Everybody is familiar with the laminate kitchen benchtop. It is the most common benchtop material. Some people refer to high pressure laminate as Formica, which was the original brand back in the 1950’s. Laminate has come a long way since then with a huge choice of. brands colours and qualities. It is much thinner nowadays of course.
Thinner laminate means that it is possible to form (bend) it to give rounded edges. Too thin and it bends nicely but does not last very long as it will wear out quickly. As with most things the more you pay the better the quality. The top laminates are very tough, resist wear very well and will look good for many years. The cheapest laminates will soon show signs of wear and are not likely to look great after a couple of years.
Engineered Stone Benchtops
Engineered stones are now some of the most popular benchtop types in New Zealand. Usually a quartz and resin compound, they are formed under huge pressure, which makes them a very strong, hard, attractive and durable work surface. There is a great choice of colours and patterns from various manufactures.
Engineered stone tends to be more expensive that the cheaper granites and at least as expensive as granite. It does share similar characteristic to natural stone in use, the major advantage of engineered stone is that it is manmade and therefor colours and patters are reliable. The benchtop you get is likely to look the same as the sample.
A variant on solid manmade stone is the stone tile. This is generally only about 6mm thick and has to be glued onto a substrate such as (preferably) plywood or (more likely) MDF.
One of the better known brands is Caesarstone but there are newer entrants into this competitive marketplace that are worth looking at.
Engineered stone will scratch and stain. It is vulnerable to acidic liquids such as vinegar, wine and fruit juices. Clean up spillage as soon as possible. Engineered stone can be protected to some extent with silicone polish.
Stainless Steel Benchtops
A great kiwi favourite for many years, the stainless steel bench top will be the stuff of childhood memories for many. Tough, resilient and reliable the stainless steel benchtop tends to see out the rest of the kitchen. They scratch of course but you would have to be pretty determined to ruin it. The scratches soon merge into an attractive patina anyway and once the pristine new look has gone they settle down into a comfortable workaday appearance that inspires confidence. You will not cut through the surface or chip it with a sharp knife for instance.
Advantages are as described above.
Disadvantages: Stainless steel is shiny and can reflect sunshine into your eyes under a North-facing window (though there are finishes that reduce this). They do not look pristine after first use but the accumulation of scratches does lead to that familiar stainless steel patina, which, whilst not necessarily unattractive, does bother some people.
Traditionally an expensive choice for only the most opulent of kitchens, competition and finishing machinery have brought the cost down to the point where it is seen in mid-range and even cheap kitchens. Indeed the lower priced granites are sometimes used to ‘spec-up’ a cheap kitchen to make it look more up-market.
Granite is a natural material that comes in a variety of patterns and hardness. There are very attractive granites and no two slabs are the same so each benchtop is unique. The price varies enormously depending on the variety and where it is quarried. It is cheaper to quarry in India than above the Arctic Circle in Norway for instance.
Although often seen as a ‘traditional’ material, more suited to older style kitchens, granite can look sharp and contemporary in a modern kitchen style.
Granite can compliment the modern look of plain door and drawer styles, by providing a textural contrast.
Advantages of granite are: The stone provides a hard, durable and attractive surface for a kitchen bench. A shiny surface shows off the natural grain of the stone to great advantage. Some granites are stunning and a great talking point.
Be aware: It needs to be polished regularly to protect the surface and maintain the glossy finish to keep it looking its best; dark colours tend to show up every finger mark and smear. Though cheaper than it used to be it can be quite expensive. Like all natural products, granite is subject to veining , cracks and variations in pattern, colour and texture. The benchtop you get might not look exactly like the sample you saw. If possible, view the slab it is to be cut from before you confirm your order.
Granite will scratch and stain. It is vulnerable to acidic liquids such as vinegar, wine and fruit juices. Clean up spillage as soon as possible. Granite can be protected to some extent with silicone polish. Use car polish regularly for the best effect and protection.
Make sure that your granite benchtop is covered under your household insurance as repairs can be expensive.
Of all the more popular benchtop materials timber is probably the least utilitarian. It can look particularly good in a period or country kitchen yet there are designers who create great effects in contemporary kitchens. It does require care and attention to keep in pristine condition, and, although easily scratched or damaged, is easy to repair.
A timber benchtop is not made from a single plank of wood, which would be prone to movement (warping) but rather many lengths of carefully prepared timber that are glued together under pressure (laminated)
Typical laminations are shown below.