Focus On; Kitchen Worktops
The choice of kitchen worktop is one of the most important considerations when planning a new kitchen. The kitchen worktops should enhance and define the design style, complimenting the kitchen units and door style. It should also be of a quality which befits the kitchen project as a whole. When considering all this, the options available can be bewildering. And each kitchen worktop material has its own unique pro’s and con’s.
We can’t cover every facet of each kitchen worktop material in one blog post. Mainly because even for the same worktop material, specifications and qualities vary extensively. Depending mainly upon the brand and manufacturer. However we have put this guide together so that you are aware of the most pertinent points of each material. Helping choose the correct material for your budget and design aspirations. We have organised the list in to the typical cost in ascending order.
Laminate Kitchen Worktops
Laminate kitchen worktops are an affordable alternative to solid surface, granite or real wood. However as expected at the lower end of the market, colours, textures and other options are limited. So you may not be able to achieve the exact look you want on a tight budget.
All laminate worktops are simple and easy to install, thus reducing installation time. A competent DIY kitchen fitter should have no problem installing either. Further increasing savings if required.
Since cheaper laminates typically do not have pronounced textured surfaces they are hygienic. The smooth surfaces are very easy to wipe clean, and there are no areas for germs to breed and thrive. Aside from regular cleaning laminate worktops require no regular maintenance.
Disadvantages of Cheap Laminate Worktops
Despite their inexpensive cost the worktops are all water resistant, as expected for a kitchen surface. But they do not stand up to being submerged or constantly soaked, and this can cause delamination of the decorative layer from the chip board substrate. Laminate worktops should also be resistant to domestic cleaning chemicals and oils too, but it is worth checking this with the supplier. Because resistance to foreign chemicals does vary across the industry.
It is also important to note that as the laminate decorative surface is of a lesser quality it is typically thinner. For that reason lower end laminate worktops are not heat resistant. Care must always be taken not to place hot pans directly on the surface. When considering the aesthetics and longevity it is worth noting that matte finished surfaces highlight scratches and damage more than gloss surfaces. So knives and other sharp implements should not be used directly upon the surface.
With care a laminate kitchen worktop should last many years. They are a hard wearing, durable, cost effective choice. But at this price point manufacturer guarantees don’t extend past the first year.
Premium Laminate Kitchen Worktops
Premium laminate worktops offer all the benefits of regular laminate worktops but with more choice in texture, colour and design. They are by far the most popular choice for kitchen worktops due to the increased design choices and relatively inexpensive cost.
In this price bracket design options become vast. Some luxury laminate surfaces are even designed to mimic the appearance of solid wood, with colour and texture to match. Options also exist to specify the edging, such as bull nosed profile, square edge and rounded edge profiles.
The introduction of textured surfaces could introduce hard to clean areas. Particularly in the case of pronounced textures. These without careful maintenance may then become havens for germs. To counter this many worktop manufacturers have developed anti bacterial surfaces. The anti bacterial property exists within the laminate material itself. So it will not come off when cleaned and is as permanent as the decorative finish itself.
Other advances available at the premium worktop level include finger print resistant surfaces, ultra matte finishes and heat resistant laminates. Premium worktops will often be more durable than a standard laminate kitchen worktop. For that reason they are usually more cost effective. And manufacturers offer longer guarantees, typically 2 years minimum.
Solid Wood or Timber Kitchen Worktop
Solid wood worktops are the traditional choice. Oozing quality, a solid wood worktop is assuring, warm and quiet. Irrespective of which species, colour or grade of wood you choose, wood has a natural warmth that’s is impossible to beat. For a traditional farmhouse style or cottage style kitchen it is the only suitable choice for authenticity.
Installation is should probably be undertaken by an expert kitchen fitter for the best results. However fitting of wood and timber worktops by a confident DIY kitchen fitter is still within the realms of possibility.
Unlike laminate worktops real wood surfaces do require regular maintenance and sealing with a food safe timber oil. Beyond this cleaning with a damp cloth is all the maintenance required. Wooden surfaces often get bad press (particularly chopping boards) for their lack of hygiene. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. If you look after the surface of the material it will be very easy to clean and thus hygienic. Beware cutting directly on the surface though. Knives will damage the top layer introducing small cuts. Within these cuts germs can and will collect and breed.
The traditional, high qua choice, obviously the material is more expensive than laminate kitchen worktops, but it is probably on par with an engineered product such as solid surface.
Solid Surface Kitchen Worktops
Solid surface worktops would have been top of the list a few years ago. Easily costing more than all the other options. However more and more manufacturers have entered the fray. And there are more skilled fabricators in the UK than there has ever been. So the cost of even a bespoke solid surface work top has now dropped below that of stone or quartz. It is probably now on par with solid timber kitchen worktops.
DuPont™ invented the first solid surface material in 1964 and called it Corian®. And to note this is the material of choice for Meridien Interiors/Kitchun kitchen worktops. Since then though a number of competitors have entered the market. Including TriStone by Lion Chemtech which is a competitive alternative to the traditional acrylic solid surface brands. Even well known brands have entered the solid surface market such as LG™ Hausys with HI-MACS®, Samsung™ with Staron® and Formica™ Solid Surface too.
What is Solid Surface?
Solid surface is is a non-porous, machinable, hard-wearing, stain and fire resistant material. It is also bacteria resistant. Corian Solid Surface material is manufactured by mixing Acrylic Polymer and Alumina Trihydrate. Other brands are made in a very similar fashion so solid surface is therefore an engineered surface. Manufactured in 12mm sheets solid surface is so popular because these sheets can be moulded into infinite shapes. The process of moulding solid surface is done by thermo-forming. A process where the material is heated and placed upon a mould before pressure or a vacuum is applied to push the solid surface on to the mould and replicate its contours. Multiple sheets can also be joined seamlessly to create more complex shapes. So as you can imagine this gives the kitchen designer more options than a laminate, wood or stone kitchen worktop would.
Solid surface is often used to manufacture washtroughs in washrooms, reception desks, small desks, sinks and other counter top surfaces. It has really grown in popularity within the kitchen industry over the last few years.
Again like solid wood the hygienic properties of solid surface kitchen worktops is very good provided the surface it is not scratched. However as the solid surface colour or finish runs right through the material solid surface can be repaired. Filler (of liquid polymer) can be applied to deep scratches and gouges, but uniquely shallow scratches, fine marks, crazing or discolouration can all be polished out. The polishing process simply cleans away the damaged top surface of the material to leave the fresh clean finish underneath. Since solid surface kitchen worktops are non-pourus, dense, stain and heat resistant it is therefore extremely durable. Coupled with it’s flexibility and colour options it can be the ideal kitchen worktop choice for a busy family home or designer property kitchen.
Granite and Quartz Kitchen Worktops
Granite and quartz worktops can look stunning. They, like solid wood ooze quality with an added air of classic opulence. We say ‘can’ however as quality is variable. The skill and placement of the cut in the material can very much effect the final finish and the aesthetics of the surface on display.
If you have your heart set on a very variable, veined colour quartz kitchen worktop we would always recommend visiting the supplier to view the samples. That is unless you are working with an independent expert such as a skilled kitchen designer, who has a relationship with the supplier and can ensure quality and uniformity.
Granite or stone can also be pourus, not an attribute people usually expect. This means that lighter colours can stain. It also means that to maintain hygiene the maintenance schedule should be kept up. So much like real wood the material needs to be sealed regularly. Quartz worktops however will never need sealing, they are completely non porous.
It probably comes as no surprise but once they have been installed granite and quartz worktops are typically the most durable. In fact it is during delivery and installation that they are most likely to suffer damage. Prior to installation the kitchen worktop space has to be ‘templated’ where a fitter measures the space the kitchen worktop will occupy. This is so the supplier can supply a piece cut to the right length and depth as cutting on site is difficult and messy. However during installation cut outs will be required for the hob and sink. So not only are supply costs higher but you pay a premium for the additional survey and installation required with stone and quartz worktops.
Can You Upgrade to Quartz Worktops at a Later Date?
Granite and quartz worktops are not usually something you upgrade to after the kitchen is installed. Aside from the difficulty of cutting it as described, the material is also shallower in height than either laminate or solid wood kitchen worktops. So tiles walls, splash backs even full height wall units will have a gap underneath them. Betraying the fact you have changed the worktops.
It is very difficult to give an over all opinion of stone, granite and quartz kitchen worktops due to the variable quality and the fact that many brands now offer composites such as Silestone which is a quartz composite. Composites are less variable in quality, in fact usually being very good quality and indistinguishable from the real thing. Usually they are also more practical than real stone or granite too. Shopping around and viewing samples really is the only way to buy a stone or quartz kitchen worktop, especially when considering the investment!