Kitchen Planning: How to Choose the Perfect Worktop
The worktop you choose will affect both the look of your kitchen and the way it functions. So before you decide, check out these expert tips
Wood or concrete? Natural or engineered stone? Stainless steel or marble? The worktop you choose will have a huge impact on both the look and functionality of your kitchen. So, before you buy, ask yourself some key questions. What look do you want to achieve? Are you keen on a smooth, sleek finish, or is an aged patina more your style? What kind of cook are you? Do you like to have everything out and strewn around, or do you clean and tidy as you go? Do you have a big, busy family, or lots of dinner parties, or are you preparing meals for one or two? This will have an impact on how extensive and how robust your worktop needs to be.
Don’t rule out mixing two materials – a marble slab with wooden worktops, say, or a stainless steel island with a wooden breakfast bar attached. Different materials can serve different culinary purposes, and can also be used to visually order your kitchen. ‘Mixing materials is an effective way to define kitchen zones,’ says Julia Sugden of Roundhouse.
There are pros and cons to each material. Your choice will come down to how robust you need your worktop to be, how much you’re prepared to look after it, and how you want it to look in your kitchen scheme. Check out this guide to the 10 key types of work surface, plus new materials on the block, to help you decide.
Professional advice from:
Tim Wood of Tim Wood Limited
Steve Dempsey of Ebstone Kitchens
Julia Sugden of Roundhouse
Emma James of Deco Glaze
Alice Paice of Tipfords
Chris Hambrook of Increation
Jeremy Friendship of Studio 3 Kitchens
Manmade, generally from a mix of minerals and resin, solid surface worktops offer a smooth, durable surface in a huge range of colours. Makes include Corian, Hi-Macs and Ikea’s Personlig acrylic.
‘Solid surface has a soft, satin look,’ says Chris Hambrook of Increation. ‘It comes in a massive range of colours and, thanks to different-coloured glues, the seams are virtually invisible, so it’s great for long worktops, or L or U shapes. If you scratch it, something like Vim will polish it up again, so it’s pretty easy to maintain.’
Pros Extremely robust, hygienic and easy-care. It can be formed into any shape, including sinks and upstands. The colour runs all the way through, so it’s possible to carve out draining boards.
Cons Some of the darker colours are not recommended for kitchens as scratches show up too much. The area around a sink can discolour or crack over time. It can’t take hot pans, although round bars can be set into the surface to act as a trivet.
With everything from oak and maple to walnut and iroko bringing warmth and texture into kitchens, natural timber is justifiably popular.
‘Wood is beautiful, timeless and forgiving,’ says Tim Wood of Tim Wood Limited. ‘I’d advise iroko for a kitchen worktop – it has a closed grain, an inherent oiliness and is dark enough not to show marks.’
While in theory marks can be sanded out, Tim advises not doing this. ‘Unless it’s brand new, sanding patches down to fresh wood will make it look like a Dalmation. If it’s really marked, it’s better to use a cabinet scraper to refresh the whole surface.’
Finger-stave surfaces, where little planks are glued together, are a cost-effective way to have wood.
Pros Timber is naturally antibacterial, relatively simple to install and easy to repair. If you’re willing to oil it frequently, it can be robust and beautiful.
Cons It needs oiling a couple of times a year. ‘I’d suggest a teak or teak-like oil applied in a very thin layer,’ says Tim. It’s fairly easily scorched, scratched and stained, and is not great with water.
Find tons of ideas for wooden kitchen worktops in our photo section.
Concrete has the most industrial aesthetic of all the worktop materials. ‘Concrete work surfaces are very now and very tactile – people are drawn to touch them,’ says Chris Hambrook.
There’s a surprisingly large range of colours available beyond classic grey, and it can be shaped to run around pillars or form sinks, for instance.
However, it isn’t as robust as some other materials, and it isn’t seamless, as expansion joints often need to be incorporated. ‘The main reason for choosing concrete is aesthetic,’ says Jeremy Friendship of Studio 3 Kitchens.
Pros Nothing quite beats it for adding edge to a ‘safe’ scheme. It can be formed into any shape, and can be repaired or stripped back to remove stains. It gets tougher as it ages, and makes a great in/out material if you want your worktop to continue out onto a patio.
Cons If you opt for a concrete worktop, your kitchen will be out of action for a while. Concrete worktops tend to be poured in situ (although simple shapes can be made off-site), and it takes a couple of weeks for it to be ready to use. It stains easily and needs to be treated with a penetrative sealant every six to eight months.
Granite is the most popular stone for worktops and gives a quality feel to kitchens. The vast range of shades and patterns available means each surface feels unique, and there are choices perfect for modern and traditional kitchens alike. If a bit of sparkle and shine pleases your eye, granite is a good choice. ‘As it’s natural stone, each worktop is individual,’ says Tim Wood.
Both polished and honed surfaces are available – or a polished top with a honed edge, for instance. ‘For those who love slate, which is too soft for a worktop, it’s possible to hone dark granite to look just like it, but with a much hardier result,’ says Tim.
Pros It’s very tough, and resistant to heat and mould. ‘It’s often cheaper than engineered stone and composites,’ adds Tim.
Cons It’s porous, so needs to be sealed – ideally every six months. It’s heavy, so needs to be sitting on good cabinets. If it’s damaged, it can’t be repaired.
If you’re going for granite, take a look at all of these granite kitchen worktop photos.
Whatever the pros and cons, marble has the wow factor and, for some, there’s nothing like its unique beauty.
It is delicate, though, with more of an open grain than granite, and as such it can work best as a section of a worktop in a different material, both to introduce a little of its luxury and as an aid to food preparation.
‘Marble is a cold surface, so it’s very useful in cooking. If you make a lot of pastry, a marble worktop will stop it sticking,’ says Julia Sugden. ‘Lining your pantry drawers with marble will also help keep your fruit and veg cool.’
Pros The undeniable wow factor. It comes in a huge range of patterns and colours and each piece is unique.
Cons It’s delicate – watch out with red wine or citrus juice. It’s easily scratched and unrepairable.
Engineered stone is made from a high percentage of crushed quartz – typically 96% – mixed with resin. Makes include Cimstone (shown here) Silestone and Caesarstone. It’s available in roughly 100 colours and a huge range of finishes, from glossy to matt, plain to flecked or sparkly – and even ones that mimic concrete.
The colour is more even and consistent than with granite, so it’s good for long stretches of worktop.
‘Black is less popular than it has been,’ says Steve Dempsey of Ebstone Kitchens. ‘Many people are going for grey to tie in with grey timber floors for an industrial look.’
Pros ‘It’s up to five times harder than granite and non-porous, so there’s no danger of mould,’ says Steve. It’s low maintenance, and stain- and chip-resistant.
Cons ‘As there’s a small amount of resin in there, it’s best not to put hot pans on it,’ says Steve. If it does burn or is damaged in any way, it’s unrepairable.
Stainless steel has becoming increasingly popular recently, thanks to a surge in cooking and the industrial interiors trend. ‘Stainless steel is so robust,’ says Julia Sugden, but warns that it’s not indestructible. ‘It does wear, it does scratch and become patinated, but it often looks even better for it.’
Pros ‘It has a modern look, is very robust, and very clean – it won’t stain,’ says Tim Wood. It can be formed into any shape and size of worktop, with integrated sinks and splashbacks.
Cons It’s a lot of work to keep it clean, as it shows grease and fingermarks, and it scratches fairly readily, although light marks can be burnished out. It can dent, although the substrate (often plywood) tends to limit this.
Copper is a beautiful choice, warming up a slick space or giving a traditional scheme a cool edge. ‘Copper worktops have mostly been used in restaurants in the UK, but they’re starting to appear in homes, too,’ says Alice Paice of Tipfords.
‘Copper has the warmth of wood, but without the ring marks – you can put hot pans directly on it,’ says Alice. ‘Water will cause it to oxidise, but this can be wiped off with a damp cloth.’
It does mottle over time, though, so it isn’t for everyone. ‘It’s a living material, so it will naturally react to substances and develop a patina. I can see the history of our family in ours,’ she adds.
Pros It’s naturally antibacterial and easy to clean. ‘I’d recommend a wipe with soapy water and a buff with baby oil to make it glisten,’ says Alice. Lemon juice will give it a super clean, but it can wear away the antibacterial properties over time. It’s possible to have huge runs – up to 20m – without a join.
Cons If it’s the pale, penny-bright copper finish you’re attracted to, that would be hard to maintain. The metal is soft, so it can get dented, though the plywood substrate tends to limit this. It’s currently not available in the UK in sheets deeper than 95cm, so it won’t work for seamless islands.
Glass is a super-slick choice suited to contemporary kitchens. ‘More and more people are choosing glass for their worktop as they realise how strong and easy to maintain it is. It takes a lot to break it, even the currently popular 10mm worktops,’ says Emma James of Deco Glaze.
If scratches are an issue for you, consider etched glass. ‘Many people opt for acid-etched surfaces as they are pretty scratch-proof,’ says Emma. ‘Unlike sandblasting, this method doesn’t create holes, so it’s still super-easy to clean.’
And the best way to clean a glass worktop? ‘Vinegar and newspaper brings it up a treat without involving any harsh chemicals,’ says Emma.
Pros It comes in a pretty much unlimited range of colours. It can be lit from below for a special effect. Chips can be repaired by most windscreen repair firms. Maintenance is easy as the pores don’t hold onto stains, and it’s unaffected by water. It doesn’t need sealing and is heat resistant to 400C. Light scratches can be buffed out.
Cons With chunky worktops, the colour is altered slightly by the thickness of the glass. Fingermarks can show up, especially on darker colours. Polished tops scratch and joins are visible.
Laminates have come a long way in the past 20 or so years. Now they can realistically mimic other materials, including wood and granite.
It’s also the most cost-effective choice. ‘Laminate might not be swish, but it’s definitely still the “safest” option on the market. Go for a matt finish instead of gloss – it looks much better,’ says Jeremy Friendship.
A laminate top can be styled up with an edge in stainless steel or wood, for instance.
Pros It’s relatively low cost, and perfect for light-use kitchens. The huge range of finishes means it’s easy to create the exact look you’re after.
Cons Not the most durable surface – it’s easily scorched and scratched – and it’s unrepairable if damaged. The joins are visible.
Dekton, seen here in rich brown Keranium from the Tech collection, is a new super-durable surface. ‘It’s a blend of the raw materials used to produce the latest glass and porcelain as well as high-quality quartz work surfaces,’ says Julia Sugden. It’s pretty much resistant to everything, from UV rays to scratches and heat.
Ceramic worktops are also making headway into the market. They can stand heat up to 1000ºC and are scratch-resistant. ‘Ceramic worktops come in numerous colours, many of them matt, and can mimic surfaces like copper and concrete,’ says Steve Dempsey. But because the ceramic is so thin – just 12mm – you can’t have draining board grooves carved into it.
What is your favourite worktop material? Share your thoughts in the Comments below.