Solid Surface Returns to its Roots in the Bathroom
By Russ Lee
The product gained widespread exposure in the latter part of the 1980s, and reigned through the '90s as the surfacing material of choice for use in high-end kitchens.
With the new century, however, has come stiff competition from other surfacing options, causing some people within the solid surface industry to reconsider the material's primordial roots in the bath chamber. They've come to recognize that as well as solid surface performs in the kitchen, it is even more ideally suited for withstanding the vagueries of steamy showers and dripping bodies, not to mention the myriad chemical onslaughts from cosmetics, cleansers and conditioners. The non-porous and renewable features of solid surface simply make it an ideal product for the bath.
It wasn't too long ago that about the only options you had in solid surface vanity tops were variations on a 14"x17" oval bowl. Today, your sink choices encompass the latest design features currently popular with today's consumers, and are available in virtually every color of the rainbow. Best of all, with the emergence into the marketplace of new companies offering diverse vanity products, your fabricator now has more supplier options to choose from when creating a custom vanity top. That often translates into shorter lead times and more favorable pricing structures. Companies like TFI Corp., Transolid, DuPont Corian and Swanstone are leading the way in these new product offerings.
Shower wetwalls are another perfect application for solid surface, especially now that techniques for installing large expanses of vertical panels with no visible seams have been developed with great success. Most solid surface companies have also developed wetwall "kits," which include all of the elements necessary to create a standard size shower. Accessories items, such as soap dishes and shower seats, are readily available to your fabricator, or he can make them himself.
Your fabricator also has access to products manufactured by companies that specialize in casting and/or fabricating solid surface shower pans that match or coordinate with the shower wetwalls. And speaking of shower pans, Swanstone has developed a slam-dunk retrofit affair that is designed to fit exactly the space occupied by a standard 60" bathtub. It even hooks up to the existing drain.
Another application for solid surface in the bathroom that is gaining in popularity is its use on the walls as full-height cladding or as decorative wainscoting.
Considering the disastrous effects water can have on unprotected traditional materials like wood and drywall, solid surface is the ideal long-term solution. Essential Products, which recently merged with TFI, produces a cost-effective line of Corian wall panels that are engineered to install quickly. The concept, known as Wall Dacor, offers three categories of wall panels that fit together seamlessly by means of tongue and groove joints, and that feature your choice of several design elements routed into the panels.
TFI has also developed architectural moldings made from Corian that complement the Wall Dacor system perfectly. Now your fabricator can order the ready-made moldings at a cost comparable to that of traditional hardwood moldings and install them quickly and efficiently. Your customer benefits from the large selection of design options, as well as the maintenance-free properties of the installation.
Imaginative solid surface artwork, like that created by artists Becki Babb or Barry Gross, adds a personal touch to a custom design and can result in one-of-a-kind masterpieces. In addition, accessory items like receptacle plates, toothbrush holders, mirror frames, toilet paper holders and other useful products are available today from a number of companies that specialize in producing such items cost effectively.
As always, your fabricator is a good resource for exploring these and other solid surfacing options available in the bathroom. Most likely, he will be able to suggest solutions to your design challenges that are both functional and artistic. He may even have developed his own techniques for shower wetwalls that are particularly well-suited to the specific tastes of people in your area, or he might introduce you to a new solid surface flooring concept for the bathroom. Who knows what unseen opportunities for creating that perfect bathroom lie hidden within the dusty walls of your fabricator's shop? All you have to do is ask.