I hope your Christmas was wonderful – and a happy new year! Before the flurry and bustle of all these celebrations I was busy setting out some helpful pointers for choosing a work surface in your kitchen. Mainly because I made up the title for this article (not in the slightest bit contrived), but also because wood, laminate and stone do seem to be some of the most popular worktop materials, I thought it would be good to focus on these three.
The warm tones of a wood worktop are beautiful in a kitchen, but it will need a bit of care and regular attention to keep its good looks.
Wood and water are not the best neighbours, and a sink area will need to be kept free of splashes and pooling, so unless you have a very rigorous and tidy approach to your washing up, it would be probably better to consider another more watertight surface for this part of the kitchen, if you can. Some wooden worktops do have ridges carved out for draining, and some seem to survive the daily onslaught, but these are the ones which are kept in a ‘dry’ state, and are oiled regularly (every six months) to maintain water resistance. In addition pans left to dry can transfer a black mark onto the wood which can be sanded out but may prove to be a hassle over the long term.
Reliable woods seem to be oak and iroko, and possibly walnut, and all consensus seems to be that you should invest in good quality timber, be prepared to undertake a little maintenance work now and then, and make sure your fitter comes well-recommended. You can create a beautiful wrap-around effect by installing your worktop wood up the sides of an island unit or even around a tall cabinet block.
The cheaper option?
You can buy real wood worktops in ready-cut lengths from retailers like Ikea, B&Q and Homebase, as well as in countless online stores. The prices are extremely reasonable and you can carve out all manner of interesting designs if you have the skills and invention, but bear in mind, longer-length counter tops will need to have joins, which may not look so good. I suspect the quality of the wood is not as high as a bespoke sourced and cut piece, so you may encounter more problems with swelling around sink areas and joins.
There are some pretty impressive laminate work surfaces out there these days, so if you’re on a budget with your kitchen redesign, don’t despair about your choices. Wood or stone effect images are many and varied, and are relatively good-tempered provided they are fitted correctly.
Perhaps the most important first task is to work out your specs. Most laminates come in 4cm thick blocks, and range in length from 1.86m for the smallest Ikea offering, to 4.1m for the quality Duropal or Axiom brands. Obviously, the longer the lengths, the fewer joins you will need to incorporate. In a recent job I worked on, the Ikea kitchen we designed had some sweeps of work surface which would have looked simply scrappy if we’d used an Ikea worktop. So we had to look elsewhere. Another important consideration is the depth of your units. Often laminate surfaces are offered with a minimum depth of 60cm, but do check that this actually covers the units you’ve chosen – Ikea units need at least 63.5cm, and most companies offer a range of depths: 60cm, 67 (or thereabouts) and 90 for an island.
Once you’ve established these important elements, you can consider texture and colour. Really wanted a hunk of slate to top your cabinets? Try this for size:
Loving the marble trend but can’t justify the prices?
Fancy using some coarse-grained wood as a feature but know that it won’t deal well with the kitchen environment?
I’d recommend visiting a supplier to see and touch samples. You get a feeling for the texture, which might be smooth, gloss, grained, or crystal. It’s hard to tell the way a surface catches the light by comparing images on a computer screen. If you live in or near Manchester do try out Plasman, a helpful and efficient firm with a huge range in stock and competitive prices.
In our first home, a small conversion flat in West London, we sourced a beautiful piece of Spanish limestone for our kitchen and it was truly stunning.
The greatest maintenance issue was ensuring stains never sat for long (red wine bottles were the worst) as the porous surface simply sucked it down deeper. The limestone cost significantly more than the kitchen units (which were after all Ikea) and the precut piece was extremely nerve-racking to deliver and install. Since the kitchen was a corner section of our all-purpose living area, we really wanted something that would look high-quality and not too kitchen-like. It worked from both sides — practical enough for our food-prep but classy enough to display.
Some of these elements may sway you to invest in a beautiful slab of stone for your own kitchen – if your work surface is visible from all areas it can end up being a wonderful statement piece. Check out the possibilities:
I’ve never got the knack of pastry (my mum was too good) but the cool smooth of stone is great for baking.
No need to define your edges, if you don’t want.
And don’t get stuck with a dull colour. Stone comes as wild as you dare:
Which way do you lean? Let me know what’s worked for you — or even what really hasn’t!