What's the best worktop for your new kitchen? It's a great questions, and one we help clients answer all the time. Here's our top inside tips on the best kitchen worktops.......
- Quartz is the best overall worktop if you're looking for a beautiful surface with low maintenance. It marks a little more easily than granite, but there are infinite colours and looks, and it creates a robust, stylish, premium look to your new kitchen.
- If you want a bomb-proof surface that will not mark, scratch or stain, whatever you do, then granite is the way to go.
- Marble and other natural stones require a bit more maintenance, but they are a truly luxurious choice, and create a real talking point in your new kitchen.
- If you're keen on wood, then go for a hardy, robust timber such as Oak, but understand that you'll need to be careful with hot/wet things, and it'll need re-oiling from time to time.
If you're still not sure which way to go, below is a deep-dive round-up of our experience including feedback from clients about what they think of their worktops having lived with them for a few years. We hope it helps.
Natural stone worktops
Granite is a one of the hardest natural stones and can take a lot of punishment. You can land hot pans on it and you won’t need to worry about scratching it with knives or staining it with red wine etc.… Some manufacturers do warn that it is not indestructible and you can scratch, stain and damage granite, but anecdotally we don't know a single example of damage. This is one of the most robust and practical worktop materials; a good choice if you know you’re going to use your new kitchen to the max. A word of warning - one of our client mentioned that they found their granite worktop particularly unforgiving if they accidentally dropped ceramics or glasses on it. Another pointed out the advantage of having a worktop with a good speckle running through it because it didn’t show up the odd finger mark.
There are many granite varieties to choose from, ranging from white and grey, to cream, blush pink, coffee and red, to dark brown and black. Our favorite is Bethel White Granite quarried in Vermont.
Slate is a traditional worktop material to the UK with some of the best slate worldwide coming from quarries in Wales and Cumbria. It is non-porous (that’s why they use it for roofs) and is heat resistant. Particularly classic is the greener slate from the Lake District, that was used in Arts and Crafts houses for flooring and countertops. We love to keep local traditions alive and feel that slate is highly under-rated; order a sample from Berwyn Quarry in North Wales and you will see what we mean. Some clients report that slate is easy to scratch (one made a small chip by dropping a cast iron pan in their worktop). However, this is choice that suits a lived-in aesthetic, build up enough scratches and you develop a beautiful patina that you can’t buy, no matter what your budget is. Slate’s dark colour will work well with some designs and less well with others. Near a big north-facing window works best.
Marble is the definitive luxury stone - extraordinarily beautiful, with a price tag to match. Powdery white with grey streaks or patterns is what springs to mind but, in fact, it is also quarried in cream, red, black, coffee – even a green one from Sweden! It goes without saying marble is stained easily with spices, red wine, berries, tomato sauce etc.… even if it is sealed. When you see antique marble counters, they are invariably mottled and stained in the areas of most use. This is why the worktop market has developed a plethora of products that look like marble but perform much better in terms of heat, scratch and stain resistance (see Quartz worktops, Corian/acrylic and Sintered stone below).
A final note on choosing natural stone worktops - stone is a natural product and there can be wide variation of stone even within one quarry and each slab will be different from the next. It is important that you go to a stone yard and pick out a slab if you are looking at granite.
Composite stone worktops
Quartz worktops are a solid surface made from about 90% crushed or powdered quartz (a natural stone) mixed with 10% resin (it can be epoxy or polyester resin, both by-products of the petroleum industry). Each worktop slab is made to a recipe where pigments and small amounts of other stones are spread into the surface to give marbled or rippled stone effects which are remarkably similar to real stone. The slab is then pressed and allowed to cure.
The best known quartz worktop brands are Silestone, Caesar stone, and CNL, but there are dozens of brands to choose from. Some brands are considered more premium than others, and although the colour options will obviously vary, there’s practically no difference in the quality or durability of the base material. One advantage of composite stone is that pattern and variation are more consistent within each slab and between slabs, so the sample in your hand will closely match the finished worktop without having to pick out particular slabs in the stone yard.
On the point of stain resistance and durability, users report that these worktops are not totally stain proof, and strong staining agents, if allowed to settle in overnight, can leave marks. However, a good method for removing such set-in stains is to rub in a baking soda/water mix and this will lift most marks. Something we notice in installation is how much easier it is to drill tap holes than in Granite – a good indication that it is easier to scratch these surfaces and that they shouldn’t be used for cutting on.
Corian is made from acrylic polymer and a mineral derived from aluminum ore. Each Corian worksurface is made to order in the exact shape and size needed and so the back splash and sink can be cast in to create one seamless surface with no sealant joints. This inherent cleanliness is one of its major selling points.
A drawback with Corian is that, with the integral sinks, you are limited to a small range of colours (basically white). Corian is also easily scratched. Manufacturers advise it is not heat proof, so you shouldn’t land hot pans on it. Clients have reported to us that it is possible to stain Corian but cleaners supplied with the worktop easily lift stains. Something we like about the acrylic based surfaces is that they are ever so slightly translucent; you can see little particles suspended within the body of the worktop. The effect is a lot like the powdery marbles used for sculpture (sculptors call this ‘sub-surface scattering).
A recent contribution to the quest for a worktop that looks like marble, but that functions like granite, is Sintered Stone. This is a blend of crushed Quartz, porcelain and glass that is fused together in the same way as metamorphic rock, under extreme pressure and heat, forming a true artificial stone. The product was invented by Cosentino around 7 years ago and so is relatively new. The manufacturers say it is unaffected by heat or cold, is stainproof, is very hard to chip, scratch or damage, and is non-porous so doesn’t need sealing and easy to clean.
An interesting feature is the possibility of using ultra thin worktops: Dekton (a brand of sintered stone, is produced in 4, 8, 12, 20 and 30mm slabs (though 20mm slabs are recommended for kitchens). Lastly, some of these work surfaces are created with a texture and matt finish, simulating the feel and appearance of real stone while achieving super stain, scratch and heat resistance.
Wood, stainless steel and concrete worktops
Concrete - although the base material of concrete is inexpensive and ubiquitous, concrete worktops are premium products because of the hand-crafted making process that goes into doing them properly. Concrete worktops can be pre-cast but as they are extremely heavy, the work surfaces in a large kitchen would have many joints done this way. A more seamless way is to cast the worktop in situ in your home. We use a concrete worktop specialist for this job, as it’s really specialist. They build a mould over the cabinetry, fill it with concrete and hand-trowel it for many hours to a burnished finish and then seal and wax the surface.
Many people ask, is this a DIY job? The answer is NO. A lot of factors affect the finish quality of the concrete during its pour and curing and it takes experience to avoid cracking, achieve uniformity over the whole worktop, avoid air bubbles, and judge how quickly the concrete will cure in the environmental conditions present during the installation. Polished concrete is heat resistant but it is a porous material and needs to be very well sealed to stop stains particularly red wine, oil, coffee and beer. Re-sealing every few years is advised.
The worktops tend to be chunky at about 60mm thick and are heavy, though this weight is no problem for our cabinetry. The colour can also be manipulated by use of white or black pigment and the colour of sand and aggregates used (generally this will give a range of grey tones, white, and warm, sandy greys). The surface can be ground down to reveal the aggregate, which is called Terrazzo.
Done well, stainless steel worktops are sleek, clean and minimal. They lend themselves to large, simple shapes and straight runs. Too many fiddly backsplashes or corners and they start to look like a commercial restaurant kitchen. They are very hygienic and easy to keep clean. They develop a patina of micro scratches with use that combine to give the surface a warm, ‘stroked’ appearance. They are made to order by pressing sheet metal around a timber backing board. Sinks can be pressed and welded in, and any joins can be polished out to create one seamless working surface.
Wood worktops can be made from durable hardwoods such as Oak and walnut and various and recycled tropical hardwoods such as Iroko. These hardwoods are beautiful and bring a natural warmth and timeless quality to a room that the stone and composites can’t match. However, all timbers react to moisture and this matters when they are used in environments where they can get wet and aren’t protected properly.
Protecting timber starts with the design; it needs to be designed so that the end grain is physically away from sources of water and should be primed and oiled (not varnished) before installation on all faces to give it moisture resistance. Careful treatment in use is important e.g. wiping up spills quickly and not landing hot pans on it. Every 6-12 months or so, it is a good idea to re-oil a timber worktop and this can be a good opportunity to sand or steam out small scratches and stains. When clients have their heart set on a hardwood worktop, we tend to combine it with another worktop type and use it for built-in chopping boards, or pieces of integrated furniture that are part of the kitchen, but away from wet areas.
We hope this guide has been a useful source of information, and has helped to demystify worktops and kitchen surface choices. If you have a question about worktops, or would like to speak to us about a project or new kitchen, please get in touch. You can email us on the form below, or call the workshop on 0151 709 0970.
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