How To Buy Kitchen Worktops

When it comes to designing your kitchen, choosing a worktop is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Not only does it have to look good, it has to endure heavy use. So before you buy, consider whether you’d be prepared to put in some effort to maintain its look, or would rather have something more durable. Then think about aesthetics.
‘Your choice largely depends on the style of your kitchen,’ says Lizzie Beesley, conceptual designer at Second Nature Kitchens. ‘If you want to create impact with your units, you may want a toned-down work surface, but if you have neutral doors, the worktop material can make a real statement.’
Work surfaces such as stone and stainless steel need to be templated by the manufacturer to fit your kitchen exactly, with cut-outs for the sink and hob, and this will affect your budget.
But it may well be worth it. ‘The right choice is a good investment and can turn a modest kitchen into something special,’ says Annette White of Chiltern Marble. So which surface is right for you? Read on to find out.
‘The polarisation in the thickness of worktops is still a major direction – there’s no middle ground, worktops need to be either deep or shallow,’ says Anjum Ahmed, product and marketing director at Magnet. ‘The slim worktop sector is dominated by glass and compact laminate, while thicker worktops tend to appear in oaks and dark timber or specialist materials.’
There is a huge trend for mixing materials,’ says Max de Winter, project designer at Poggenpohl. ‘It’s not unusual to find two, three or even four different surfaces in one kitchen. As kitchen and living areas are now more integrated, one material throughout the space would feel too overpowering. Instead, use a warm wood on a breakfast bar for example, stainless steel in a prep area and coloured glass as a highlight.’
Edging, be it glass, timber or coloured acrylic, is a top trend. ‘For a very modern look, style up a standard laminate with a contrasting edge in wood or stainless steel,’ suggests Jude Keenan, kitchen planner at John Lewis. ‘This is possible on both square and curved-edge tops.’
‘A big trend at the moment is a 50mm worktop with a 30 degree bevelled edge,’ says Boffi’s Steven Salt. ‘This can be in any material, and the tapered edge means the surface appears to be floating above the units, giving the ultimate minimalist look.’
The profile (ie the edge) of the work surface can also make a difference to the overall feel. The rounded edges of the Eighties and Nineties are a thing of the past, and the latest surfaces have a completely square edge, a pencil round (where the edge is just slightly rounded) or a chamfer where just a tiny bit of the corner is shaved off.
Modern laminate worktops are a world away from the Nineties surfaces that tried (and more often than not failed) to imitate their natural counterparts.
‘Laminates have moved on so much, even in the last three years,’ says Simon Wilde, head of marketing at Formica. ‘New textures, finishes and printing techniques have given them added dimension and depth.’
Choose from hundreds of colours and finishes, including realistic wood grains, polished and matt stones, sparkling faux granites, concrete, high-shine surfaces and bright, solid colours. Laminate is now also available in thicknesses of up to 60mm.
PROS: Low maintenance and low cost. Laminate is one of the cheapest ways to get the look on a budget, and can be a fraction of the price of the real McCoy. If you’re handy with your power tools, you can cut and fit it yourself.
CONS: Some laminates can get scorched and scratched if not cared for properly, and laminate surfaces can have conspicuous seams. They’re non-repairable if damaged.
Hardwood worktops such as oak, cherry, maple, walnut, teak and mahogany are the best way to bring a warm, rich quality to a kitchen.
‘Costs vary depending on the wood you choose,’ says Lizzie Beesley. ‘A simple oak surface will cost a lot less than exotic, on-trend zebrano, wenge or walnut.’
Finger-staved wood tops, where little planks are glued together, are a less pricey way to get the look. Remember to buy from a sustainable source.
‘We’re even using wood reclaimed from mountain chalets,’ says Steven Salt, showroom manager at Boffi. ‘These surfaces have a chunky, rustic look, which provides an amazing contrast in an otherwise clean-lined, modern kitchen.’
Wipe wood after food prep, mop up any spills straight away to prevent staining and avoid abrasive cleaning products.
PROS: With inherent natural antibacterial properties, wood is a hygienic option. Relatively simple to install and repair, it can be sanded down to remove blemishes. It can also be an inexpensive choice, depending on which wood you go for.
CONS: Timber takes some effort to keep it in good condition and needs oiling several times over the first week, and then once or twice a year. ‘We recommend a hard wax oil to provide added protection against water damage and help maintain the wood,’ says Peter Keane, MD of The Natural Wood Flooring Company. Less hard-wearing than some materials, wood can get scorched, scratched and stained. It can also warp if it’s not fitted correctly, and it doesn’t take well to prolonged exposure to water.
Strong, natural and cool, granite is the most popular stone used for work surfaces, and can suit traditional or ultra-modern schemes.
‘Granite differs in colour, texture and crystalline structure, producing a range of colours and patterns,’ says Annette White. ‘Black is always popular, but other colours include greens, blues and browns.’
A polished surface is timeless, but try a honed finish for a modern alternative.
‘Or combine a rough surface with a smooth edge, or vice versa,’ suggests Lizzie Beesley.
Granite is porous so must be sealed, which should be repeated annually. Costs vary hugely depending on the rarity of the stone.
Other stones such as limestone and marble also make beautiful work surfaces. Marble can add a real wow factor, but it’s much more delicate than granite and can be damaged by alcohol, sugar and acids such as lemon juice. It’s prone to staining and scratching so requires a lot of TLC.
PROS: Stone gives a real quality feel to a kitchen. Granite is virtually indestructible, and heat, mould and mildew resistant.
CONS: If it does get damaged, stone is non-repairable. It takes skill to fit, and you’ll need quality carcasses to support the heavy slabs.
Engineered or composite stone, such as Zodiaq and Silestone, is made from a high percentage of crushed quartz mixed with resin, and is even tougher than the real thing. Stain, chip and heat resistant, it comes in a vast range of colours and textures.
PROS: Colour is consistent, so it’s easier to match than natural stone, and it requires no extra treatments so is low maintenance.
CONS: Doesn’t have the unique qualities found in natural materials. It comes in large sheets and needs professional fitting.
Contrary to popular belief, not all composites are alike, although there is a tendency to group man-made solid materials together under the same term. This can be misleading, as their properties can vary considerably, depending on the materials they’re made from (for example, whether they contain acrylic resin or polyester, or have a high quartz content).
The most well-known composite, Corian, is the second most-popular type of work surface after stone, with more than 70 colours available, including modern brights and heavy-grained hues. Ice white is an enduring bestseller.
PROS: Composites can be fabricated into virtually any shape or design, and they can be joined together in a way that forms invisible seams, creating a smooth, sleek overall look. Sinks, hobs and other features such as upstands can be integrated and moulded into what appears to be a single piece. Composites are hygienic and easy to clean, and while they can get stained and scratched, you can polish out blemishes as you might T Cut a car, maintaining their appearance for many years.
CONS: It’s essential that a professional takes an accurate template, so you can’t save money by installing it yourself.
Stainless steel is great for a high-tech look. Normally used in professional kitchens, worktops of virtually any shape and size can be produced as a single unit, and sinks, splashbacks and upstands can be integrated to provide a sleek surface. Choose from a polished or brushed-satin finish.
PROS: Very tough and robust, with excellent heat and stain resistance. Stainless steel is hygienic, impervious to stains and the only surface you can use bleach on.
CONS: It can be cold and noisy, and shows scratches and grease marks, although after a while scratches will join together, creating an attractive patina.
Best suited to modern kitchens, glass can be lit from below, and its reflective surface helps boost the feeling of space.
PROS: Great for use as a focal point. Very hygienic and water resistant.
CONS: It gets scratched and chips easily, joins are highly visible, and it’s expensive.
Hardwearing concrete is seamless and can be formed in any shape to flow around other elements.
‘We can make concrete in colours from antique white through reds to black using natural pigments,’ says Jonathan Reid, director of concrete surface company White & Reid. ‘It also makes a fantastic in/out material, so you can run a top from a kitchen to your outside space.’
PROS: Can be repaired if chipped, and stripped back if it becomes stained.
CONS: It needs care and must be treated with a penetrative sealant. It’s not cheap.

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