The workhorse of any kitchen, worktops need to be tough and practical to use, as well as stylish
While cabinetry will be the main style decision you make for your kitchen, never underestimate the impact your worktop choice will have on the overall scheme. Along with the flooring, it sits on a horizontal plane, making it highly prominent, so it’s important to give it due consideration and not to view it as an after-thought.
Worktop materials have changed quite radically in the last few years, offering a vast choice across all budgets. Technology has given us super tough materials that are virtually indestructible options for the busiest of family homes. Meanwhile, the trend for open-plan layouts and living room style in kitchens has led to the introduction of luxe materials for those able to provide them a little tlc.
Here’s what you should consider before you invest in a countertop.
Assess your budget
Worktops are available at a variety of price points – from cheaper laminates to expensive granites – and what you choose usually be driven by how much you have to spend. Cheaper options can be good idea but may not last as long more durable stones or composites.
If budgets are tight, try mixing and matching your worktops. Place panels of more expensive stone in harder working areas such as by the cooker or sink and wood or laminate everywhere. Combining worktops is on trend, too, so your kitchen will look very up-to-date.
Look at your kitchen layout
If this has already decided, it can give you a good steer towards what worktop might be best. Straight runs are cheaper and easier to fit, while seamless materials such as composites make sense if you have lots of corners.
Factor in any added costs
Usually stone composites, granite and some woods will need templating by an expert. Every cut-out you have – for a hob or undermounted sink for instance – will cost around £80-100. Drainer grooves cut into stone by the sink will also cost extra.
Choose your profile
The depth of worktop you choose can also alter the look of a kitchen. Thinner profiles of 10 or 20mm are still popular but thicker edges, created by adding a strip of the composite or stone to the front of the worksurface creating edges of 50mm, are also having a resurgence.
The standard thickness is 30mm.
Choose the best kitchen worktop material for you
The most popular materials for kitchen worktops – laminate, granite, wood, glass, composite stone, stainless steel – have different advantages, so it’s important to look at all the factors involved.
Many of the made-to-measure worktops – marble, concrete, Corian – are pretty costly and can prove unrealistic if you’re on a budget, so opt for a quality look-alike instead. Pre-cut laminate worktops still provide gorgeous surface design and durability without the hefty price tag. Solid wood can also be a good option as it’s easy to maintain.
What is a hardwood worktop? A traditional favourite for its natural warmth and the character that comes as it ages, hardwood is preferred over ‘soft’ woods like pine for its strength. Popular choices of hardwood include oak, walnut and iroko. Always choose a sustainable hardwood, preferably from an FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) accredited source.
Best used Food preparation and dining areas, for example, islands and breakfast bars. Iroko and teak are ideal for using around the sink as they have a high oil content and are water resistant.
Best look Suits all kitchen styles. Can be incorporated into a contemporary scheme using glass or stainless steel to add a warm feel.
How durable is a wood worktop? If hardwoods are properly sealed and maintained they will last for a long time, but don’t use the worktop as a chopping board, or place hot pans directly onto the wood, as it can scorch.
Flexibility and fitting Wood is very easy to cut, and is suitable for use in most situations.
Do hardwoods require any initial treatments? Hardwoods require an initial programme of sealing using oil. Apply a coat once a day for the first week, then once a week for the next month, then once a month for a year.
How do I look after a wood worktop? Wood does need a certain amount of upkeep. Avoid direct exposure to heat and prolonged soaking, especially by the sink and tap area, where you may prefer to install a wall-mounted tap. Wipe up spills instantly to prevent staining. Once established, seal with Danish or linseed oil quarterly to stop drying out. The great news is that any scratches or stains can be sanded out to restore your worktops to their original glory. Start with 100grit sandpaper and build up to 150grit (no finer, otherwise oil won’t penetrate properly). An inset sink with a built-in drainer will help protect the time from contact with water. Never put a hot pan or tray directly onto a wooden worktop – always use a trivet. Clean your surface with warm water, washing-up liquid and a soft cloth is all you need. Avoid using any abrasive and chemical-filled cleaning products and wire scouring pads.
What is a composite worktop? Made from about 90% natural quartz crystals mixed with a small percentage of binders, and referred to as both ‘quartz composite’ and ‘engineered stone’, this material is very tough, virtually non-porous and resistant to scratches, stains, heat damage and impact, and often comes with a long warranty.
It also offers consistent composition, so unlike natural stone, there won’t be variation in veining and colour shading.
Best used A very practical and beautiful choice that can be used anywhere, including next to hobs and around the sink.
Best look Dramatic colours such as dark grey and blue look fabulous in modern and contemporary kitchens. If your room design is quite traditional, stick to neutrals such as cream.
How durable is a composite worktop? Composite is very tough and more durable than many natural stones. As the colour runs right the way through the material, any scratches can be sanded out. In the very unlikely case that your composite surface is scratched, chipped or stained it can often be repaired by a specialist. However, it is easier to achieve perfect restoration with acrylic composites as scratches can be sanded out, while quartz is more likely to be filled and any polishing can leave a dull area.
Flexibility and fitting This worksurface can be thermoformed into different shapes without joints to create streamlined, seamless worktop runs. Fabrication is done by specialists and usually arranged by your kitchen supplier. Templates will be taken once the base units are in place and it can be one to two weeks before the worktops are ready to install.
Do composites require any initial treatment? No
How do I look after a composite worktop? Wipe up spills to prevent marks. Keep clean with a soft, damp cloth and a mild detergent.
Price From approx £300 per linear metre
What is a granite worktop? For some, nothing beats the beauty of natural stone, its veining and colouring unique to each slab. Marbles are classically beautiful and luxurious, tend to be rarer and therefore more expensive.
Best used Any area of the kitchen, including around the sink and next to the hob or oven. A large expanse of glossy granite makes a striking island worktop
Best look It’s a luxury material that never falls out of fashion and suits traditional and modern styles. Choose from a classic polished finish, or a honed matt for a more contemporary look.
How durable is a composite worktop? Granite is hard and resistant to heat and scratches, but it must be treated with respect to prevent damage. The best of all the natural materials, it can withstand high temperatures, is water resistant and impervious to most stains, but wine and citric acids must be cleaned up at once to avoid damaging the stone. and will usually need to be protected by a special sealant.
Flexibility and fitting With advances in modern technology, granite can be cut into a variety of shapes and sizes, although it is very heavy to transport and difficult to manoeuvre.
Does granite require any initial treatment? Granite requires an initial sealing, and then another about 10 years later.
How do I look after a granite worktop? One great thing about granite is that it’s very low maintenance. You can clean it using a damp cloth and a mild detergent.
Price From approx £200 per square metre
What is a laminate worktop? Long-considered the best budget option, laminates are non-porous, offer easy maintenance and come in lots of design and colour choices. Made by fusing multiple layers of impregnated paper under high pressure temperature, bonded to a substrate, they are resistant to impact, scratching and moisture.
Best used General usage, including food preparation areas, sink runs and around hobs and cookers.
Best look Can accurately mimic other worktop materials, including granite, slate and wood, so will suit modern and traditional schemes.
How durable is a laminate worktop? Resistant to most stains and chemicals, but not to heat or steam. Not suitable as a cutting surface. Choose a thicker, high-pressure worktop for greater durability.
Flexibility and fitting Laminate is one of the few materials that can be cut and fitted by a DIY enthusiast rather than a kitchen professional.
Does laminate require any initial treatment? No
How do I look after a laminate worktop? Laminate is very low maintenance. Clean with a cloth and mild detergent.
Price From £30 per linear metre
What is a glass worktop? Glass has long been a favourite with interior designers for the light touch it brings to a scheme as well as its reflective sheen that really helps boost light levels. Glass is a non-porous material that can withstand moisture and spills and splashes are easily wiped clean, making it a beautiful – and practical – solution for the kitchen.
Best used Around the sink or for focal-point breakfast bars. As it is a very reflective surface it is useful as a feature worktop in small kitchens to increase the feeling of space.
Best look Best used with contemporary schemes. Looks out of place in country kitchens. Can be lit from below to create an atmospheric focus.
How durable is a glass worktop? Glass for work surfaces is toughened to increase durability. Heat, acid and water resistant. Can be prone to scratches, but these can be polished smooth.
Flexibility and fitting Worktops can be cut to most shapes and can include cut outs for hobs and sinks.
Does glass require any initial treatment? No
How do I look after a laminate worktop? Needs frequent wiping to prevent water-marking, but is very hygienic due to the lack of joints and resulting dirt traps. Keep sparkling with a glass cleaner.
Price From approx £300 per linear metre for a standard 15mm-deep surface.
Corian and solid-surface worktops
What is a Corian or solid-surface worktop? Made from a blend of acrylic resins, minerals and colourings, solid surfaces are warm to the touch with a natural lustre; they can be totally seamless too with one- piece, moulded sinks and splashbacks.
Designs are often pioneering and the material can be thermoformed into fabulous, organic curves, slick, cantilevered breakfast bars and seamless wrap-around surfaces on islands. The material can be engraved, back-lit with LEDs and even fitted with built-in wireless charging for smart phones.
Corian is a particular brand and make-up of solid surface, meaning not all solid surfaces are Corian. Just like not all vacuum cleaners are Hoovers!
Best used In wet areas. Perfect for a seamless integrated sink and worktop run.
Best look Suits most schemes. Available in a variety of colours – choose bright hues for modern kitchens, white for architectural, and any pale shades for traditional rooms.
How durable is a Corian worktop? Solid surfaces are stain and water resistant. They’re also heat-resistant to 250°C, but it’s still best to use a trivet. As it is a solid surface material, like hardwood, scratches can be sanded out.
Flexibility and fitting Can be formed into any shape without the need for ugly or unhygienic joints.
Does Corian require any initial treatment? No
How do I care for a Corian worktop? Solid-surfaces are another low-maintenance option. Clean with a soft cloth and mild detergent.
Price From approx £300 per linear m.
What is a stainless steel worktop? Durable, heat resistant, hygienic and impervious to water, stainless steel is an alloy of iron. The addition of chromium makes it resistant to rusting.
Best used Around the sink, by the hob and in all food preparation areas.
Best look Stainless steel is the restaurant kitchen favourite and great for creating the industrial aesthetic in your home. It works best in contemporary schemes, but you can team it with other materials to soften the look.
How durable is a stainless-steel worktop? Very strong, waterproof, heat and acid resistant. It is prone to scratching, but some say this adds to its well-worn appeal, and this won’t affect its anti-bacterial qualities.
Flexibility and fitting Sinks can be incorporated into a stainless-steel run. Simple designs can be cut from a single sheet, avoiding the need for joints.
Does stainless steel require any initial treatment? No
How do I care for a stainless-steel worktop? Easily the choice of commercial kitchens because of its hygienic properties. It is very easy to keep clean with stainless-steel cleaner. Use baby oil to keep it looking at its shiny best.
What is a concrete worktop? The industrial look of concrete makes it a current choice. It’s also designed to withstand plenty of heavy duty use, and comes in a range of standard concrete mix colours (from white to grey) and can be mixed with pigments for stronger colours. Polished concrete worktops are flat and smooth, but concrete is porous and can stain, and it is heavy so extra reinforcement may be required.
Best used: General use, but always use chopping boards for food prep.
Best look: Industrial and contemporary schemes.
Upkeep: If food is left on for a long period of time, it can cause staining. You may need a touch-up kit to minimise the appearance if this happens.
Sealing required: You will need to use food-grade sealer or finishing wax to prevent water and stain absorption.
Durability: Concrete is an incredibly durable material, but is also prone to scratching.
Flexibility and fitting: Concrete is handmade and hand-finished, exhibiting natural beauty. It can be trimmed and moulded to suit most kitchens. It also works well for outdoor kitchens.
Price per linear metre: From approx £550 per linear m.
A new worktop is a big investment so don’t be afraid to take your time choosing, visit showrooms and get a feel for each of the listed materials to see what best suits your needs. The kitchen is the heart of the home, therefore it’s got to be right.