Worktops can transform a kitchen, but there are so many options – choosing the perfect material, shade and texture to complement your design and suit your lifestyle is mind-boggling.
Trends also come and go – remember only a few years ago when stainless steel or glass were on everyone's wish list? Above all, it's worth remembering that kitchen worktops are the most tactile of all elements. You'll use a worktop daily, clean it regularly and touch it more than you imagine.
'Don't underestimate the importance of selecting the right texture and tone for your worktop,' says Wayne Dance, managing director of kitchen design specialists InHouse Inspired Room Design. 'If we have learned one thing about our homes this year, it is almost certainly that they should create a calm and comforting retreat from the world, with the kitchen at the centre.'
Laminate comes in an amazing range of colours, textures, patterns and thicknesses. It's considered the low budget, cost effective choice, starting from less than £40 for a matt white 2.4m length at B&Q.
However, Kam Bharadwa, sales and operations manager at Kutchenhaus, says: 'If you get the style and design right, your kitchen will look incredible. Laminate is a cheaper alternative to stone, but still very striking. There are so many design options to choose from, you will be spoilt for choice.'
Hugely versatile, laminate can look like wood, stone, granite, quartz or tile, at a fraction of the cost. The latest compact laminate worktops are super-versatile, says Hayley Simmons, head of merchandising for Magnet kitchens. 'These slim, sleek cutting-edge worktops are as thin as 12.5mm and provide great design flexibility. They can be double-sided to create features such as waterfall breakfast bars or statement splashback features.'
Alternatively, to maximise the impact of a laminate kitchen worktop, choose the deepest thickness you can – usually up to 40mm. This trick mimics the appeal of chunky wood or stone.
Best suited for: Hardworking kitchens and family life.
Proceed with caution: Cheaper laminate will scuff and mark easily. Avoid putting hot pans directly on the surface or prolonged exposure to moisture, as this will cause the layers to peel.
If you're looking for a natural texture and like to invest in timeless classics, solid wood will deliver your dream, says Kam: 'Solid wood worktops are popular as they give a real homely feel to a kitchen, something more modern kitchen styles and designs can lack.'
Opt for a hardwood such as walnut, iroko or oak, rather than a softwood like pine, as they are longer lasting and will not warp or bend. Solid wood can be surprisingly affordable; Worktop Express has oak worktops starting from £135 for a 2m length (22mm thickness). Solid wood is also easy to fit, so it shouldn't be difficult to find a tradesperson. If you're a competent DIYer you might even be able to fit it yourself.
You can also find reclaimed solid wood worktops, says Alex Main, director at bespoke kitchen designers, The Main Company: 'Reclaimed wood worktops create a new lease of life for the original material and are therefore the ideal choice if you're considering an environmentally-friendly solution in your kitchen.'
Best suited for: Rustic kitchens. Also, if you like changing your look regularly, you can use different oils to alter the shade.
Proceed with caution: Wooden worktops are quite high maintenance. They need oiling regularly, around every six months, to keep them water-resistant and hygienic. Check with the supplier which oil to use.
'Most people don't think of painting kitchen worktops, although it can be done,' says Rob Green, co-founder and paint expert at Coat Paints. 'But normal paint like flat matt or eggshell emulsion won't work here – neither will bond with existing worktops or be hardy enough.'
If you choose to paint worktops, says Rob, use a multi-purpose paint designed for melamine, MDF or wood – or alternatively, a specialist product labelled as 'worktop paint' – for example, the Giania Granite Countertop Paint from Amazon.
'Our own eggshell paint is ideal for painting worktops,' Rob adds. 'Our formula is created so that it flattens and levels on flat surfaces like worktops. Once dried and cured you can spray and scrub it down, no problem.' Coat Paints offers an inspiring range of modern neutrals, including Sweatpants (soft grey) and Home Grown (sage).
Best suited for: Changing colours without breaking the budget.
Proceed with caution: You might struggle to successfully cover laminate or MDF. Unsuitable for a kitchen which receives a lot of wear and tear.
Marble has been used in kitchens for generations; it's cool and easy to keep clean. In recent years, it's graduated from chopping boards to work surfaces. 'These are mainly Carrara marbles such as Statuary, Calacatta, Arabescato and Carrara itself,' says Oliver Webb, director of sales and marketing at Culliford's Stone Suppliers. 'But this doesn't mean that there aren't other good marbles out there. Marble comes in a wide variety of colours and patterns.'
Some marbles are harder than others. However, when it comes to durability, all marble will develop a patina from small scratches and possible staining – fans say this adds to the character. Marble is sealed before use, but any stains that do appear can be removed with a poultice and it can be re-polished in situ if needed. Marble costs from around £300 per sqm, but you can also find less expensive porcelain 'marble-look' tiles. For example, Stone & Ceramic Warehouse have 3mm thick Coliseum Statuario Venato porcelain slab tiles for £144 per sqm.
Best suited for: A classic kitchen or glamorous urban pad where work surfaces are respected with care.
Proceed with caution: In a family kitchen, damage can be expensive to fix.
Tom Howley, design director of Tom Howley kitchen design company, says that in his industry, quartz, an engineered stone, is taking over from granite as a leading choice for worktops: 'Quartz is both aesthetically and functionally superior. It is non-porous, consistent in colour and very durable. It's easy to clean, making it less susceptible to staining and comes in a range of beautiful colours.'
Quartz is a big financial investment however. For example, CRL Quartz from CRL Stone is scratch, heat and stain-resistant, and costs from £400 to £650 per sqm.
It's easy to confuse quartz with sintered stone. Both materials are known for their durability; just remember, quartz is an engineered product and sintered stone is made from natural minerals which undergo a compressing process.
Best suited for: Any setting really, quartz is pretty bomb-proof.
Proceed with caution: It's expensive, and mistakes cost. So choose a reputable supply and fit company.
Granite is a natural, tough and hardwearing stone. Its own unique patterns are what makes each worktop different. No two pieces are ever the same, says Kam.
Granite worktops usually come sealed when installed. It is recommended to have them resealed every year as this is a porous material. These days, granite doesn't have to be black – or shiny. Granite can be high-polished, but it also now available in contemporary matt finishes and a wide range of shades. It's also very easy to keep clean with warm water and mild detergent.
Best suited for: Keen cooks. Granite has extremely high heat resistance being a natural stone, but you should also use some form of protection. It is also highly scratch-resistant.
Proceed with caution: Avoid direct contact with citrus-based or acidic foods and liquids which may be solvent based as these can cause marks.
For a cost-effective option, existing kitchen worktops can be overlaid with vinyl wraps, which you can do yourself using Fablon, around £7 for a 2m roll, from DIY and hardware stores.
Alternatively, find a professional company to wrap your worktop with an acrylic solid surface. Both options avoid the upheaval and expense of a full kitchen replacement, and work miracles on your carbon footprint too. Your old worktops won't end up in landfill.
Solid colours, natural stone effects and on-trend patterns are all available, so you can switch up your look easily. 'Our Seamless Makeover® is the new eco-alternative when compared to more mainstream worktop solutions,' says Rob Bullen, managing director at solid surface wrap specialists Wharf Worktops. 'We use the latest software to design your new worktops so that they are tailored to fit exactly over your existing surfaces so your old tops don't end up in landfill and there is minimum disruption to your kitchen and life.'
Windowsills and up-stands can be included to complete the transformation. Prices start from £135 per sqm. Two home visits are involved, to measure up and fit, and the process takes around a fortnight in total.
Best suited for: Busy people who don't want the disruption of removing and fitting replacement worktops.
Proceed with caution: Wrap colours and textures may be limited and if you're looking for a brand-new look for your kitchen, you'll have to upgrade cupboard fronts and appliances too. Wraps will not be as hard-wearing as new worktops.
Concrete surfaces are key to the industrial look and kitchens are no exception. 'Concrete touches around the home are becoming increasingly popular and worktops in particular are a very contemporary take on a neutral colour,' says Hayley.
Concrete is hardwearing, durable and will gradually weather with age. Mixing concrete and wood worktops creates a bespoke look; perhaps a concrete-topped island unit and wood worktops on other surfaces.
There are two ways to seal concrete worktops for durability and to preserve the surface. Polyurethane sealer gives a high level of protection in a standard matt finish. Impregnating sealer, with the additional application of a wax, creates a polished patina on the surface over time.
Look for a specialist supplier such as Haus Concrete Surfaces, which does concrete worktops in eight standard colour tones from white to black. Expect to pay £350-£400 plus VAT for a linear metre.
Best suited for: Industrial interiors and awkward kitchen spaces; adaptable concrete can be poured to fit. It's available in 40-100mm thicknesses so good for making a chunky statement.
Proceed with caution: Concrete is heavy. Check your kitchen cupboards are strong enough to bear the weight. They may require extra packing underneath.
There are a number of 'solid surface' worktops now available with brand names including Corian and Staron. These are typically made from a blend of natural minerals and thermostatic acrylic polymers. Staron is a great option for eliminating the risk of bacteria growth in cracks or crevices, says marketing associate Doveon Kim: 'Solid surfaces are easy to clean and maintain, ensuring a hygienic cooking space.'
'Corian is durable and can be shaped without joints, working well for kitchens with a unique shape or lots of corners,' says Hayley. 'It will fit well into curves or splashbacks which can be smoothly blended into the worktop to create a seamless flow.' At around £145 per sqm, according to cost comparison site Checkatrade, it's now becoming a relatively inexpensive choice.
Best suited for: Ambitious kitchen designs because it can be shaped seamlessly to fit around awkward areas, such as sinks.
Proceed with caution: Damage can be caused by direct heat and sharp objects.
Made from chips of marble, granite, quartz, glass, shell or other suitable materials bound together in a cement or epoxy mixture, terrazzo is one of the most ancient of surface materials. It became popular in Renaissance Venice, when stonemasons would gather together scraps of marble and fashion them into useful building materials for surfaces and floors.
Wayne is noticing an increasing demand: 'Terrazzo worktops are the antithesis of minimal concrete slabs and natural wood effects. The colourful patterns brighten up any room to bring in a touch of playfulness and vibrancy to the kitchen.' Expect to pay from around £40 sqm – Boutique Stone has Eccitare terrazzo in Earth (black, caramel, white, silver) for £59.95 sqm.
Best suited for: Vintage-inspired schemes or to create visual interest in sleek, ultra-modern kitchens.
Proceed with caution: In a smaller kitchen, as the pattern could be rather busy and overwhelming.
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