Surface… whether slim and sleek or luxuriously deep, the right worktop will help define your kitchen design.
Every element in a kitchen design needs to balance beauty and practicality, but few more so than the work surface. By their nature, worktop materials are designed to be durable, so the final choice is often guided by aesthetics and budget. Usually, you will be choosing a worktop at the same time as you select your cabinetry, but it also pays to consider the flooring, and to some extent, the splashback, as this is where you need to work hard to get the balance right. If your kitchen was a painting, think of these items as the broad brush strokes. ‘Remember, you don’t have to have the same material everywhere,’ advises Jamie Telford, director of Roundhouse. ‘Different heights and worksurfaces can be used to defne zones for cooking, preparation and eating.
The rise of the open-plan kitchen can be credited with giving us a huge variety of worktop materials to choose from. Stainless steel, concrete, porcelain and composites have all been born out of new approaches to kitchen design. And so much choice is essential as the surface has a huge impact on the look of the room. ‘With the popularity of open-plan spaces, worktops are used to unite the design by becoming a linchpin for other elements,’ says Wayne Dance, managing director at In House.
The right worktop for your kitchen design
Inspired Room and Kitchen Design for Schüller. ‘Today’s surfaces work with matching side panels to frame cabinets and coordinated wall panels. With square profle edging, extra-slim profles or as multi-height designs, worktops can be the defining factor in an otherwise simple kitchen design.’
Granite is the hardest – and thus most practical – stone. However, modern sealing products have made it possible to choose hard lime stones, marble and basalt which, left untreated, would be prone to stains. As a natural product, stone has limitations. A piece measuring more than three metres will require a join, although these can be minimised by your stonemason and ftter. Large slabs can crack during fitting and it’s wise to choose your own piece from the supplier as each will have unique markings. How it looks in situ also depends on the finish. A polished surface will refect light, while a honed matt one looks modern but can make marks more obvious. Stone is heavy, but well-built cabinets should be up to the job. For a chunky look without the weight, a built-up double-height edge may be better than a thick slab of stone. Prices of stones vary dramatically, but expect to pay from £300lin m.
Composites are man-made materials combining powdered stone minerals with a binder such as a resin, but each brand will be slightly different. natural, the best-quality quartz composites use a high percentage of natural materials – look for 90 to 95 per cent,’ says Chris Pepper, marketing and business development manager for CR Laurence, the UK home of Caesarstone. Composites come in large sheets that are joined seamlessly. They won’t need sealing as they’re non-porous, stain- and shock-resistant, but it’s best not to put hot pans on them. Stoneand quartz-based composites can’t be moulded, but some can be carved into curves, while others, such as Silestone, have antibacterial properties and the option of matching sinks. Non-quartzbased composites that are made of minerals and acrylic, such as Corian, are more flexible, and can be thermoformed into interesting shapes, allowing for the insertion of seamless sinks.
New to the market is Dekton, a highly durable product made from the raw materials used in glass, porcelain and quartz surfaces, which are bonded under immense heat and pressure. It’s UV-, scratch- and impact-resistant and comes in slabs that can be cut in curves. Expect to pay from £150lin m for a solid surface, though well-known brands may be around £310lin m. Quartz-based surfaces cost from around £250lin m and Dekton from £350lin m.
Porcelain and ceramic
Two of the strongest materials available, porcelain and ceramic surfaces are the new kids on the block. Super-slim and scratch-, heat-, stain- and acid-resistant, they’re non-porous and low maintenance, plus the joins between sheets tend to be barely visible as they can be cut with a precise edge. ‘Porcelain is more expensive but, due to its heat-resistant properties, it is possible to add gas burners and do away with the hob base,’ suggests architectural designer John Osborn. You can also use porcelain and ceramic to clad your cabinet doors for a monolith look on islands, especially efective when combined with a chamfered edge. Prices start from £400sq m.
It’s easy to think of timber as just one material but choices range from pale maple, which has antibacterial properties, to durable hardwoods, such as oak and elm, and exotic timbers, such as zebrano and wenge. It is quick and easy to install. requiring no templating, but will need occasional oiling to keep it watertight and protected from stains. ‘Some suppliers have introduced “nano coatings”, which make wood more resistant to stains and heat,’ says John Osborn. ‘An alternative is to apply a hard wearing bar-top lacquer or foor lacquer.’ Don’t ft wood around a sink unless you’re prepared to oil regularly, and use a trivet for pans to prevent scorching. Prices start at £50lin m.
A great budget option, the new high-pressure laminates (HPL) are tougher and better looking than their predecessors. Advances in technology ofer high-defnition printing and texture for a realistic wood or stone efect. ‘Granites can now be printed in large scale with little visible repeat and a shimmering but practical texture,’ says Stuart White, managing director of Bushboard. ‘The old-fashioned postformed edge has been replaced with a square one that makes the worktop look like stone or timber. Another new advance is the inclusion of antibacterial protection.’ HPL are quick and easy to ft, but not suitable for use with undermounted sinks. Prices start at £45lin m.
A staple of professional kitchens, stainless steel is practical, non-porous and heatproof. ‘Use it for all the worksurfaces or to define one area, such as the cooking zone,’ says Bernard Otulakowski, managing director at SieMatic UK. ‘Bear in mind that this surface will scratch, but it can make your worktop look more natural.’ If you’re not sure you can live with the build-up of fne scratches, opt for a brushed finish to hide marks. As steel is usually bespoke, you may also want to consider an integral hob or sink, or a slim format instead of a deep folded edge. Expect to pay from £350sq m.
Concrete isn’t as robust as steel but it is no less stunning. ‘Concrete has to be mixed and poured on site, so it’s a longish process’ says Jamie Telford. ‘It also needs a couple of weeks to set before being polished.’ As a porous material, it will need sealing to protect against stains, and it can be heavy too. However, with the option to include integral sinks and pigments to create bespoke colour, it’s a great material for getting creative. Prices start from around £400lin m.
Making A Choice
Surfaces make a big difference to the look of your room, and the colours and fnishes will afect other decisions, so borrow samples and see how they behave in different light and against other products.
‘The bold brights and neons that characterised worktops a few years ago have given way to compositions that seek to replicate the beauty of natural materials, such as stone and marble,’ explains Chris Pepper. ‘The modern palette is all about timeless neutrals – think earthy, creamy or putty colours – that work across a wide range of cabinetry and will look good for a long time.’
To the edge
The edge or profle of the worktop can change the overall efect dramatically, so explore all options with your kitchen company. Slim designs are on trend partly thanks to the popularity of thin composites and porcelain, but you should choose the depth to best suit the material. For example, heavily veined stone or wooden worktops look more striking and have a greater presence when thicker.
In the mix
Mixing and matching worktops means you can choose a practical material for cooking and prep areas, while enjoying tactile wood or marble elsewhere. ‘When introducing diferent fnishes, consider varying their thickness so that one can become the focal point while the others complement it,’ advises Jamee Kong, head of design at Design Space London. ‘For example, try a thick breakfast bar against a thinner worktop, or a chunky surface on the island with a slimmer surface on the back run.
If your worktop needs templating (most composites, stone, concrete and stainless steel do), allow four to eight weeks for this after the rest of the kitchen has been fitted. A template will be taken of the units and wall, with holes for sinks, hobs and sockets, before your worktop is fabricated. You will be supplied with a temporary worktop during this time. Of-the-peg surfaces, such as wood, laminate and installer-ready quartz and solid surfaces, can be fitted straightaway