They’re the icing on top of your new kitchen cake so they’ve got to be hardworking, durable and good-looking to boot.
While the durability of modern worktops should be a given, colours and materials are as much influenced by fashions and interior trends as cabinetry. A few years ago, deep black Nero Assoluto granite topped many kitchens but more recently, the natural tones and variable patterns of stone have been joined by a variety of materials that are just as hard wearing. Sleek, modern composites with their consistency and colour options, hi-pressure laminates with realistic faux patterns, professional-style stainless steel and even concrete are all popular, suiting a variety of kitchens styles and budgets.
Fashions aside, it’s wise to set aside a good portion of your budget for your worktops – along with the floor they are likely to get the most wear and tear and you don’t want to have to replace them too soon.
Composites or engineered stone, such as SileStone and Caesarstone are a mix of quartz and resin – the actual amounts depend of the manufacturer. It is scratch, stain and heat resistant and doesn’t require extra sealants as it has low porosity. Its consistent composition makes it suitable for modern kitchen schemes where natural variations in colour and tone are not suitable. As well as plain hi-gloss colours, matt finishes, textures and patterns are also available.
For solid surface materials such as Corian and LG, their higher acrylic content means they can be thermoformed into almost any shape and sinks can also be seamlessly integrated for stylish finish. They’re hygienic and easy to care for and because of their composition, scratches and marks can easily be repaired.
Granite is the most popular and strongest of natural stone choices. Available in many colours and patterns, prices vary considerably with rarer types being the most expensive. The intricate veining of marble or the natural look of limestone can look fantastic but they’re porous, so susceptible to staining and must be treated with a good sealing product to protect them before they are fitted.
A popular choice for classic and more traditional kitchens, there are a variety of timber worktops suitable for using in a kitchen. Beech, oak and ash are currently popular but walnut, iroko and maple are also practical choices as they are particularly hardwearing. Although not the most durable or water-resistant choice, if wood is treated properly and cared for well, it can look good for a long time. Oil regularly and check by dropping water onto the surface; if it sits as a droplet on the wood, it is well sealed. If it is absorbed quickly, stains will be too, so it’s time for another oiling.
Whichever you choose, the most important factor in any worksurface is that it will withstand the rigours of family life. Ease of cleaning is important – after all, a worksurface is usually a large visual area in any kitchen and most of us have lives that are too busy to spend scrubbing food stains off our worktops. Granites and composites are very resistant to staining and can stand pretty high heats – although manufacturers would recommend the use of a trivet rather than putting hot pans directly onto the worktop. If you have children, consider non-porous surfaces such as composites with built-in antibacterial properties.
Mixing and matching is a great visual trick to create zones in a kitchen, it’s also a clever way to make your budget stretch further. Think about placing hardwearing stone or composite beside sinks and hobs, where it will receive most punishment, and use realistic laminates, acrylics or warm woods elsewhere.
A smaller piece of granite or composite in an earthy tone would work well matched with a blonde wood such as beech or ash. If you’re after an industrial aesthetic then stainless steel for prep areas is a good choice but it can appear clinical if used in great swathes so try to limit its spread. Including a breakfast bar of wood, glass or even textured laminate will add interest.
Most worktops will need to be made to measure or templated. The cabinetry will be fitted first and then the worktop dimensions are measured, including working out exactly where all holes for sinks and hobs will be before cutting the stone to size. While you wait, a temporary worktop can be fitted so you can make use of the kitchen while your countertops are made.
Finally, think about those added extras that will make your worktop perform even better. Add draining groves to wood, composites or granite, or try built-in pan supports that will mean you never have to search, hot pan in hand, for a trivet. You could opt to 'wrap' the worktop around the island, or why not add a chopping board slotted into a stone or concrete surface which means there’s no need for a separate one and removes the temptation to chop directly onto your worksurface. Power points that pop up, built-in knife racks and scales are also clever labour-saving options offered by kitchen makers.
Our designers are able to advise you about the most suitable options for your project and our showrooms showcase a variety of granite, timber and composite work surfaces as well as a huge number of samples, so feel free to visit us to browse for inspiration.