The HUX Report Vol 6: Kitchen Planning: How To Choose The Perfect Worktop
Wood or concrete? Natural or engineered stone? Stainless steel or marble? The worktop you choose will have a huge impact on both the look and functionality of your kitchen. So, before you buy, ask yourself some key questions. What look do you want to achieve? Are you keen on a smooth, sleek finish, or is an aged patina more your style? Do you have a big, busy family, or lots of dinner parties, or are you preparing meals for one or two? This will have an impact on how extensive and how robust your worktop needs to be.
Check out this guide to the top key types of work surface to help you decide.
Nothing says sophistication and old school glamour like marble. Nature’s softest, most tactile stone. Whatever the pros and cons, marble has the wow factor and, there is nothing like its unique beauty. It is delicate, with more of an open grain than granite, and as such it can work best as a section of a worktop in a different material, both to introduce a little of its luxury and as an aid to food preparation. Marble is a cold surface, so it’s very useful in cooking and baking.
Pros: The undeniable wow factor. It comes in a huge range of patterns and colours and each piece is unique.
Cons: It’s delicate – watch out with red wine or citrus juice. It’s easily scratched and unrepairable. Not heat resistant – unlike Granite & Quartzite.
A naturally occurring stone almost completely composed of Quartz. Trace elements of other minerals are what form the colour and pattern variations. Not to be confused with composite (engineered) quartz.
Pros: Unique natural patterns, known for its natural swirls, with a very similar look to marble but non-stain so more practical. Great range of neutral on-trend colours with many greys and whites to choose from. Even more durable than granite.
Cons: Needs to be sealed, though only every couple of years. Not many types of stone available in darker colours.
Granite is the most popular stone for worktops and gives a quality feel to kitchens. The vast range of shades and patterns available means each surface feels unique, and there are choices perfect for modern and traditional kitchens alike. If a bit of sparkle and shine pleases your eye, granite is a good choice. Both polished and honed surfaces are available – or a polished top with a honed edge, for instance.
Pros: It’s very tough, and resistant to heat and mould. It’s often cheaper than engineered stone and composites.
Cons: It’s porous, so needs to be sealed – ideally every six months. It’s heavy, so needs to be sitting on good cabinets. If it’s damaged, it can’t be repaired.
This engineered stone, this is a manmade product made from 96% crushed quartz mixed with resin. Best known manufacturers are Caesarstone and Silestone.
Pros: Available in around 100 colours and a huge range of finishes. Up to five times harder than Granite and non-porous. Low maintenance. Stain- & Chip-resistant. Colour more even and consistent than granite, so it’s good for long stretches of worktop.
Cons: As there’s a small amount of resin in there, it’s best not to put hot pans on it. If it does burn or is damaged in any way, it’s unrepairable.
A new super-durable surface, which is also eco-friendly and resin free. Also known as ultracompact surfaces, the two main brand names her are Neolith & Dekton, made by Cosentino, they ramp up the heat and pressure to even more extreme levels to compress natural oxides and in a super-heated fusion of ceramic and porcelain to create an extremely durable stone.
Pros: Amazingly durable, non-porous, scratch, impact resistant & impervious to heat. Available in large format pieces. Neolith has an aesthetic range of colours & finishes including great marble replicas. Dekton come in a sophisticated range of neutral, earthy & metallic finishes
Cons: Overhangs like kitchen islands/bar tops are limited to 150mm. Limited number of fabricators as difficult to work with during installation. Polished finish more prone to scratching. More expensive than natural stone and composite quartz
Corian Solid Surfaces
Corian still has a major role to play as its 3d mouldability still lends itself incredibly well to some schemes. Manmade, generally from a mix of quartz and resin, it offer a smooth, durable surface in a huge range of colours. This composite has a soft, satin look and comes in a massive range of colours and, thanks to different-coloured glues, the seams are virtually invisible, so it’s great for long worktops, or L or U shapes. If you scratch it, something like Vim will polish it up again, so it’s pretty easy to maintain.
Pros: Extremely robust, hygienic and easy-care. It can be formed into any shape, including sinks and upstands. The colour runs all the way through, so it’s possible to carve out draining boards.
Cons: Some of the darker colours are not recommended for kitchens as scratches show up too much. The area around a sink can discolour or crack over time. It can’t take hot pans, although round bars can be set into the surface to act as a trivet.
With everything from oak and maple to walnut and iroko bringing warmth and texture into kitchens, natural timber is justifiably popular. While in theory marks can be sanded out, it’s better not to, unless it’s brand new, as sanding patches down to fresh wood will make it look like a Dalmatian. If it’s really marked, it’s better to use a cabinet scraper to refresh the whole surface. Finger-stave surfaces, where little planks are glued together, are a cost-effective way to have wood.
Pros: Timber is naturally antibacterial, relatively simple to install and easy to repair. If you’re willing to oil it frequently, it can be robust and beautiful.
Cons: Wood surfaces are fairly easily scorched, scratched and stained, and are not great with water. They are not considered to be very durable and will needs oiling a couple of times a year with a teak or teak-like oil applied in a very thin layer.
Concrete has the most industrial aesthetic of all the worktop materials and are becoming very popular. There’s a surprisingly large range of colours available beyond classic grey, and it can be shaped to run around pillars or form sinks. However, it isn’t robust, and it isn’t seamless, as expansion joints need to be incorporated so the main reason for choosing concrete is aesthetic.
Pros: Nothing quite beats it for adding an edge to a ‘safe’ scheme. It can be formed into any shape and can be repaired or stripped back to remove stains. It gets tougher as it ages and makes a great in/out material if you want your worktop to continue out onto a patio.
Cons: If you opt for a concrete worktop, your kitchen will be out of action for a while. Concrete worktops tend to be poured in situ (although simple shapes can be made off-site), and it takes a couple of weeks for it to be ready to use. It stains easily and needs to be treated with a penetrative sealant every six to eight months.
Stainless steel has becoming increasingly popular recently, thanks to a surge in cooking and the industrial interiors trend. Stainless steel is so robust but it’s not indestructible. It does wear, it does scratch and become patinated, but it often looks even better for it.
Pros: It has a modern look, is very robust, and very clean, it won’t stain. It can be formed into any shape and size of worktop, with integrated sinks and splashbacks.
Cons: It’s a lot of work to keep it clean, as it shows grease and finger marks, and it scratches fairly readily, although light marks can be burnished out. It can dent, although the substrate (often plywood) tends to limit this.
Copper is a beautiful choice, warming up a slick space or giving a traditional scheme a cool edge. Copper worktops have mostly been used in restaurants in the UK, but they’re starting to appear in homes too. Copper has the warmth of wood, but without the ring marks and you can put hot pans directly on it. Water will cause it to oxidise, but this can be wiped off with a damp cloth. It’s a living material, so it will naturally react to substances and develop a patina.
Pros: It’s naturally antibacterial and easy to clean. All it needs is a wipe with soapy water and a buff with baby oil to make it glisten. Lemon juice will give it a super clean, but it can wear away the antibacterial properties over time. It’s possible to have huge runs of up to 20m without a join.
Cons: If it’s the pale, penny-bright copper finish you’re attracted to, that would be hard to maintain. The metal is soft, so it can get dented, though the plywood substrate tends to limit this. It’s currently not available in the UK in sheets deeper than 95cm, so it won’t work for seamless islands.
Take your time when choosing the best kitchen worktop for your home, as it can be an investment that not only reinvigorates a tired kitchen, but it can increase the value of your home as well. As you can see, each type of worktop has its pros and cons, so make sure you know exactly what worktop fits your requirements and lifestyle before you make a purchase. The kitchen is the heart of the home; therefore, it’s got to be right.