A distinguishing characteristic of solid surface which many people find intriguing is its ability to adapt to new ideas in design and application. Not only can the material be seamed, shaped and sculpted, the product category itself continues to evolve. The recent trend toward mixing contrasting materials and textures in the kitchen and bath, many of which incorporate products which are translucent and free-standing, is also echoed in solid surface.
Avonite’s Soladium Glass series, for example, uses patented polymer formulations to convey the perception of a type of translucent milk glass. Cast in a lightly tinted, see-through base, the Soladium particulate diffuses light striking its surface, which tends to soften the overall visual effect.
In those applications where the countertop surface is backlit, interesting and dramatic effects can be produced with Soladium Glass. The dispersed light in the material creates an almost ghostly effect, which produces a shimmer-like appearance. Wet bars, entertainment centers and even decorative wall dividers are perfect applications for this new material.
Speaking of the visual effects of light, John Mosca of Creative Solid Surfaces, Inc. in Elburn, IL used conventional solid surface and rope lighting in a wet bar he built for his local Gallery of Homes show. The countertop design includes such features as a raised bar fitted with a wooden bar rail. Between the raised bar and main countertop area, Mosca installed rope lighting behind clear plexiglass in the backsplash, which provides continuous indirect lighting for the person manning the bar.
“We used 5/8″ clear plexiglass, sandwiched between the 1/2″ bar and drink rail,” he says. “Then, we routed a 1/8″ groove in the drink rail for the plexiglass to sit in, and behind that is the rope lighting.”
Mosca is careful to point out the importance of using rope lighting which has been designed for use in poorly ventilated enclosures, such as the wet bar he constructed. “My first set of lights came from a home center, and was rated for 1,500 hours,” he explains. “Yet when we installed it in the countertop and ran a test, a foot and a half section of the lights were burned out.”
The next day, another section of the rope lighting turned up defective. Mosca consulted a lighting firm for guidance, and learned that the lights he had purchased at the home center were not designed for an installation such as his, which offered little or no ventilation. So he ordered rope lighting that operated on 30 watts of power generated by a transformer, which he concealed within the structure of the cabinets. After that, everything worked perfectly.
German solid surface fabricator Ing. D. Hasenkopf GmbH & Co. in Mehring, Germany capitalizes on the thermoforming and seaming characteristics of solid surface to create a feeling of airy weightlessness in its line of European bathtubs. Thermoformed sheets of material are combined with tempered plate glass and ambient light to create a fixture that is elegant in its simplicity and in its practicality.
The resulting visual effect is akin to a type of liquid, suspended animation. Like Moses parting the Red Sea in reverse, Hasenkopf’s bathtub seems to command the waters to gather at the will of the user, who can then soak in luxurious comfort.
The craft of thermoforming solid surface is also extended with great skill to two styles of vanity tops, which effectively echo the modern lines of the bathtub. The first attracts attention to itself with a sweeping front, reminiscent of undulating ocean waves, which are held back by a tempered glass wall. The second is content to inconspicuously blend into the background, featuring a visually uncomplicated integral oval bowl and top.
Another design technique which has gained popularity in recent months involves the use of backlit 1/4″ solid surface panels. Light passing through this thinner material is naturally diffused while highlighting integral veining and/or particulate patterns built into the solid surface. Thus, in areas such as island or china cabinets, skillfully executed backlit panels provide focal points that can be understated, yet elegant in appearance.
Other innovations, such as solid surface sheets made with directional particulate dispersion (as opposed to random dispersion), or metal flakes of varying sizes, introduce movement and interest to the overall design. These types of materials offer kitchen and bath professionals greater creative freedom while simultaneously providing the benefits of low maintenance and ease of fabrication typically associated with all solid surface materials.