chalk and Marker Grade laminate that is made with a special type of synthetic polymer that provides a special surface for the use of dry chalk.
Nimit Anand, marketing manager, Greenply, says, “They are used extensively in conference rooms, auditoriums, colleges and institutions because of longer life than the traditional products available.”
Another attention grabber is Fire Retardant laminate treated with chemicals that delay temperature rise, making it more resistant to fire. They can be safely applied on the surface of kitchens, cinema halls, malls or any other project.
As Ramakant Mohapatra states, “Archidply post-form laminates are fire-retardant and ideal for modular cabinets and kitchens.”
Additionally, Electrostatic Dissipative (ESD) laminates offer a safe environment for furniture used in electrostatic protected areas (EPAs). The ESD surface drains out static charges, thereby minimising the chances of sparking and damage to sensitive electronic appliances.
At the same time, it does not allow dust particles to accumulate on the surface, resulting in a clean and healthy workplace. Madan Singi, sales head, Western region, Merino, says “Electrostatic laminates, due to their inherent properties, are ideal for projects like hospitals and IT; while the unique feature of fire-retardant laminates is that they emanate low toxic fumes in case of a fire.”
Today, other than addressing a growing demand for new finishes, laminate manufacturers face a variety of challenges from clients and designers.
For example, designers need to solve problems such as the traditional seam of a laminate or veneer that’s hard to avoid. Rasiwasia says, “One of the solutions that manufacturers provide is a cross grain, where the pattern goes across the sheet. This allows designers to specify the facade of a fixture, allowing for applications of large lengths with no interrupting seam.”
Another problem that companies are focusing on is the need for “green” products. Decorative laminates such as Archidply are being manufactured by using modified phenol formaldehyde resin with special molecular ratio resulting in low formaldehyde emission laminates with Euro1 standards.
These certified products contribute minimal levels of pollutants to indoor environments. Likewise, Greenply low-emitting products assure that harmful pollutants in the air are suppressed to the lowest level.
What is noticeable is the slow acceptance of technically-advanced products by designers and consumers. Singi attributes this to lack of exposure among designers about the benefits of the latest products and reluctance of consumers to accept high costs of the products.
He adds, “Laminates like fire-retardant and electrostatic dissipative laminates, though introduced two to three years back, are still in the nascent stage in India – even though they are highly useful in commercial buildings.”
Porwal adds, “Sometimes it is hard to convince a client to use products such as ESD or fire-retardant laminates, as the cost factor overrides the improved features of the product.”
The current laminates and veneers industry scenario makes for an interesting case study, since it has undergone continuous transition including market demands, international trends and creative influences – both artistic and functional.
New-age laminates and veneers not only offer limitless creative possibilities to designers, but also technological advantages that would be suitable to any interior treatment.
Veneers of excellence
Decorative veneer is usually peeled or sliced out of timber log to take the best advantage of the grain of the timber. And quite often, even irregular growths in a log can provide attractively figured veneer.
The varieties of natural veneer include one in which both sides appear different due to the cell structure of the wood. Raw veneer has no backing and can be used with either side facing up.
Backed veneers have foil, wood or phenolic backings. But the most common is paper-backed veneer available in large convenient sizes which are used for specialised applications.
Also, there are several types of finishes that can be applied to wood veneers, all of which enhance the grains in different ways.
Oil-based finishes penetrate deep into the wood and allow the natural grain of the wood to shine while enhancing it with pigmentation.
Water-based finishes are more of a protective agent than an addition of colour. These provide an eco-friendly option, as they use fewer chemicals than other types of finishes do.
Lacquer creates an extremely durable finish and can have different levels of sheen, from matte to high gloss, to achieve variations of look and texture.
GREENPLY INDUSTRIES LTD
Nimit Anand – Marketing Manager