Choosing A Kitchen Work Surface

Choosing a worktop for your kitchenThe workhorse of any kitchen, worktops need to be tough and practical to use, as well as stylish. Marble, granite, ceramic, timber… Choosing a kitchen work surface can be tricky.

While cabinetry will be the main style decision you make for your kitchen, never underestimate the impact your worktop choice will have on the overall scheme, so it’s important to give it due consideration and not to view it as an after-thought. Kitchen design is a careful balance between what’s going to look good and what’s going to work well.

Worktops are available at a variety of price points, from cheaper hard woods to expensive granites, and what you choose is usually be driven by how much you have to spend. Cheaper options can be good idea but may not last as long more durable stones or composites.

If budgets are tight, try mixing and matching your worktops. Place panels of more expensive stone in harder working areas such as by the cooker or sink and wood everywhere else. Combining worktops is on trend, too.

Usually stone composites, granite and some woods will need templating by an expert. Every cut-out you have for a hob or sink will cost around £80-100. Drainer grooves cut into stone by the sink will also cost extra.

The depth of worktop you choose can also alter the look of a kitchen. Thinner profiles of 10 or 20mm are still popular but thicker edges, created by adding a strip of the composite or stone to the front of the work surface creating edges of 50mm, are also popular. The standard thickness is 30mm.

 

Quartz

Quartz worktopOne of the most-loved work surface materials of all!  Mostly because one of the available finishes and is similar to marble, so you can have a marble-like look but with much more practicality.

Quartz is a man-made composite, which basically means it’s not natural stone, but instead, a mixture of various materials. Made from about 90% natural quartz crystals mixed with a small percentage of binders. It is referred to as both ‘quartz composite’ and ‘engineered stone’, this material is very tough and engineered to create an incredibly durable, practical surfaces which is perfect for daily kitchen use.

You can choose from a large range of colours, patterns and finishes. Some are designed to mimic natural stone like marble or granite and you can choose between a honed or polished finish as you can with natural stone. As the colour runs through the material, any scratches can be sanded out. In the unlikely event of the composite surface getting scratched, chipped or stained it can often be repaired by a specialist.

Unlike natural stone surfaces such as marble and granite, the quartz surfaces are non-porous, therefore making it resistant to stains. This makes them the most hygienic countertops available on the market as bacteria or mould cannot build up within the stone. It requires minimum maintenance as there is no need to seal the surfaces.

The quartz surface comes in an extra-large format slab, allowing for greater consistency in design over large spaces such as kitchen worktops. But on the down side the seams on engineered stone countertops are sometimes noticeable, similar to granite countertops, but this isn’t a deal breaker for most people.

Finally, quartz is not as resistant to heat as granite, glass or concrete, so caution will have to be used with hot pots and pans in the kitchen. For a contemporary, upscale look with very low maintenance, quartz countertops are definitely worth considering.

Price: From approx £300 per linear metre

 

Hardwood Timber

Wood worktopsA timber work surface in a kitchen is a brilliant way to achieve a country look, but it also adds an undertone of rustic character in a modern or even industrial-style kitchen. 

Oak, maple, beech, cherry and walnut brings warmth to every sort of kitchen. It’s also a naturally hygienic surface and has antibacterial properties. Hardwoods are definitely the way to go with teak and iroko being great options for around sinks due to their high oil content which makes them very water resistant.

There is some upkeep involved to make sure your timber looks its best. Spills must be mopped up instantly and you will need to invest in trivets to avoid scorch marks from hot pans. When first fitted, timber worktops need to be sealed with Danish or linseed oil. Do this every day for the first week, then once a week for the next month, then once a month for the next year to keep it at its best.

Oak work surfaces are higher maintenance. Heavy knocks mean they’re likely to dent, and despite oak being a hardwood, it’ll scratch too. If you spill something on a wooden work surface, there’s more chance of it staining unless you act fast. Even water splashes will leave rings unless mopped up quickly.

On the plus side, burns and scratches can be easily sanded out using fine-grade sandpaper or wire wool. It is also easy to cut, so fitting can be carried out either by your kitchen supplier or by a joiner, in little time and on site too.

Wood is ideal for food preparation and dining areas, for example, islands and breakfast bars,  It’s much warmer leaning on wood than ice cold granite!

Price From approx £150 per linear metre.

 

Marble

Marble worktopsMarble’s a natural, metamorphic rock that’s long been loved and remains in heavy demand for its elegant good looks, but it does have its flaws!

Most of marble’s plus-points come down to its good looks – its veining is what gives it most of its character, whether you choose from pale grey lines to dark and dramatic ones, its backdrop colour is both crisp and calm so brings light to your kitchen.

No two slabs are alike, so you’ll be assured of having a unique worktop for your home. It’s very much on-trend, but at the same time, it’s timeless so you know that, when a new material takes the limelight, marble isn’t something you’re likely to fall out of love with. Marble has been used in kitchens for hundreds of years and sits wonderfully with our English Period Kitchens.

Marble is heat resistant. In the kitchen, it stands up well to hot pots and pans. But its the porous nature of marble that creates a problem. It’s more porous than granite, so it readily absorbs liquids. That means that oil, wine, juice and other spills penetrate deeper into the stone very quickly, and they are hard, if not impossible, to get out

Marble can and should be sealed when installed and again every few years. However, if it is not done properly or often enough, staining is a “not if, but when” proposition.  Also sharp knives can scratch the surface and heavy saucepans may chip the marble or even break off a corner.

If you love the look of marble - and it is beautiful! – Consider installing marble worktops in less used areas and mix with hardwood, or maybe choose a quartz that is designed to look like marble.

Price From approx £150 per metre.

 

Granite

Granite worktopsAnother natural material, granite is a resilient stone work surface that comes in a wide range of colours. It’s an igneous rock that’s forged in fire, which means that it’s one of the few work surfaces that can manage having a hot pan placed directly on it. 

For some, nothing beats the beauty of natural stone, its veining and colouring unique to each slab. It’s a luxury material that never falls out of fashion and suits traditional and modern styles. Choose from a classic polished finish, or a honed matt for a more contemporary look.  It’s not as expensive as some other work surfaces because it’s more readily available.

Granite is hard and resistant to heat and scratches, but it must be treated with respect to prevent damage. The best of all the natural materials, it can withstand high temperatures, is water resistant and impervious to most stains. But granite is a porous stone, wine and citric acids must be cleaned up at once to avoid damaging the stone and will need to be protected by a special sealant every year or so.

Granite is a very tough rock, so it’s hard to damage. But the good news is that, if you do, it’s generally very hard to notice and it’s also easy to repair unlike some work surfaces. One great thing about granite is that it’s very low maintenance. You can clean it using a damp cloth and a mild detergent.

Price From approx £200 per square metre


Glass

Glass worktopsGlass is a recyclable material, which is also one of the main reasons why it has remained so popular. A favourite with interior designers for the light touch it brings to a scheme as well as its reflective sheen that helps boost light levels. Glass countertops come in various styles – back-painted glass, crushed glass, textured glass, or even glass with LED lighting, creating plenty of options.

Glass is a non-porous material that can withstand moisture and spills and splashes are easily wiped clean, making it a beautiful – and practical – solution for the kitchen. You can have your worktop shaped and formed to any size, style, texture, and colour. The options are only limited by your imagination. And, you can even stretch that imagination because glass pairs extremely well with most materials and sits well with contemporary schemes.

Glass for work surfaces is toughened to increase durability. Heat, acid and water resistant. Can be prone to scratches, but these can be polished smooth. Heavy or sharp objects can cause cracks, dents or chips to glass. You need to avoid these at all costs because unlike other materials, glass is extremely expensive to repair.

Acid and acidic substances, for instance, are harmful to glass. Additionally, if you do not clean your glass countertop properly and regularly, water prints will eventually make the glass surface appear dull and unappealing. To maintain you simply use a mixture of soap and water and the work surface will be back to its shiny appearance. Also, since glass is a non-porous material it should not attract any bacteria or mould.

Price From approx £300 per linear metre for a standard 15mm-deep surface.

 

Corian and solid-surface worktops

Corian and solid-surface worktopsCorian is a particular brand and make-up of solid surface, meaning not all solid surfaces are Corian. Made from a blend of acrylic resins, minerals and colourings, solid surfaces are warm to the touch with a natural lustre; they can be totally seamless too with one- piece, moulded sinks and splash-backs. The composition is consistent all the way through or solid, the same inside and out.

Designs are often pioneering and the material can be thermoformed into fabulous, organic curves, slick, cantilevered breakfast bars and seamless wrap-around surfaces on islands, they can be formed into any shape without the need for ugly or unhygienic joints. The material can be engraved, back-lit with LEDs and even fitted with built-in wireless charging for smart phones. One of the main advantages of using Corian worktop is that it is available in vast array of colours.

It is stain resistant. This type of material is non-porous, and due to this, the stains caused during kitchen work do not create any permanent damages. Further, it being non-porous material, it also protects them from a mould, mildew, and bacterial growth.

Solid surfaces are stain and water resistant. They’re also heat-resistant to 250°C, but it’s still best to use a trivet. As it is a solid surface material, like hardwood, scratches can be sanded out and damages caused to Corian countertops can be repaired easily. Make sure to dry your worktop, and do not allow it to be wet for a very long time. It is important because too much water can cause a film to develop on the surface which will give the countertop a very dull look.

Although cleaning and caring are not difficult, there are many people who do not do it correctly. It is most important for people to understand that one must clean the Corian worktop every day with soapy water or an ammonia-based cleaner.

Price From approx £300 per linear m.

 

Stainless-steel worktops

Stainless-steel worktopsDurable, heat resistant, hygienic and impenetrable to water, stainless steel is an alloy of iron. The presence of the chromium makes the steel non-porous and impervious to oxidation and staining. This material is a poor conductor of heat making it resistant to burns from hot pans. Because it is non-porous, it does not hold mould or bacteria it is best used around sinks, by the hob and in food preparation areas.

A restaurant kitchen favourite and great for creating the industrial look in your home. It works best in contemporary schemes, but you can team it with other materials to soften the look.

Although very strong, waterproof, heat and acid resistant. It is prone to scratching, but some say this adds to its well-worn appeal, and this won’t affect its anti-bacterial qualities. If you want to prevent or minimise scratching, always use a soft cutting board when using a knife. However, if you do cut directly on the steel, the knife will likely be more damaged than the worktop.

Stainless is often selected because of the carefree nature of the material. Typically, a mild soap and water is all that is required to thoroughly clean the surface. If you have a mirror finish, it is advised to use specific stainless cleaners and polishes that help minimise, and fill in, fine scratches. A brushed finish can hide any scratches that will appear in stainless. If you have a brushed finish, a stainless cleaner will help cut down on the fingerprints that will still be visible on a brushed finish.

Price From approx £250 per linear metre.

 

Concrete worktops

Concrete worktopsThe industrial look of concrete makes it a current choice. It’s also designed to withstand plenty of heavy duty use, and comes in a range of standard concrete mix colours (from white to grey) and can be mixed with pigments for stronger colours.

Polished concrete worktops are flat and smooth, but concrete is porous and can absorb liquids and even bacterial growth, it is also very heavy so often extra reinforcements are required.

Concrete worktops will need sealing, but in reality, even sealed concrete, much like granite and marble, will show markings, especially spills like olive oil, red wine, juice, or coffee. Something as simple as water spots can mark but, many love the rustic look and embrace the imperfections as a rich patina that develops over time.

Concrete can crack -  it’s a risk that comes along with concrete countertops, most commonly when poured in place rather than pre-cast. Of course, you can prevent cracks to a certain extent by adding fibre reinforcement, rebar, and/or wire mesh. Still, cracks happen, whether because of pressure or the natural settling of the house. Thankfully, they're usually not super noticeable and pretty easy to repair.

It takes 28 days for concrete counters to fully cure. And while it might be a less expensive option than Carrara marble, this work surface isn't necessarily cheap. Concrete can be cast into any shape and  textured with all kinds of finishes.

The bottom line? If you're looking for perfection, you might want to look elsewhere. But if you love the rugged look and are passionate about patina, go ahead and give it a try. Just do your research, and make sure you keep up with the maintenance.

Price per linear metre: From approx £550 per linear m.

Paula Carter
Paula Carter

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