When I was designing my kitchen, utility and pantry, it wasn’t the cabinet style or colours that took much deliberation, but the worktops. There is a vast choice of materials each with their own set of characteristics and range of colours. The price points also vary dramatically, so it can feel daunting to know where to start.
In the end, I ended up with 4 different types of worktops in my kitchen and utility. They have been well and truly road-tested for several months now, not just by my family but also by tradespeople working at my house, so I thought I would share my experience of them. I’m also sharing my research about other worktop materials that I had come across.
Disclosure: This post links to worktops that were supplied for my project as part of brand collaborations as detailed in the post. These are denoted by *.
Strong, durable, practical, beautiful and pretty much maintenance free – these attributes of quartz make it an unbeatable material for worktops. Quartz is an engineered stone that is non-porous, making it stain-resistant and hygienic. Quartz worktops come in a variety of colour options, so there is something to suit any style of kitchen. Marble-effect quartz is particularly popular, giving the aesthetic benefits of marble without the maintenance.
With all these positives, is there a downside? Just one as far as I can see – the price. A quartz worktop is a premium product, but it is an investment worth making if you want a high quality product that’ll last a lifetime. If the cost is making you hesitate, it is worth talking to local stonemasons to see if they can suggest a more economical option for you that still gives you the look and quality that you’re after.
I could only stretch my budget to one slab of quartz, so I focussed my search on larger sized slabs. After MUCH deliberation over all the white marble-effect quartz designs I could find, I chose CRL Stone’s Statuario Bianco quartz which was fabricated and installed by C&J Stonemasonry.
It has now had many months of use and abuse, and is still as perfect as it ever was. We use trivets for hot pans and never chop directly onto it, but that’s as far as the care goes. Spilled tea, wine, spices and all sorts has been left on it for hours but it all just comes off with a gentle cleaner.
SOLID WOOD WORKTOPS
Timber adds a heap of tactile warmth to any space, and it gains a lovely character as it ages. Hardwoods are a very popular option for kitchen worktops because they are strong, replenishable, easy to work with and also because they are relatively affordable compared to stone. For a rich tone of wood, walnut or iroko are gorgeous choices, but for my kitchen, I wanted to incorporate oak which is my favourite timber.
In my interiors, I favour an easygoing informal vibe and love to mix things up, so I decided to go for 2 different types of worktops in my kitchen: cool quartz around the kitchen perimeter where the heaviest prep happened, and gorgeous warm tactile oak on the island. I was delighted to work with Worktop Express on my project who supplied a full stave prime oak worktop* for my kitchen island. They offer a very useful bespoke service to cut, edge and finish the worktop to your specification and I purchased this service to have my worktop sized and edged to my requirements so that when it arrived, it was fitted easily without any further work required on it.
I gave it a treatment of oil when it was first fitted and even after all this time, it still looks great. We are more careful with the oak than we are with the quartz though. For example, we try to never leave anything wet or staining on it. With more use over the years, it will inevitably get some marks on it, but a light sand and re-oil will make it new again so we are not overly precious about it.
SOLID SURFACE WORKTOPS
Solid surface worktops are quickly gaining favour as they give the look of stone or concrete and are non-porous which makes them waterproof, stain resistant and hygienic. They are more affordable than stone, replenishable (can be sanded and buffed to look like new again as the material is solid throughout) and can be cut and fitted on site thus saving on templating costs.
When I was first planning my utility, I considered a concrete worktop as I thought this would look cool in a utility with dark cabinets. However, researching the cost and maintenance requirements of this material sadly took it out of my shortlist. So imagine my joy when I came across Mistral solid surface worktops and saw the Moonscape* colourway! It looks like hand swirled concrete. I was delighted to be able to work with them on my utility project and could barely contain my excitement when I saw how beautiful the worktop was in real! They have several other colours too so check them out if you are considering a solid surface worktop for your kitchen. My worktop was cut and fitted on site by Midland Worktop Fitters – have a look at my ‘reno Jul-Aug19’ story highlights on instagram to see them in action.
Every time someone has seen the Mistral Moonscape worktop for the first time at my house, they have asked me if it is concrete! People cannot resist running their hand over it. So not only is it a huge win for the look I had always wanted for my utility, but I have also been thoroughly impressed by the practical and durable nature of this material. Tradespeople have used it a lot, throwing their tools on it, stepping on it, leaving it wet and dirty. Now the tradespeople are gone, we use it a lot; it gets all manner of things dumped on it and I do all my plant-potting on it. A quick clean with a gentle cleaner is all I’ve needed for it and it still looks like new.
Laminate worktops are, by far, the best option for a low budget kitchen. Laminate worktops mimic other worktop materials like marble, granite, quartz, slate and timber so can suit most kitchen styles. They are low maintenance and stain resistant. However are not generally heat resistant, and cut edges must be kept away from water. There are some limitations when using laminate worktops, for example (1) only inset sinks are suitable with laminate worktops, not Belfast or other undermount sinks; (2) laminate splashbacks are not suitable behind a hob like stone would be.
In my pantry, I just needed a low maintenance and economical worktop. I didn’t require any heat or water resistance so the obvious solution was a laminate worktop. My pantry is painted dark, so I chose an oak effect laminate for a warm contrast and it serves my pantry perfectly.
GRANITE & QUARTZITE WORKTOPS
Granite and quartzite are different stones but I am talking about them together here because for the purposes of kitchen worktops, they have broadly similar characteristics. Both are hard and durable making them heat, stain and scratch resistant. They are often chosen because of their vivid patterns and colours for a unique statement worktop.
When I am talking about kitchens, I often get asked what the difference is between quartz and granite/quartzite. The most notable characteristic difference in the materials is porosity. As mentioned above, quartz is engineered and non-porous. Granite and quartzite on the other hand are natural rocks, like marble, so are porous and therefore don’t have the same stain-resistance as quartz. Therefore they require some care and regular sealing to protect from staining and etching.
Like granite and quartzite, marble is also a natural rock and therefore porous, making it susceptible to staining and etching. It is also softer than granite so more prone to scratches. Marble worktops come in either a honed or a polished finish. A honed finish won’t show scratches easily, but it is more susceptible to staining due to open pores. A polished finish results in a reflective finish that accentuates the vibrancy of the stone and repels moisture better so is more stain-resistant than a honed finish, however it can scratch more easily. As beautiful as they are, marble worktops will develop a patina over time, so definitely not for people who want things to look perfect!
Porcelain worktops come in a variety of patterns that mimic materials like marble, limestone, and concrete, giving a high end look for less. They are available in super slim profiles so are a great option for a sleek modern look. Being impermeable, they are water proof and stain resistant. They are also resistant to heat and scratches. These characteristics make them hardwearing and low maintenance. However, the pattern is only on the surface, so if it did get scratched or chipped, this would be very obvious. They also require a specialist installer.
It’s easy to see photos of concrete worktops and fall in love with their edgy, rustic and industrial vibe. Concrete can be cast into any shape, pigmented to the desired colour and finished in different textures. It is a very durable material however it is not impervious to stains and scratches. Being porous, it needs to be sealed upon installation and regularly maintained. Pre-cast concrete is also pretty pricey, and similarly to marble, this material is not for people who want perfection. If you want the look of a concrete worktop for a lot less and without the maintenance, I refer you back to my utility worktop show above: Mistral solid surface worktop in Moonscape. Alternatively, check out Caesarstone quartz in Rugged Concrete.
Terrazzo is a rising star of a material. Traditionally developed as a budget flooring option using waste chips from the marble industry, it is now gaining popularity for its versatile applications around the home – from wall and floor coverings to worktops to homeware accessories. It has a distinctively fun yet classic look, and is available in a wide range of colours, with small chips or big chips for different levels of drama – the design options are limitless. It is a durable material however comes at a high price and has similar maintenance requirements as marble.
A worktop forms a huge part of the kitchen design and bears the daily brunt of kitchen use, so it is important to the research materials, order samples and visit showrooms to get a feel for what will be right for you. If you are looking for a worktop for your kitchen, I hope this post has helped you to understand the differences between the various different materials. If you have recently installed new worktops in your kitchen, please feel free to share your experiences!