How to Get the Best Kitchen Worktop Without Breaking the Bank
There are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to finding the right worktop – even when you’re on a budget
“Work surfaces and splashbacks can account for around 20 to 30 per cent of the visual area of your kitchen, so it’s important to get the choice of material and colour right,” says Jo Gilhooly of Bushboard. “It’s worth the time and investment to ensure that you remain happy with your worktop long after it’s been installed, rather than having to go through the hassle and expense again of replacing it.” Your first step should be to set your budget. Next, visit a reputable kitchen showroom and talk to a professional about which material is right for you (think ahead about your personal style and how you use your kitchen to save time). Then let our experts guide you through some of the most popular materials to help narrow down your options.
Professional advice from: Kevin Buchanan of Kitchens International; Jo Gilhooly of Bushboard; Kathryn Manis of Model Projects; Steve Root of Roots Kitchens Bedrooms Bathrooms
Laminate worktops have become one of the most popular options on the market as they offer the best value for money. Constructed from a core material, commonly chipboard, they feature a printed decorative layer covered by clear plastic, which provides a hard-wearing surface.
Easy to clean and maintain, laminate has worked hard to shed its reputation for looking cheap and lacking resilience. Advances in technology mean it can mimic natural materials more realistically, and it’s far more durable too. However, it does retain a few drawbacks. “Bear in mind that laminate isn’t resistant to heat or steam, nor can it be used as a cutting surface,” says Buchanan.
Another limitation of laminate is that you can only install an overmounted not an undermounted sink; an undermounted sink requires the edges of the worktop to be visible and watertight, but with laminate, typically, you won’t get a finished edge suitable for use so close to a sink. (However, there are some new developments here, which you can explore on Formica®’s US website.)
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All laminates are not created equal. The part you don’t see – the core – needs to be good quality if your worktop is to last, but not all manufacturers focus on this.
“The ‘better’ laminate worktops have cores that vary in density,” explains Steve Root of Roots Kitchens Bedrooms Bathrooms. “The surface layers are denser and stronger, so less likely to suffer impact damage if a pan is dropped on them. A less dense structure is used in the middle to avoid the worktop from becoming too heavy.”
Quality laminates also prevent spills from running along the base of the worktop and into the cupboards beneath. “The better, more durable laminate worktops will have ‘drip seals’ on the underside of the front edge to prevent this,” adds Root.
Kathryn Manis of Model Projects recommends wood as a good-value alternative to laminate. It adds character to a contemporary or traditional kitchen, and it’s a hygienic choice because of its antibacterial properties.
Timbers are available at various price points, so there’s almost certainly a wooden worktop for your budget. Plus, wood is a good return on your investment because it can last for many years when it’s cared for. “You have to be willing to put in the work to maintain it,” says Manis. “I recommend oiling a wooden worktop at least once a year.”
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Common complaints about wood include that it’s easily scorched, scratched and stained. Manis advises drying any water that gets onto a wooden worktop as soon as possible – but that’s not always practical around a sink. Wood can swell if it gets very damp. So, if your heart is set on a wooden worktop, think about having a small section of a different material in the sink area, as seen in this kitchen.
Templating refers to worktops that are fabricated in a factory and delivered ready to fit. For stone, engineered stone or solid surface materials, this is essential as it’s not always possible to cut them on site.
Wood and laminate are generally easier to fit and can be cut on site to accommodate hobs, sinks and plug points. “If you have the skills and tools to fit them yourself – or your on-site carpenter does – then this is normally cheaper and easier than taking accurate measurements to send away to a fabricator,” says Root.
“In the past, the choice [for worktops] was either a natural material or limited man-made material at extreme spectrums in terms of cost,” says Buchanan. But there’s now a middle ground if your budget is tight, rather than tiny: “With the advances in worktop technology,” he continues, “there are many options of composites. These are just as hard-wearing as stone, but can come in varying colours and patterns and have a consistent look.”
Although composites don’t come cheap, there are ways to cut costs. But first, what are composites and why might they be worth investing in?
Among the composites available is engineered stone, which combines the natural beauty of stone with the technical and performance benefits of a precision-engineered material. “Being man-made, with a mix of quartz and resin, the material is colour consistent, harder-wearing than granite and stone, and highly resistant to stains, scratches and impact,” explains Jo Gilhooly of Bushboard. “It’s easy to clean with a simple wipe down and needs little ongoing maintenance. It can also be cut, shaped and routed, giving wide design flexibility.”
Another composite is solid surface. This is generally made of a blend of minerals and acrylic. The result is a hard surface that can be moulded into any shape. “Solid surface worktops can be seamlessly jointed, so there are no visible joints and grooves,” says Gilhooly. “Another key benefit is that the material is repairable, and scratches can be polished out and chips repaired by a professional tradesman.” It’s even possible to carve out a draining board because the colour runs all the way through.
If you have the budget for composite, but are still looking for ways to keep costs as low as possible, ask your supplier or contractor about the available options for composite surfaces that don’t need templating. These ‘installer-ready’ worktops can be fitted and cut on site in as little as two days, avoiding the usual two- week template-fabricate-wait process. “Installer-ready work surfaces can offer cost savings of up to 30 per cent overall against the traditional template route,” says Gilhooly.
Variety won’t just add interest to your kitchen, it’ll also make it more cost effective. “Rarely will just one worktop satisfy a whole kitchen design. Zoning is important and also helps your budget stretch further,” says Buchanan. Think about placing hard-wearing stone beside sinks and hobs, and use more affordable laminates elsewhere. If you want to warm up your kitchen with wood – a porous material – steer clear of high-traffic areas and confine it to the breakfast bar.
What worktop do you currently have? Tell us what you love – or loathe – about it in the Comments below.