1947 Introducing the Laminex kitchen

Laminex Kitchen - Home Beautiful , February 1957

In my youth, our impressive, French-polished dining room table was reserved for special occasions like Christmas or for buffet spreads when my parents entertained. The kitchen table was where we generally ate. It was a sturdy, no-frills timber affair – with a Laminex top. And it continued in use for the rest of my parents’ lifetimes. Hardly an heirloom and I don’t know what happened to it after the house was cleared out, sold and demolished by the local developer.

Unlike the chrome-trimmed tables of the 1960s which have become retro collectables, the first Laminex furniture was practical rather than stylish. They were launched as “Plastic-top tables” back in the days when “plastic” was seen as the essence of modernity rather than a dirty word. The advertisement in The Argus on 15 March 1947 read: “Excitingly new and beautiful in a range of glorious colours…stain-proof…heat and wear resistant…easy to clean. Ask your furniture store about Laminex “Plastic-Top Tables.”

The Laminex company was founded in 1934 and initially operated from a small factory in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton, producing laminated products for industrial use. After World War II, the founder, Robert Sykes, began to explore other markets, travelling to the USA where Formica was becoming popular in kitchens and bathrooms. Soon he was advertising locally-made Laminex for kitchens and bathrooms in Australia.

By 1952, the company was doing well enough to move to a larger factory in Cheltenham, where a large laminate press allowed them to produce a wider range of designs. The popularity of the product prompted at least one newspaper to answer the question: “What is Laminex?”

Laminex sheets are impregnated with the highest grade synthetic resins, specially developed for a practical surfacing material cured in specialised hydraulic presses under high pressures and temperatures to produce hard, uniform and durable laminated panels. Laminex is supplied in sheets 8ft. x 4ft. and is 1/16th inch thick…

The product came in an alarmingly vast variety of colours and patterns, including wood grains, faux marbles, linen-look, basket weaves and even metallic threads.  In the mid-1950s, they released their ” Corroboree” range in “ten attractive colours”, along with a blurb reading: “The Stone Age is now long past – this is the Plastics Age. Today the world is plastics minded, because scientifically created materials, such as Laminex, offer a combination of properties not offered by other materials.”

Our fascination with plastic-topped furniture paired with vinyl-covered chairs cooled somewhat during the Mission Brown era of the 1970s and the timber cabinet, cork flooring era of the 1980s. But Laminex has continued to move with the times. In the 1990s, the company bought the New Zealand operation of Formica and today has a range of brands covering engineered stone, modern laminates, acrylic surfaces and timber panelling products.

Robert Sykes sold the company in 1958. It remained Australian through a roundabout of ownership changes until, in 1998, it was sold to a European-owned investment group. It is now owned by the New Zealand-based Fletcher Building Limited but its products are still manufactured in Australia with plants in seven locations across four states.

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