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.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.