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Kitchen worktops evolve

05/07/2017
Worktops

A quartz worktop

Kitchen worktops get a lot of attention. Providing the surface from which meals are prepared means that they get a great deal of use and become familiar to cooks who use them day in day out. Time was when you had a choice of wood surfaces for your kitchen and your design centred on a light wood, dark wood, composite block board or veneered surface. This set the style for your kitchen. Things have evolved since then.

Nowadays kitchen worktops are available in a variety of materials. The original laminated tops are still available in a wider range of colours and textures and provide a very cost effective alternative for those on a budget. Newer materials; granite, composite quartz, solid wood, glass and stainless steel provide alternative properties and looks so that customers now have the widest range they have ever had. These new tops can be expensive and so it’s worth considering their pros and cons before leaping in to the showroom samples – and bear in mind solid wood is still a flexible, strong and beautiful contender.

Worktops essentially have to fulfil three basic criteria: –

  • Resist heat. If there is one thing your worktop is going to have to cope with it’s that boiling hot pan or roast tin that you need to set down away from the oven or hob.
  • Resist bacteria. Today’s world highlights hygiene as a central requirement to food preparation. Increased allergies and aversions mean that your top must be biologically benign, easy to clean and as stay as clear of bacteria traps as it was when it was new.
  • Resist water. Water is a part of eating, cooking, cleaning and food preparation – worktops have to resist it.
  • Resist marks. Cooking can be a dirty job and it involves extreme temperatures and cutting instruments. All this will contrive to mark your worktop unless it’s up to the job.

So let’s run through the alternatives with the latest options first: –

Quartz/composite stone

Worktops

A Cimstone surface and glass splashbacks

We have seen an increase in demand for these worktops recently. They are available in 30mm or 20mm thicknesses and, because they are manufactured, they are infinitely reproducible. Their suppliers offer different colours and styles so that customers can have precisely what they want. Brands that we have fitted recently include Silestone, Cimstone and Caesarstone but Arenastone and Novastone are also available.
The properties are much the same as granite these quartz surfaces tick all the boxes being resistant to heat, marks and very easy to clean. We usually fit 30mm as a surface and use 20mm for the splashbacks.

Granite/limestone

Worktops

Granite island

Granite is a perennial favourite and still popular despite alternatives, we work with a number of suppliers who are happy to show a variety of natural finishes for clients to select from. It’s a classic medium that doesn’t look outdated and spans the traditional and contemporary divide. It can have a gloss or matt finish. Limestone is slightly softer but still a durable alternative.

Granite can be used in area of the kitchen and is especially suitable next to sinks, hobs, tepans and other appliances. Selecting a gorgeous textured finish leaves a strong impact especially on an island unit or matching kitchen table.
Granite is very low maintenance and, although it needs sealing initially this generally lasts a decade.

Corian

Worktops

A Corian worktop

Surprisingly Corian is quite an expensive material for worktops. This is down to its flexibility and the hours spent to get it to fit perfectly. Corian is similar to wood and can be worked like wood – routed, planed and sanded. As such it is a popular option is great in wet areas where it can seamlessly integrate with sinks, chopping blocks and appliances.
Corian is available in a wide variety of colours and is low-maintenance. It doesn’t need sealing and is stain, water resistant and heat-resistant to 250°C. As it can be treated like wood scratches can be sanded out.

Solid wood

Solid wood worktops are a timeless way to introduce quality, natural texture and colour into a kitchen. The wide variety of woods available mean that your kitchen can be as individual as you are – imported exotics like mahogany or locally grown classics like oak. Some oilier woods are especially suited to sink surrounds or, alternatively, you can oil your own worktops to introduce water resistance and a lovely smell.
Although a certain amount of fuss has to be made to seal the wood initially the flexibility to counterpoint this natural material with other textures in your kitchen is a definite appeal to many. One disadvantage is the discipline required not to treat your work surfaces as one giant chopping board. You wave to stick to a designated chopping area to avoid markes and be very carful with hot pans that with scorth the surface.

Laminate

Worktops

A wood worktop

This is a classic kitchen worktop and one you can buy by the yard from any DIY store. Modern techniques mean that they can be designed to look like granite, slate, solid wood or Corian around food preparation areas, sink runs and around hobs and cookers.
With no sealing required these tops are minimal maintenance and suit modern and traditional kitchen designs. Laminate tops are resistant to most stains and chemicals but will not resist severe heat or steam. You also have to be careful when cutting on them as they will mark or score and these will collect bacteria if not cleaned thoroughly. However they are cheap and one of the few materials that can be cut and fitted by a DIY enthusiast rather than a kitchen professional.

Glass

We have quoted for many glass surfaces but not fitted any recently. We have however fitted toughened glass as an attractive splashback where it bounced light around a kitchen. As it’s very reflective it is useful as a worktop in small kitchens where light may be important and a feature is required.
Glass is a modern material for worktops and would look out of place in a farmhouse or other traditional – style kitchen. In a smart new kitchen however it’s a talking point and very easy to keep sparking clean. It’s also seamless and the resultant bacteriological resistance is high. Toughened glass is heat, acid and water resistant. Scratches can also be polished out.

Stainless steel or other metal

Worktops

Caesarstone and Silestone together

Despite its popularity with professional chefs we have yet to fit a stainless steel kitchen. Maybe it’s the hard look that a room full of metal conveys but a domestic kitchen would be able to design in other materials to soften the look. Clearly anyone wanting a contemporary or even professional look might consider a stainless steel kitchen.
Hygienic, easy to clean, strong, waterproof, heat and acid resistant this surface is attractive. It can scratch but it will remain immune to bacteria. Cost is relatively high but you get a

Tiles and slate

It seems odd to address porous surfaces when considering the three requirements of a kitchen work surface – namely the ability to resist water, heat, marks and bacteria. Surfaces like tiles and slate are intrinsically porous – slate is naturally so and tiles require waterproof grout to be constantly maintained as it provides a risk of harbouring food waste or flavours from cleaning products that can taint food.
Both alternatives can and do exist in kitchens. Slate is undergoing updated treatment to make it more resistant to marks and easier to fit but both surfaces require sealing and care. Sealing slate can be as easy as rubbing down with olive oil so it’s not too arduous although you do ask yourself why not just get granite or quartz instead?

In conclusion

Worktops

Beautiful surfaces make all the difference

‘You pays your money and you takes your choice’ as they say. All the worktops mentioned above will do a good job. For today’s kitchens it’s about the look and feel and, like the kitchen design itself, entirely a matter for personal taste. We have noticed a sharp preference towards composite stone and quartz surfaces as clients come into our showroom and browse through the many colours and textures offered by brands like Silestone and Cimstone. This convenient and reproducible material seems to tick all the boxes but we still enjoy getting to grips with a solid piece of real wood – we are cabinetmakers after all!


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