Everything you need to know about... kitchen counters
A little while ago we made a post all about deciding which material you should use for the flooring in a room. This can be challenging as you don’t just need to weigh up the aesthetics of a material compared to its cost, you also need to factor in a host of practical considerations like how easy it is to clean and how well the material will stand up to scratches and spills.
In this way kitchen counters and islands are exactly the same, you need to find a material that suits your specific requisites factoring in; how much you want to spend, your own personal tastes and whether you’re willing to put a little effort into a material's maintenance or you want something utilitarian. With all this in mind here’s our rundown of all the things you need to know about different worktop materials when deciding what to renovate your kitchen with:
Pick up your favourite cook book, flip over to that obligatory picture of the author leaning over the counter in the kitchen of their own home, the chances are it’s a hardwood worktop: Jamie, Hugh, Nigel and Nigella are all fond of a wooden counter and for good reason. Depending on the finish, wood can look modern or traditional, rustic or urban. But, it always gives a homely, wholesome charm and pairs beautifully with any colour or style of kitchen.
However, the numerous charms of wood do come at a price, depending on what specific type of wood you opt for it can cost considerably more than some options. On top of this it does take a fair bit of up keep to maintain a pristine look and will need to be oiled every now and then. You can normally fix any damage done to a wooden surface with a bit of sanding and refinishing. But with an organic material like wood many feel that this imperfection is part of its joy, viewing every scratch, stain and scorch mark their countertop has accumulated over the years as part of its overall beauty.
Perhaps the favourite material for really high-end kitchens. Granite is one of the most expensive materials commonly used for countertops, it has a timeless aesthetic which is handy considering with a little maintenance it will last almost forever. It’s easy to clean, highly scratch resistance and its heat resistance means you can take pans right from the hob and place them on the counter.
On the downside the installation can be costly on top of the purchase price and you’ll need to find a base that can support its considerable weight, and if it does get damaged for example, if a corner chips it’s not easy to repair.
If you’re a budding chef who wants to show off then consider using stainless steel. It’s tough, low maintenance and hygienic, that’s why it’s used in basically every single professional kitchen around the world. Its looks might not be for everyone but done right it can look chic and modern, and there’s no need to worry about scorching it with a hot pan.
If you’ve ever worked in a professional kitchen before you’ll know that steel is not indestructible, it can scratch and dent and once it does it’s not easy to rectify so it’s not the best choice for someone who wants their counter to look perpetually new. You’ll also want to match it with appropriately high end, professional looking appliances so the rest of your kitchen doesn’t look out of place.
One of the most economical materials out there, laminate counters are typically made out of MDF or plywood coated in a protective plastic cover. These types of counters can vary in quality depending on just how much you’re willing to spend. But a very high quality laminate counter will still be cheaper than many other options.
It’s not the most robust of materials, so you will want to invest in a good number of chopping boards to protect the counter from being scratched or burnt by hot and heavy cookware.
When it comes to aesthetics you can buy laminate counters that replicate just about any other material fairly well, but a wood effect laminate counter will ultimately lack that organic feel. Plain coloured laminate is a stylish choice in itself however.
Laminate is one of the shorter lived options for a counter, but its low price means it can be replaced relatively inexpensively.
A manufactured material made by mixing crushed quartz with resin, the result has all of the benefits of materials like granite, but is if anything more resistant to staining and heat making it super practical, although still costly it is less pricy than both granite and marble and does not need sealing. It comes in lots of patterns and colours, but will always have a faintly shiny, artificial look when compared to natural stone counters.
Toughened glass can make interesting, attractive and practical countertops for a contemporarily decorated kitchen. Light and airy, glass counters will brighten up the room and it’s a hygienic material robust enough to stand up to high temperatures and it’s fairly scratch resistant.
While it’s easy to wipe down and won’t easily stain, if you want your counters to have a flawless shine there's a good chance you'll find yourself spending a fair part of your time in the kitchen buffing out every last streak and smudge.
For a really decadent kitchen, few things beat the old school glamour of a marble counter. It’s a beautiful, characterful material where counter slab has its own unique patterning. It’s robust and heat resistant, but not as impervious to scratching as other stones like granite.
It is perhaps obvious that a material like marble comes at a price, both to purchase and properly install. And while it is a tough material it can be damaged by acidic solutions so make sure you mop up any spilt vinegar or lemon juice quickly, it can also be stained and will need to be resealed on occasion.
Cultured marble looks like the real thing, but isn’t… It’s a combination of crushed marble and thermoplastic resin. Available in matte or gloss finishes. It’s cheaper than the real thing (though still pricey) and more resistant to staining. However, it does scratch easily and still need regular sealing.
Solid Surface worktops are a relatively new innovation in the world of kitchens but are becoming an increasingly popular option amongst those in the know. They are fairly inexpensive and their non-porous nature means they won't stain, are easy to clean and resistantant to mould and mildew. Like laminate it is available in a huge range of colours and styles, that can mate other materials. On the downside it’s vulnerable to damage from hot pans and can be hard to repair.
Concrete may not sound like the most obvious, or desirable material to make your kitchen work tops out of, but hear us out. Modern techniques mean that concrete can be poured in place allowing it to be perfectly configured to fit any kitchen, inexpensively. It’s available in a wide variety of colours, patterns and with gloss or matte finishes. It’s incredibly strong too, in fact it’s its strength and density that give it its downsides, it’s not for giving on dropped crockery, and it’s hard edges can be a hazard for children running around the room, if they bump into it.