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Plastic laminate is the chameleon of the building world, able to give the most mundane surface the look of polished granite, exotic hardwood, vibrant enamel paint, or patterned wall-paper. And though not much thicker than a credit card, laminate is as tough as rhino skin and virtually impervious to water, staining, scratching, fading, or cracking.

Laminate, made of thin sheets of heat-fused paper topped with melamine plastic, gained widespread popularity after World War II, popping up everywhere: in kitchens, bathrooms, restaurants, and high-end furniture. Embraced by famed architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, this modern material—sleek, economical, low-maintenance—captured the very essence of the modern lifestyle of the 1950s and '60s. Laminate is now enjoying a renaissance of sorts as a new generation rediscovers its practical virtues and fun looks. Laminate has been improved over the years with sharper, more realistic images; new textures; greater scratch resistance; and more color choices than ever.