Once your kitchen layout's been established, it’s time to choose a suitable benchtop; one that fits in with the aesthetic of the design, but more importantly one that's functional, suitable for your purposes and which makes preparation in the kitchen easy. Bench tops are primarily places to work, so the importance of practicality can't be underplayed.
With so many styles to choose from, the task of choosing a benchtop can sometimes be overwhelming. There are several materials available to the Australian market. These include:
- High pressure laminate
- Natural stone
- Reconstituted stone / quartz
- Solid timber
- Stainless steel
- Polished concrete
- Tiled medium density fireboard
What should I look for in a benchtop?
So how do you know what best fits your purpose and what should you be looking out for? Any of these types of benchtops will normally perform well, but there are three main aspects that will usually help you to narrow down your choices. These are:
- Level of maintenance required
Cost of materials and installation
Cost is first, because there's a huge difference in price between the most affordable benchtops on the market and the most expensive. Materials like marble and granite, for example, need to be shipped, prepared specifically for your needs and installed using special methods to ensure that your cabinetry will support the weight, and so that the bench doesn't break in the process.
Cheaper laminate benchtops, on the other hand, can be ordered by the metre at the local kitchen supplier and cut to fit on site. Concrete, while cheap in terms of raw materials, requires highly specialised manufacture and installation. Costs for your benchtop include both the production costs of the materials, as well as what's involved in terms of supply and installation.
Style, colour and texture
Style's always a consideration in a kitchen, and this is a big factor as far as benches go. Some materials are better suited to a particular style of kitchen than others - wood, for example, will comfortably find a home in a French provincial kitchen, whereas polished concrete is likely to be better suited to an ultra-modern minimalist kitchen.
If you're choosing a benchtop made from stone or timber, be aware that there will be natural variations in texture and colour between different batches. A sample you've selected may not exactly match the final product in every case. Likewise, if you plan to add to your benchtops in future, you may need to settle for the closest fit rather than the exact same surface.
Some materials can be made to look like others - reconstituted quartz benchtops (like Caesarstone), acrylic benchtops (like Corian) and benchtops that use a high pressure laminate surface are all very versatile, and as well as offering a range of unique finishes, can do an admirable job of mimicking other more expensive surfaces too.
Level of maintenance
Stone surfaces like granite and marble are undoubtably beautiful, hard wearing and luxurious as benchtops, however with them comes the responsibility to keep your benchtop pristine and well maintained. Leaving a splash of orange juice on a marble bench can eat away at its protective coating, and may even leave a permanent stain. Some other types of benches (certain acrylic and laminate products, for example), won't take well to having hot cookware accidentally placed on them. Likewise, surfaces like timber and polished concrete will periodically need to be treated to ensure that they maintain their resistance to moisture, heat or scratching.
In most cases the amount of maintenance required isn't too taxing, but you should definitely understanding what's involved for different materials before you buy.
Looking for some great examples of benches done right? Browse out our kitchen ideas gallery.