Kitchen Benchtop Lowdown

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One of the big decisions when planning a new kitchen is obviously what material to use for the benchtop. I’m looking at this now, because I’m keen to get a quote from the kitchen manufacturer that I’d like to use, and get some sort of time frame in place for manufacture/installation. I’m fairly happy with the plans I’ve drawn, but I need to know which bench top material to be quoted on.

I’ve always had either laminate or timber, and in my current kitchen the timber is so old and worn that I am really looking forward to a complete change.  Our house is rustic; there is a lot of wood and although the tongue and groove ceilings are now white, the floor in the kitchen will remain in natural Douglas Fir.  I am after a white, hygienic, low maintenance and relatively cost-effective surface.  A modern, contemporary kitchen will contrast nicely with the rustic structure of our home.

So here’s the pros and cons on the main options:

High Pressure Laminate

  • the most cost effective option
  • great colour range, including bold colours if that’s your thing!
  • suppliers such as Laminex now create really good representations of marble, granite, stone etc
  • various edge profiles are available (square, rounded etc)
  • typically the bench top arrives at the same time as the cabinets (unlike most other options where there can be a 1-2 week delay)

Stainless Steel

  • used to be more reasonably priced than stone, but has recently become comparable in price
  • various finishes available (smooth and textured, shiny and matt)
  • heat resistant
  • scratches easily (looks worse initially but once there is an even spread of scratches over the first year, it’s less noticeable!)
  • highly reflective – not great in strong sunlight
  • not so suitable/more expensive when welded joins are needed

Timber

  • timeless
  • different finishes/colours possible depending on timber used
  • warm and natural look; especially useful in kitchens with a tiled or concrete floor (softens the hard surfaces)
  • can be an expensive option
  • the surface is more easily dinged/knocked than other materials

Granite

  • good resistance to heat and impact
  • great colour selection
  • price varies considerably depending on colour chosen (depends on the cost of the quarrying this raw material and which country it is sourced from)
  • 30mm thickness, and some colours available in 20mm
  • very hard surface (so glassware will break easily)
  • variation occurs in the colour and pattern along the slab (being a natural product), and differences might be noticeable between different shipments of the same product.
  • Regular re-sealing of the granite is required to prevent staining, especially in light coloured stones.

Marble

  • beautiful and timeless look – always considered luxurious
  • difficult to match the depth and character of marble with any other product
  • used to be very expensive but the price has become more affordable
  • can be used for kitchen bench tops but must be regularly sealed
  • spills must be wiped immediately but it is still likely to “acid etch” when exposed to acidic foods (such as tomatoes and lemons), and oil and red wine spills can leave stains (even when the surface has been sealed)
  • quite soft so is likely to scratch

Engineered Stone (or Composite Stone)

  • made up of approximately 90% crushed quartz stone bound together with a polymer resin
  • other materials like glass, shells, metals and mirrors are added to some for aesthetic reasons
  • very resiliant and non-porous (therefore hygienic), good temperature resistance (but not quite as resistant to heat as granite)
  • great colour and pattern selection (and several brands to choose from)
  • uniform look can be seen as an advantage or disadvantage depending on personal preference
  • 20mm and 30mm thickness is typical, but they can be built up to be thicker
  • slab sizes of up to 3200 x 1600mm available (depending on supplier)

Acrylic

  • biggest advantage is that joins are not visible, especially beneficial when taking the benchtop around corners or when an extra long top is wanted.  (Can even be curved for a unique look).
  • good range of colours and patterns
  • non porous, so easily cleaned and hygienic
  • generally a higher price than engineered stone and granite but this can vary depending on supplier
  • scratches relatively easily but these can be buffed out
  • only moderately heat resistant but can be repaired if damage occurs
  • sheet sizes of 3680 x 760
  • 12mm thick (ideal when a thin top is wanted), but thicker tops can be easily created

Concrete

  • great for the industrial look
  • price varies considerably
  • reasonably heat resistance
  • needs resealing to prevent staining
  • chips easily and will break glassware!

Ply

  • While I have seen pictures online with bench tops that appear to be ply, I’ve struggled to find good information on the practical nature of this.  However a laminate top with Hoop Pine ply edge will create the look with the knowledge that this will peform as a standard laminate.

I’ve tried to research which surfaces have the best ‘Green’ credentials, but I think it comes down to looking at the websites of individual suppliers to see the ratings they’ve had applied to their products.  Some promote their stand on this issue more than others.

I’m about to embark on a sample collecting process to narrow down the options, but am focusing on either Engineered Stone or Acrylic.  Tune in next week for the decision!

Author: The Coastal Creative

Living close to the beach encourages a relaxed way of living and this influences my work as an interior designer. I am drawn to the eclectic, faded colours, rustic timber, the imperfection of things hand made, and objects that tell a story.

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