KITCHEN WORKTOPS SET TO WORK
When designing a kitchen, completing the look with the right worktop, both in terms of style and material, is of the utmost importance
Kitchen worktops bear the brunt of domestic activities, accommodating everything from children’s homework to preparation of Sunday roasts. Fortunately, there’s a large range of materials available for the kitchen worktops purpose and most are as hard-wearing as they are beautiful.
KITCHEN WORKTOPS WOOD ESSENTIALS
Wooden counter tops impart a homely, warm feeling to kitchens, and, managed correctly, wood can be one of the most sustainable kitchen worktop options available because it is a renewable resource. Jamie Everett of Norfolk Oak sources North American woods – oak, maple, walnut and cherry – from an Ohio-based Amish company because he is concerned about the provenance of many woods. “Ethically sound and environmentally sustainable tropical hard woods are almost impossible to source,” he says, explaining that Iroko or African teak, as well as Burmese teak, which have water-repelling qualities, have in cases been linked to arms trading.
English woods such as ash and beech are less common for kitchen worktop because they can be difficult to dry and there are fewer managed forests, but reclaimed, repurposed wood, particularly from old laboratories, is becoming increasingly popular. “Finishing can be done to kitchen worktop to give either a clean finish or to leave a lot of the graffiti and patina - this has become very fashionable recently,” says Adam Hills o Retrouvius. Wood can scorch unless a trivet or heat rods are used and Naomi Dean, furniture and showroom designer for Harvey Jones, recommends confining wood to soft-use areas of kitchen worktops. “Use a harder surface, such as granite or a composite such as Silestone for foodprep kitchen worktop areas,” she says.
Everett also recommends an initial heavy oil treatment followed by an annual oiling to preserve the kitchen worktop. End-grain worktops, assembled in the manner of traditional butcher’s blocks, are the most durable – and expensive – option.
Thereafter, a sliding scale of plank kitchen worktop choices exists: super-stave, traditional plank and wide block. In all cases, the wood you buy should meet the approval of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
STONE FOUNDATIONS KITCHEN WORKTOP
“Natural stone is useful if you do a lot of baking as its cold surface is perfect for pastry,” says Harvey Jones’ Naomi Dean. Marble is particularly good for this but slate, limestone, granite and basalt are also good options for kitchen worktop. Granite and basalt, being volcanic in nature, are especially hardwearing and the way in which basalt is formed results in a very fine, dense structure of the kitchen worktop. Both are chemically resistant to citric acid, whereas limestone and marble are less so and need more care.
Food can be prepared on stone kitchen worktops directly and although water marks are common in new stone worktop – any stains should disappear on their own after a few days – they must be sealed at installation. Stone countertops improves with age and use, and worktops are at their most vulnerable to chipping when new surfaces are exposed to air and oxidize – the older the stone, therefore, the harder it is. “Old marble kitchen worktop are very difficult to damage,” says Stone Age director, Jo O’Grady.
The most expensive stones are those with unusual veining, which can cost from £600 a square meter – common grey varieties cost significantly less. Whatever the kitchen worktops finish, whether polished, honed, sanded, brushed or brush hammered, stone tops benefit from regular wiping – an antibacterial spray works well but apply a protective product such as Lithofin Stainstop, too.
MAN-MADE KITCHEN WORKTOPS
There is a comprehensive host of manufactured, man-made worktop materials available and, as with natural materials, these have scales of price and durability.
Corian is an established brand for kitchen worktops but it is also a solid surface, known as a composite, consisting of a third acrylic resin and two thirds natural minerals, tinted with various pigments. It is worth bearing in mind that not all composites are the same, with some containing acrylic and others polyester. Made by DuPont, Corian kitchen worktop is non-porous, stain-resistant and easy to care for. “The higher resin content means it can be shaped, carved, decorated and joined seamlessly,” says Paul McDowell, managing director of MCD Marketing for DuPont Surfaces in the UK.
Composites like Corian can scratch and scorch but its resinous properties allow for matching sinks and splash backs to be made, too. Scratches can be easily sanded away. Engineered kitchen worktop stone contains less resin and rather more stone, often quartz, than Corian and examples include Maia, Silestone and Zodiaq, which is also made by DuPont. The proportion of resins and pigments (seven per cent) to quartz (93 per cent) in Zodiaq makes it extremely strong and heat, stain and scratch resistant. “It’s possible to develop colors not found in natural stone, and no further sealants or treatments are required,” says McDowell. However, engineered stone cannot be bent, shapedor joined in the way in which Corian can.
OTHER OPTIONS OF KITCHEN WORKTOPS
There are many alternative worktop solutions that are worth exploring before
settling on a favorite
CONCRETE KITCHEN WORKTOPS: Concrete specialists White+Reid can tint
a basic color, ‘Original Portland Cement’ (OPC), to clients’ requirements, including
a shade called Antique White. Incorrectly installed concrete kitchen worktop surfaces can develop faults later on, so make sure your worktop is burnished, sealed and waxed at the outset. A good contractor should advise on weight considerations.
LAMINATE KITCHEN WORKTOP: Formica is the best known laminate brand, comprising compressed, resin-soaked paper covered with a decorative surface and protected by a layer of melamine. Inexpensive, it is available in bright colors as well as faux stone and wood. Easily cleaned, no specialist fitment is required, but it will permanently scratch over time.
TILES KITCHEN WORKTOP: Lead-free, kitchen-specific tiles are hardwearing and versatile but hand-made tiles are prone to chipping and are difficult to replace, so buy those that are fit for purpose. Charlotte Hill-Baldwin of John Lewis of Hungerford explains the key to successful tiling is in using good, nonporous, epoxy grout with a 5mm width. As they cannot be painted over, avoid tiles in fashionable colors that can date, but stick to cream or white. buy those that are fit for purpose. Charlotte Hill-Baldwin of John Lewis of Hungerford explains the key to successful tiling is in using good, nonporous, epoxy grout with a 5mm width. As such kitchen worktops cannot be painted over, avoid tiles in fashionable colors that can date, but stick to cream or white.