365 Objects Of Design

How To Choose The Right Kitchen Worktop – For You

22nd February 2018

This is something I am asked a lot so I thought perhaps it was time to address this here. Actually, that’s not quite true. What I get actually asked is what is the BEST worktop. And that, I’m afraid is the wrong question. Because, like everything there are pros and there are cons. And only you can decide which are the important pros for you and which are the deal-breaking cons. So I have changed the question. And, with the help of your own honesty, this should lead you to decide which is the right kitchen worktop for you.

quartz worktop via naked kitchens

quartz worktop via naked kitchens

Not the right one for the chef next door. Or the right one for the woman upstairs who stores her shoes in the oven. Or the man who cooks from scratch every night of the week and twice on Sundays. They will all have their own requirements which may not be the same as yours.

So on the basis there is no right or wrong answer, let’s have a look at the five main types of worktop and see if that helps bring you to a conclusion. The first thing to note is that most people have laminate worktops. And when I say most it’s around 80 per cent. It’s the cheapest, it’s easy to maintain, there’s loads of choice and you can fake it to look like more expensive materials. All of those things are also its disadvantages – you get what you pay for, it will damage more easily, and do you want fake wood or marble? Wouldn’t it be better to have the real thing? Whatever that thing may be?

So given that (if this readership represents the country as a whole, which I’m not sure it does) 80 per cent of you have stopped reading at this point, then why don’t the rest of you pour another cup of coffee and let’s look at the options.

WOOD

reclaimed wooden worktop at Rachel Khoo's house image by KW-S

reclaimed wooden worktop at Rachel Khoo’s house image by KW-S

Wood is always lovely. It’s probably the second cheapest although that will depend on what you go for of course – blocks are cheaper than thick wide staves. Rachel Khoo, whose kitchen is pictured here chose reclaimed laboratory worktops for her kitchen as has television presenter Sophie Robinson (whose kitchen isn’t finished yet so I can’t show you).

So wood can be more affordable and it’s anti-bacterial. But it doesn’t like water and it doesn’t like heat. So it will need looking after – that means oiling regularly. You will need to be careful around the sink as the water can cause it to warp and get stained with black mould. You will also need to buy trivets as hot pans can leave scorch marks. Having said that, unless the stain goes really deep you can often sand it out and re-oil and it can look as good as new.

The other plus point about wood is that it is warm and tactile. It’s great for a breakfast bar. Or an instagram shot (I’m joking here).

STAINLESS STEEL 

stainless steel worktop at madaboutthehouse.com image by Paul Craig

stainless steel worktop at madaboutthehouse.com image by Paul Craig

Talking of cold, that is the first point to make about this material. As you know this is what I have. It’s the most practical thing I have ever come across – there’s a reason restaurants have it. It won’t stain, it won’t mark and you can even use it to slice the odd lemon. It does scratch, but over time that just develops into a soft patina. So it’s heat, water and acid resistant (see natural surfaces for lemon cutting). In fact, over the seven years I have had mine, the only damage is the odd dent where I have dropped a heavy pan or chopping board onto it.

So those are the pros. If you cook at all or use your kitchen to prepare food, or even to drink wine, this is worth considering. It’s pretty indestructible. But if your kitchen is for socialising and/or you have a breakfast bar then it’s not the most user-friendly for that. We have it on the island to frame the hob and make a seamless look. I didn’t realise when I chose it that everyone would always want to sit round the island and it is a little cold to rest an elbow on. And it can look cold and industrial. That is why we have leather handles and reclaimed wooden floorboards – to soften it all up a bit.

If you like to cook and socialise, and you have space then I would consider stainless steel in the prep and cook area and something else in the social part. I have also taken to putting a huge vintage pizza board on the island with herbs and cooking oils. It warms it all up a bit.

NATURAL STONE

marble worktop on island via devol

marble worktop on island via devol

This is the one people want. This is the dream , the when I win the lottery I’m having a Carrara marble worktop scenario. My mother-in-law has a tiny flat near Carrara. The streets are literally paved with the stuff. You walk along the beach and pick up chunks of it that has washed down from the mountain or along from the port (not not enough to make a worktop with – don’t think I haven’t thought about it).

But something seems to happen to that marble when it moves from the mountain to the worktop. It becomes fussy. It’s a natural material so it’s porous. If you are a cook who regularly throws turmeric about you will need to be careful. I had a client whose granite worktop was filled with half moon stains from where she had sliced lemons. And if you or your friends are in the habit of spilling red wine then you need to watch out.

Marble also scratches easily so that if that is going to worry then then choose another material. Granite is a bit tougher and the most likely to cope with a hot pan but while it might be fine nine times out of 10, you don’t want to blow it all on the 10th. I spoke to one kitchen worktop fabricator who told me they barely fit marble any more as the composites and quartz (see below) are so much tougher and just as beautiful.

carrara marble worktop via naked kitchens

carrara marble worktop via naked kitchens

It’s not insurmountable. If you seal it and clean it (quite fast) and generally look after it,  then it will reward you by looking beautiful. If you make dinner, eat it elsewhere and then forget to wipe the surfaces before you go to bed, it will suffer. Well it won’t but you will when you see it the next morning. And it’s expensive. But it’s a classic and you don’t need to worry about fashion and the ins and outs thereof. Whether you will get bored is another matter.

I knew an interior designer who had lots of white marble in her kitchen but she has no children and doesn’t cook much. It’s perfect for that. Madonna also is a fan. Can’t think she’s terribly handy with a spiraliser either.

SOLID SURFACE

corian worktop and splashback

corian worktop and splashback

Relatively new to the market this is more commonly known as Corian by Du Pont, although there are other makes (see the picture below) and is a solid surface made from minerals and acrylic polymer than can be made into any shape. Corian allows you to have a worktop and a sink all crafted seamlessly from the same piece. This means it’s hygienic and won’t get water damage.

solid surface worktop by bianca hall

solid surface worktop by Karonia image via  bianca hall

The colour is uniform and consistent which is either a pro or a con depending on your point of view. It’s not cheap but then, let’s be honest – none of them are. It’s easy to clean because it’s non-porous so the mess stays on the surface and won’t penetrate. While it is heat-resistant, the manufacturers insist a trivet should be used. There are lots of instructions for repairing blotches and scratches on the site but none for burns. You will also need to use a chopping board and to be careful when filling a pan from a boiling water tap.

But there are endless possibilities of colour and shape and if that seamless finish appeals to  then this is the one. The joins are also basically invisible. With stone there will need to be joins and they will show up more so if you have a large expanse this is worth remembering. Or at least asking the manufacturer before you choose.

QUARTZ

statuario maxima by caesartone

statuario maxima by caesarstone

Quartz is an engineered material that looks and feels like natural stone. But as one of nature’s toughest minerals when it is mixed with resin it makes for a tough worktop. And it’s not porous like natural stone. And it is heat and water resistant. You can wipe it clean and, say Caesarstone, you can remove up to 90 per cent of stains with detergent and water. And you can ring the company for the other 10 per cent.  Having said that, use a trivet – as with all these work surfaces that is advisable.

I met them last year as they asked me to write for their brochure so I needed to find out more about it. Apparently people ring them all the time panicking that there is a mark or a ring or something terrible has happened but a few words with the manufacturer and some cleaning advice and the homeowner can nearly always repair the damage themselves. And if they can’t, they can contact the company direct.

It is hard-wearing so it shouldn’t chip but if it does keep the chip and contact the company about a repair. If you are buying quartz then make sure it’s 93 per cent quartz. Any less might not be as heat and water resistant although good quality resin is also important.

montblanc by caesarstonemontblanc by caesarstone

montblanc by caesarstone

So there you have it. You may need to do more research and work out your own budget but this should at least point you in the right direction and help to to find out which is the right kitchen worktop for you.

 

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  • Rebecca Norris 2nd March 2018 at 10:38 pm

    Sorry I’m compelled to wade in, as I always feel the need to when Marble is discussed.
    I have Marble (carrara) worktops. I have 2 kids, a working kitchen and careless family and friends. They were the cheapest stone option and far cheaper than composites or quartz.
    I have to defend them against some of your claims. Ours have been sealed (although I don’t think anything super fancy – just what the local supplier does and they are COMPLETELY STAIN FREE. I have found coffee, cordial, tomato sauce etc on them days later and it wipes right off. I did some experiments prior to buying on a sample block and it stained more (maybe not sealed) but cleaned right off with bleach (- apparently thats what the Italians do!)
    I have chipped it dropping a knife onto the sink edge. And the main thing it does is scratch and etch but as you mentioned about your stainless steel, it really develops a patina. The marks I find this week won’t be there in 6 months. It’s of the moment and beautiful but it suits our old house in that way, its not too perfect. Don’t get me wrong, when it was new I hovered over it like a maniac but 2 kids and a bit of experience later I chop directly on it, forgo coasters and generally use and love it.
    My main gripe with the competitors is I hate anything fake. You can ALWAYS tell its not the real deal and I’d rather have something else than a fake. Caesarstone is the closest I’ve seen but still strikingly not real. I just wish so much that people would just go for real Marble! Rant over!

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 3rd March 2018 at 8:49 am

      Thank you so much for your detailed response, it’s great to hear a good story about marble and also for people to hear different opinions so they can make up their own minds what they want to choose.

      • Rebecca Norris 4th March 2018 at 10:42 pm

        Gosh reading back I sound like a woman posessed! I just think its a shame people are scared off marble. I’ve heard so many people telling me that the ‘kitchen company’ wouldn’t let them have it or advised against it etc. I had to be firm that I was sure it was what we wanted when we had ours installed, but I couldn’t have gone for anything else. 3.5y on, I still don’t know what I would have chosen if I hadn’t gone for marble, so no regrets! I have written more about our worktops in detail on my blog too for anyone who is interested. x

  • Ciara Attwell 26th February 2018 at 10:00 am

    We have a quartz worktop from Caesarstone and absolutely love it. We had wood before and I found it a nightmare as it warped around the sink and my husband kept putting hot pans on it and leaving burn rings! We’ve had the quartz 6 months now and nothing has stained it yet! The kids have even drawn on it with marker and it’s wiped straight off with a baby wipe.

  • Kate 25th February 2018 at 1:18 pm

    But which one is your favorite countertop material?

  • Cathryn 22nd February 2018 at 1:47 pm

    I would love your thoughts on zinc or copper as a counter top? A friend has a cooper counter top and it is gorgeous but I prefer the zinc. I like the look better than stainless steel but that would be my option at this point.

  • susan 22nd February 2018 at 1:03 pm

    would love to hear about lavaboard, soapstone and slate, all of which are great options in the kitchen (and much less conventional). I’m not really sure of the cons of most, other than that lavaboard is pricey and soapstone seems to be hard to find in the UK

  • monica 22nd February 2018 at 12:51 pm

    I had honed white granite with grey streaks installed in our chalet and it looks fabulous. Also holds up quite well to life in the kitchen. A much better choice than Belgian bluestone which looks incredible in the magazines (I succumbed when restoring our home) but an awful choice for a kitchen countertop in the end. Fine for flooring, though.

  • Maud Ludeman 22nd February 2018 at 12:37 pm

    excellent lowdown on the pro’s and con’s. thanks

  • Leigh Davies 22nd February 2018 at 11:19 am

    Really interesting read Kate, thank you.
    Another solid surface worktop material which I love is Dekton. They have different ranges including Industrial (stunning metallic finishes), Natural (stone, marble etc) and Tech (including concrete finishes).
    Definitely worth a look for anyone considering a new worktop.

  • Annie 22nd February 2018 at 11:14 am

    Another one to add to the mix – we have Neolith in a marble pattern. It uses high quality photographs to reproduce the effect and honestly fools absolutely everyone who comes to our house into thinking it is real marble. Cons – it is expensive, no getting away from that, and the high gloss finish does scratch a bit, not really for chopping on directly, although the other non-gloss finishes are pretty much indestructible and you can definitely chop directly etc. Pros – totally stain resistant (curry, wine etc etc literally wipe away), hot pans can go on it directly, cleans like a dream (no scouring or harsh cleaners, I just use a surface cleaner or even soapy water). I believe it is a ceramic-like material , at any rate it isn’t composite quartz or similar. Essentially it is marble without the downsides of marble in terms of staining/porous surface etc.

    • H 22nd February 2018 at 3:22 pm

      I would also recommend Neolith. utterly indestructible, and the best/most realistic natural pattern copies on the man-made market. Miles better than Dekton or any of the quartz brands we found.

  • Anna 22nd February 2018 at 10:47 am

    All the young women with kitchens in our family copied each other and I copied them. We went for Silestone. Lots of choice. Hardwearing (a bit of Cif will remove a stubborn stain). Perfect for making the draining board as part of the work surface. Great if the area is likely to get rather wet.

    Silestone was also used as a stand up all around the edge of the work surface. Shop around for a good price to supply and fit. Samples are sent out by the manufacturer based in Hampshire.

  • Duncan Strong 22nd February 2018 at 9:39 am

    Hi Kate

    Great article: I make bespoke kitchen doors and so am always asked for advice on worktops, even though I don’t really get involved in the selling of them. Now I can just point them in the direction of your blog!
    Worth mentioning that Corian advise against bright or dark colours for worktops as they scratch white – I totally ignored this and got mine made up in orange. 4 years on they are fine, just use a chopping board….

  • Anne Brown 22nd February 2018 at 8:28 am

    It’s such a difficult decision, isn’t it? We had our kitchen re-fitted before Christmas, but before then I spent goodness knows how many hours online checking out worktops and talking to friends and suppliers. I came up with all the caveats you have identified Kate, and more. In the end there seemed to be no one worktop material that ticked all the boxes. It was unbelievably frustrating but we had to do something as our existing worktop (wooden and almost 20 years old) was literally falling to bits. So, and with much trepidation, we settled on thick black matt granite – ie, no glittery bits in it as our’s is an arts and craft house and doesn’t do glitz. Yes, lemon slice cutting is off and it doesn’t like extra virgin oil either although it’s fab for pastry-making, but it looks quietly stunning and goes well with the black painted cupboards it sits on (painted Crown ‘Rebel’ BTW – darker, denser and richer than ‘Railings’) and the old butler sink. Modern, but timeless.

  • Vicki 22nd February 2018 at 8:07 am

    This one is close to my heart as we’ve just fitted a new worktop in a budget makeover. I find people are sniffy about laminate but as we were on a budget this was the obvious way to go for us. We picked a white gloss one that has terrazzo style flecks in it. It has the cold smooth feel of stone but a fraction of the price. I’m thrilled with it. When my lottery numbers come it’ll be Corian all the way but for now my faux stone laminate looks great for a few hundred pounds.

    • Denise 28th February 2018 at 10:36 pm

      Which one did you choose?

  • Jo 22nd February 2018 at 7:15 am

    Thanks for this, very informative. Although, I was hoping you would cover concrete as well as that seems to be growing in popularity. What are the pros and cons of that in your opinion?

    Thanks

    Jo

    • Maya 22nd February 2018 at 11:54 am

      I’m not Kate, obviously, but we did have concrete countertops in our old house so maybe I can shed some light, having lived with them myself. The cons are the expense and the fact that they need to be sealed when they’re installed and then resealed annually. But other than that, they stand up to wear and tear really well (and my husband is a very enthusiastic chef who cooks to relax, so there was a lot of that) and I liked the patina they developed over time. In terms of appearance, there’s also tons of customization options and a seamlessness.

      • Jo 22nd February 2018 at 6:29 pm

        Cool, thanks. My husband is also a v keen chef who cooks to relax so I will show him this! X

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