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 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 has come down in price to the point where it is a natural choice for a kitchen renovation. Engineered stone veneers can be used to clad your existing laminate benchtop, transforming it into a stone one for a fraction of the price of new. Instant WOW factor for your kitchen renovation.
A major advantage of engineered stone is its durability, hygiene and easy care. Its not porous like natural stone so doesn’t need polishing and resealing. Unlike natural stones the patterning is consistent so you know that you get exactly what you see on the sample.
Engineered stone will scratch and stain if its not cared for. 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 with household silicone polish.
Stainless Steel Benchtops
A great kiwi favourite for many years and still doing sterling service in thousands of NZ homes. 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.
One word of warning though. If your sink window is north facing you might not want to have the sun reflecting off a shiny stainless steel benchtop.
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.
Be aware though that granite needs to be polished regularly to protect the surface and maintain the glossy finish and 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. Granite is also porous and if not properly sealed, can stain. 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 household silicone polish but it has to be properly sealed and it might need resealing every so often.to keep it looking its best.
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). Once laminated into an oversize block, the benchtop is cut to size, finished and given a protective coating of lacquer or oil. Each benchtop manufacturer has their own preference of finish and some guard their own formula jealously.
The most important aspect of buying a kitchen benchtop is to only buy a top quality one. Timber can be prone to movement cracking and de-lamination, especially in the kitchen environment. Choose your manufacturer carefully. Be careful to ask about the guarantee and only use a manufacturer that fully backs its product over time.
Some movement or warping can occur after installation due to the particular climate of the room. Hot sunshine, humid (or dry) conditions, and great temperature changes can all cause timber to move. Your kitchen installer or benchtop provider should be expected to attend to it. In the case of de-lamination, the manufacturer’s guarantee should cover it. You can expect your benchtop to acclimatise and settle into its new home after a few months.
A timber benchtop should be kept as dry as possible. It must be waxed and polished regularly to retain its lustre. A good manufacturer will provide you with the correct care products.