The Formica installation at Oxmore Smoke Shop offers an alternative to traditional wood veneer.

With the appearance of rich cherry wood, the latest retail wood surface system from Formica evokes a sense of sophistication and elegance at Oxmore Smoke Shop at Oxmore Mall in Louisville, Ky. In designing the store, Louisville-based Meta Associates used Formica Linga wood surfacing for the shop's shelves, walls and counters. The result resembles solid wood and wood paneling rather than a thin wood laminate mounted on a phenolic backing. According to Ruth Balasky, specifications representative for Cincinnati-based Formica Corp., Linga has numerous advantages not only over other laminates and veneers available on the market but also over solid wood panels.

Among them, she points out, the Formica product uses a genuine wood veneer rather than a synthetic look-alike. In addition, she continues, most veneer is thin and requires extensive installation, whereas Linga sheets can be applied easily and accurately. Formica also offers a full line of repair products specific to every item in the line, including burn-in sticks and a Mohawk marker system with precisely matching colors.

The product also is derived from a readily replenishable source, according to Balasky. Most Linga products are made from Italian poplar, which, she says, "grows like corn in Italy." The thin poplar sheets are then engineered to take on the look of various wood grains, including the kinds of exotic species often used in high-end retail settings.

The paneling used in the Oxmore Smoke Shop, for example, is designed to imitate cherry, an expensive and increasingly difficult to obtain natural wood. "We're not depleting forests for rare woods [with this type of installation]," she emphasizes.

Balasky notes that Formica also has both environmental and economic benefits. "The staining is already built in, which saves a contractor a lot of problems regarding EPA regulations," she says. "There are no potentially dangerous fumes to worry about, so you don't need special equipment and outfits to work with it."

In addition to natural wood, Linga is available in painted wood surfaces. Lazarus department store in Cincinnati selected turquoise sheets and panels for its children's department. "There is a wide range of finishes available, and we expect to introduce others over time," Balasky reports.

John McCloud is a contributing editor to Shopping Center World and INStore.