Although there are a few considerations when it comes to choosing worktops – who will fit it, how will it be finished, how will your sink sit, and how much will it cost – your key concern is what will your worktop look like and how will it perform. This falls to which material you opt for.
How Much do Different Worktop Materials Cost?
When it comes to choosing between a few materials which are equally aesthetically pleasing, cost can often be the decider. So, how much can you expect to pay for each worktop type?
- Laminates from £30/m
- Timber from £90/m
- Stone from £250/m
- Metal from £250/m
- Glass from £300/m
- Composites from £300/m
Hardwoods are definitely the way to go with teak and iroko being great options around sinks due to their high oil content which makes them very water resistant. Of course, there are many other timbers that are successfully used for worktops such as oak, maple, beech, cherry and walnut.
There is some upkeep involved to make sure your timber looks its best. Spills must be mopped up instantly and invest in trivets to avoid scorch marks from hot pans.
When first fitted, timber worktops need to be sealed with Danish or linseed oil. Do this every day for the first week, then once a week for the next month, then once a month for the next year to keep it at its best.
On the plus side, burns and scratches can be easily sanded out using fine-grade sandpaper or wire wool. It is also easy to cut, so fitting can be carried out either by your kitchen supplier or by a joiner, in little time and on site too.
Finally, timber looks wonderful when combined with other materials such as marble, stainless steel and composites.
Most people’s thoughts turn to granite when they think of stone worktops but other great options include basalt, limestone, sandstone, slate and marble. Granite is particularly sought after for its incredible durability, heat and moisture resistance. It is available in a massive range of colourings, either as a block tone or incorporating natural characteristics such as veins of quartz, mica and feldspar trapped within.
It is expensive, but there are companies specialising in fixing a thin layer of granite to existing worktops for a fraction of the price of a full worktop.
Deep-toned slate is also an excellent choice and costs around half the price of granite; if it has a high quartz content it will also be incredibly durable. Polished slate is less porous, so more resilient than honed.
Marble, limestone and sandstone can look fantastic on worktops but are damaged easily by alcohol, sugar and acids, such as lemon juice. You can still happily opt for these stones, but treat with due care.
All stone must be treated with a sealant, and the kitchen units must be sturdy enough to take the weight.
Laminates are very dependent on their quality — at the higher end of the market are some excellent products which look really similar to some composites and stones. However, they really struggle to sucessfully mimic timber.
At the lower end of the market they are prone to heat damage and scratch easily. Plus, they cannot be sanded in order to repair them. The best-quaity laminates are heat resistant up to very high temperatures, are very hard to damage, virtually maintenance free, and even have built-in antibacterial coatings.
In addition they are simple to cut and fit on a DIY basis, plus cheaper than many other options.
Hugely practical, sleek and stylish, composites are an ideal choice for contemporary kitchens. When mixed with timber or a natural stone, and in neutrals such as beige or dark grey, composites can work well in more traditional schemes too.
Made from a combination of natural stones and resins, they are perfect in areas exposed to moisture or heat (such as around sinks and hobs). They also come in a wide range of colours, from pure white to midnight blue, and everything in between.
Corian, an acrylic compound, is also a very popular choice. It can be cut to size without joins, so is perfect for seamless designs. It can also be moulded to any shape, so it is possible to have a sink integrated, and it can even used on cabinet fronts for a complete look.
Depending on the quality and make you go for, composites can still mark and scratch, despite their indestructible reputation.
Stainless steel has long been popular in professional kitchens for its durability and hygiene, but over time it may develop scratches. Many think this adds charm and it certainly doesn’t affect its performance, but if scratching is a concern, opt for a slightly matt finish. For a sleek finish, install a one-piece sink and worktop.
Although it is easy to keep clean it will show fingerprints easily — although a quick buff with some baby oil will soon get it looking its best once again.
Best used in contemporary kitchens, glass worktops can look somewhat out of place in a traditional scheme. From a practical point of view, they do show up fingerprints and can scratch, but on the plus side they increase the feeling of space and look impressive when lit or placed on top of a coloured surface.
Glass worktops are available in a variety of colours and also in finishes such as ‘crackled’ or opaque. Recycled glass is also an option.
They work well when used for breakfast bars and are very resistant to stains, heat and water. If you do decide to opt for glass, remember that they require specialist cutting and can look a little over-the-top when combined with other glossy surfaces. They are also not ideal for those with little children — just keep a good supply of glass cleaner to hand.
Concrete is perfect for adding a touch of industrial chic and is very durable, assuming it is correctly sealed. It can be set in-situ or ordered to size. Different finishes are available, from smooth polished to rough.
Get Your Sizes Right
To be practical, a worktop should be at least 90cm long. It should also be deep enough to overhang your units by 20-25mm. Not only does this look better than worktops that end abruptly at the units but it also means spilt liquids miss the units and head straight for the floor as opposed to dripping into drawers.
Check the depth of your units before ordering worktops as not all are the same depth. You also need to consider your drawer and cupboard fronts — some fit flush into the unit carcasses, others sit in front of them, adding to the finished depth of the units. Finally, when choosing the thickness of your worktop, bear in mind that chunky worktops add a sense of quality, so it is often worth paying a little extra for thicker surfaces.
My Walls Aren’t Straight!
Walls in old houses are not always straight and this can prove problematic when fitting worktops. There are several ways to deal with the issues. The most common is to ‘scribe’ the worktops to fit:
- Position the worktop with its back edge against the wall. Ensure the overhang along the front of the cabinets is the same all the way along.
- Measure the biggest gap between the wall and the back of the worktop.
- Cut a small block of wood (a ‘scribing block’) the width of this gap.
- Stick a strip of masking tape along the length of the back of the worktop.
- Starting at one end of the worktop, run the block against the wall and mark a line along the masking tape. This will give the shape of your wall.
- Cut along this line with a jigsaw. Where only small amounts need removing, you can use a sander or planer instead. Where this method will increase the cost of fitting the worktop – it can be very expensive to cut stone – a channel can be chiselled into the wall to accept the back of the worktops, before finishing off with upstands or tiles.
Worktops tend to be sold in three-metre lengths. The standard width is 600mm which is fine for most standard units, but islands and breakfast bars may require wider surfaces, which are available with two or more ‘good edges’. Thicknesses normally range between 27mm and 42mm.
Where should I buy my worktop?
Kitchen specialists: Along with your units, carcasses and appliances, you can also get your worktops designed and fitted. Not necessarily the cheapest route, but definitely one of the simplest.
Bespoke companies: Some only offer complete kitchens, whilst others allow you to choose which elements you want, so they make the units and you order your own worktops — great if you want to seek out individual worktops at lower prices.
DIY warehouses: You can now buy complete kitchens from DIY warehouses, and it is possible to buy standard lengths of worktop, too. When buying worktops individually, fitting may not be offered.
Timber merchants, stone quarries etc: It is possible to buy lengths of timber and cut stone for worktops from these sources, and you may well be able to get a good price doing it this way, but remember that you will need to find a fitter.
Match Your Worktops to Your Kitchen Style
Traditional Styles: For traditional kitchens with decorative wooden carved doors, terracotta flooring and range cookers, worktops in timbers such as oak, maple and beech all work well — but avoid more unusual timbers, such as stripy zebrano or wenge. Granite works well in these settings -— with greens and blacks being favourites. Composites containing quartz can also look good.
Contemporary Styles: This depends on how contemporary you want your kitchen to be. Fresh, modern kitchens suit a range of materials, including laminates, timber, granite and glass. For something really eye-catching, however, choose one of the more intense, rich timbers such as black walnut or wenge, or a striking striped zebrano — all sit really well with glossy units.
Composites in stark, pure whites, blacks or punchy brights look great, too, as do slate, sandstone and chunky hunks of concrete work surface.
Classic Styles: Shaker-style kitchens and those with painted wood units, along with stone or wooden floors, suit timbers such as oak and beech, or wenge and iroko for a modern twist. Granite in muted tones, i.e. pale, creamy versions and greys, and stones such as slate, limestone and marble, also work well. Composites can work, but avoid anything sparkly or bright. Stainless steel sits well if combined with natural materials such as timber.
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2. Single bevel
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Sinks and Splashbacks
You need to decide how your sink will sit within the surface before you order your worktop.
Contemporary kitchens suit integral sinks, where the sink is moulded into and made from the same material as the worktop. Composites and stainless steel are particularly well matched to this setup.
Sinks can also be undermounted into the worktop — once again leaving no joins with the worktop or, as is most commonly the case, overmounted, leaving the rim of the sink sitting on the worktop itself.
The size and position of your sink are details you will need if having your worktop pre-cut.
Choose splashbacks at the same time as your work surfaces as they will need to complement one another, whether you decide to simply use tiles all over, to use a separate splashback behind your hob, or to have upstands (smaller than splashbacks at around 4-5 inches high, all around your worktops). Choosing upstands in the same material as your worktop gives a neat finish.
Splashbacks, however, offer a nice opportunity to inject a contrast into the scheme, for example coloured glass with all-white composite worktops, or stainless steel against dark timber.