Compared to just a decade ago, the range of materials available for kitchen worktops has improved significantly. Technology has changed and man-made materials have improved greatly in both quality and appearance.
When choosing a worktop, some qualities to consider are water-resitance, heat-resistance and how the material ages. The manufacturer will usually offer a guarantee so be sure to check before making a purchase.
The current trend for islands and open plan living makes it even more important to choose the right worktop as it will be more visible than in a closed-off kitchen. In fact, the kitchen island is often the most social place of the home these days and deserves careful design consideration.
A hardwood tabletop adds plenty of character and comes in a variety of shades and patterns. If you like things that age with interest then this is your go to worktop material. Hardwood is also relatively affordable compared to some natural stones.
If you're looking for a low maintenance option, choose one that has a high oil content and is therefore naturally water resistant, such as Teak or Iroko. Other options include oak, maple, beech, cherry, and my personal favourite, walnut.
You will need to use trivets, as hardwood is not heat resistant. In fact, a hot pan will most likely leave a nasty mark. So will red wine. Wood is also susceptible to scratching, so you do need a separate chopping board. However, accidental scratches and burns can usually be sanded out.
Hardwood is easy to cut into shape on site, and any shapes of cutouts can easily be accommodated.
It does require maintenance, in the form of sealing with oil. Linseed oil is great for this and should be used monthly if not weekly in the first months, and several times a year from then on.
Tip! Use other, more waterproof materials around the sink and add hardwood as an accent piece for a breakfast bar or island.
Stone is a beautiful natural material that will endure years and years of use. It comes in a huge range of options from light to dark to bright colours, polished or matt finishes.
Less hardwearing than granite and marble, limestone is a relatively soft stone and needs to be treated carefully. Its softness, however, means that it can be cut more easily than other stones, making it better for complex shapes. Limestone comes in light to medium shades of grey and beige and is more consistent in patterns than granite and marble.
Stone is weighty which needs to be taken into consideration when designing the units underneath. All stone worktops must be treated with a sealant before use, and some treated regularly. Below is a description of some of the natural stone options.
Granite is incredible durable, heat and moisture resistant. Although it might remind you of the 80's and 90's, there are plenty of contemporary options available. Out of all stone options granite is one of the most low-mainenance; it only needs sealing once every 10 years. As you might have guessed, granite is not cheap, but is an investment as you can expect decades of use. A more wallet friendly option is fixing a thin layer of granite on top of chipboard or plywood.
Design by Mim Design
The correct name for marble is unmetamorphosed limestone. It's possibly the priciest option available, and you can see why. Its natural beauty is timeless. Sadly, marble is easily damaged by scratches and stains as it is very porous. Acid is the worst enemy of marble, so you have to make sure to wipe any lemon or tomato stains immediately.
Design by Minosa Design
Less veiny but lively surface texture. Less colour options dark shades only Very durable, heat resistant. More affordable than marble and granite.
Quality highly depends on price Afforable, v cheap options avalable
Does not scratch easily There are some quality ones that are heat and scratch resistant. Easy to cut Cheap ones can peel, stain and even melt under heat
Made by mixing natural stones and resins under high pressure, composite worktops are non porous, resiliant and affordable.
They come in pretty much any colour or design, many of which impersonates natural stone, for better or for worse.
There are many different qualities available, so make sure to compare options before making a decision. Composites come in a consistent, uniform finish and don't have the unique qualities of natural stone.
Quartz is a hard wearing easy-maintanance material that is highly resistant to chipping and scratching. It's very heavy, and still relatively expensive although not a natural stone. Perhaps the best known quartz tabletops are Cesarstone and Silestone, both of which have some beautiful options.
Laminam offers beautiful designs in extra large sizes, meaning that you can avoid seams, and perhaps continue the worktop material as a solid piece backsplash.
Resistant to bacteria, solid acrylic surfaces are popular in commercial projects because of the ease of cleaning. There are decent looking options these days such as Corian, Minerva, but beware of the fake stone look.
Solid worktops are easy to cut and seamless. They can be moulded and bent, and come in any colour. A very low maintenance material that you can also make your sink in!
If you go for a corian don't choose one of those fake marble ones or a swirly one. Just go for the solid white, black or grey.
A new option in the worktop market, glass has a very high resistance to stains, heat and water. It's fully non porous and any scratches can be polished out. Specialist cutting is required in a factory prior to installing.
Design by Leicht kitchens
As glass is highly reflective it's a great way to lighten up small spaces. It does need regular cleaning and perhaps a glass cleaning product, as finger marks are very visible. Since glass worktops would usually be backpainted, you can choose any colour of the rainbow.
Mainly known for their use in commercial kitchens, stainless steel does work in a residential kitchen as well if you're going for a more industrial look. It's fully waterproof, heat and acid resistant but does show scratches and finger marks. Because of steels anti-bacterial qualities it's easy to clean and hygienic.
A contemporary options, concrete has a beautiful, lively surface and can be mixed with pigments to achieve a more colourful look. If durable is what you're after, concrete is a very good option. It is porous though and therefore requires sealing. Concrete can also stain so regular cleaning is required. There are different finish options from matt to polished.
Other worktop materials
100% mineral. No resins. A sintered stone surface. = compacted V large slab sizes available. Physical properties of porcelain, comes in finishes similar to natural stone.
Like granite but non porous. Easy to clean, resistant to bacteria
Highly durable, heat and uv resistant. Also resistant to acids unlike stones.
Even resistant to graffiti, hence its use as exterior cladding.
Great for bathrooms too, resistant to mould
- porcelain product
KITCHEN WORKTOP NO-NO'S
For a contemporary look, don't go for bullnose edge. Also, chopping off corners for that 45-degree angle is very passe.
Personally, I dislike continuing the surface as an upstand. It looks so utilitarian. Instead, tile the backsplash or why not the entire kitchen wall, or use a large scale worktop surface as the backsplash such as glass, large format tile or natural stone.
Do not under any circumstance use tile as a surface. It's clumsy, unhygienic and plain looks wrong. A terrible, terrible 80's era we need to forget.
A post on backsplashes to follow!