Kitchen benchtops can be a striking design feature. Though aesthetically pleasing, it is also important that they be durable, hardwearing and waterproof. Popular bench-top materials for your new kitchen include Laminate, Engineered Quartz, Natural Stone (marble or granite), Corian, Stainless Steel and Timber. Learn the pros and cons of using each material. This will help you determine the most suitable bench-top for your kitchen.
Laminate benchtops are non-porous, easy to maintain and economical. They come in a wide variety of colours and finishes, including popular colours that mimic stone and timber surfaces. Laminate benchtops are one of the most cost effective countertop materials on the market. They are manufactured with melamine resin and decorative papers bonded together under heat and pressure over a substrate of moisture-resistant board.
A standard laminate benchtop is 38mm thick and can have several different edge profiles including rounded, rolled and square edges. Laminate benchtop manufactures include Laminex, Formica and Wilsonart. They are a versatile and a cost effective option.However, they do not react well with heat and can scratch relatively easily.
Laminate offers a clean-looking, hassle-free and modern approach to benchtops. They are cost effective and reduce the kitchen installation period by 1-2 weeks. In winter, laminate benchtops remain warm to touch and are more sound-proof than their stone counterparts. A good choice if you have kids.
Some laminates imitates the look and feel of natural stones and timber quite well. This bench-top is supplied by Formica.
Engineered Quartz benchtops are manufactured from natural quartz—one of nature’s hardest material. Non-porous and highly resistant to heat, scratches and stains, engineered quartz remains a superior choice. Typically, an engineered quartz consists of 93% crushed quartz bonded with resins to make a durable and solid countertop. No maintenance is required to keep its polished look, though harsh chemicals should be avoided. The appearance of engineered stone is similar to granite and marble, but more flat and less busy. It therefore suits a more modern, contemporary kitchen. There are many colours available. Although it is more expensive than laminate, it does add value to your property and is a positive selling point for any home. The most popular brands in Australia are CaesarStone, Essastone and Quantum Quartz. A standard benchtop is 20mm thick, some colours are available in 30mm too. Another popular option is to put an edge on the stone so the whole benchtop appears 40mm thick or more.
A solid engineered stone top allows for sinks to be undermounted- a clean and minimal approach to kitchen design.
This benchtop has waterfall ends and is given an extra 20mm on the edges making the whole countertop appear 40mm thick.
Granite and Marble benchtops come in a variety of colours and textures. Because these are natural materials, no two benchtops are ever exactly the same. Granite is a harder material than marble, and its pattern is much tighter. Granite is low-porous, withstands high temperatures, and resists scratches and stains. Care must be taken with marble, as it tends to react to acids, including those found in foods such as vinegar, tomatoes, juice, etc. Marble benchtops with honed finishes are more durable than marble with a polished finish. Very hot or cold items may expand or contract both granite and marble, so it is recommended that you do not place these items on your benchtop.
Corian is a completely man-made acrylic benchtop. Its main advantage is that it can be molded seamlessly and without join lines, often with an integrated sink. Corian’s colours do not have the same depth as manufactured quartz or natural stone benchtops. Unlike laminate, CaesarStone, granite or marble, Corian can be scoured with abrasive cleansers. This actually helps buff out small surface scratches and stains that occur with use. The main disadvantage of Corian is that it does not withstand heat at all. It may mark or burn if extremely hot items are placed on it, so care must be used to avoid heat as well harsh chemicals.
A stainless steel bench-top can be fabricated exactly to your specifications. This particular type of bench-top, is seamless and can include integrated sinks, however this can be a costly option. Stainless steel is non-porous, extremely hygienic and can withstand the direct heat of pots and pans. It suits an understated, industrial and modern kitchen and it commonly a favourite countertop of chefs. Stainless steel bench-tops will acquire small scratches with age, but this becomes part of the characteristics of the bench-top. Stainless steal can be a noisy choice. It can also dent if poorly treated.
A timber benchtop is a natural product that can give the kitchen a warm, lived-in feeling and can wear well with age. It is also environmentally friendly. However,make sure to select FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) timber. An oil sealant will give timber a natural finish, polyurethane, a glossy finish. The oil sealant will make repairs easier, you can gently sand the benchtop and refinish with the oil. Polyurethane, however, makes touching up and repairing the benchtop much tougher. If you decide to get a timber benchtop be aware that it will require more maintenance than the other surfaces as it is softer and more prone to water damage, however it can make a beautiful choice.
Kitchen benchtops all have their unique qualities and characteristics. Remember that laminate benchtops are you most economical bet, both corian and stainless steel are seamless benchtops but are at the higher end of the pricing spectrum. Engineered stone is a hassle-free mid-priced option that looks stylish too. Your kitchen benchtop will get a lot of tactile and visual interaction, so choose one that suit your needs.