Finding a suitable work surface for your kitchen can be an incredibly confusing task, with many pros and cons — including style-versus-practicality factors — to consider.
If you’re planning on getting a new kitchen, here’s an introduction with some of the facts you will need to know.
Precut or bespoke
You can buy either solid wood or laminate worktops ‘off-the-shelf’ from DIY stores and online.
The dimensions differ slightly, so you just need to check your measurements, make sure you’re equipped to fit it (or have commissioned someone who can), and buy. There will probably be a degree of cutting and joining to be done, so plan your layout before you shop. In addition, check that the width of the worktop will cover your kitchen units – some only come in 60cm widths which don’t stretch to a wider cabinet carcass (such as the Metod-frame kitchens from Ikea).
The great advantages to using a precut work surface are firstly the cost, and secondly that you don’t have to wait to have them measured, made and installed.
Bespoke worktops come in pretty much any material you can imagine: wood of course;
lots of different types of stone, such as granite,
man-made plastic and stone composites such as Corian, Hi Mac
and Staron (sometimes called ‘solid surfaces’);
or polished concrete.
You are likely to have to pay considerably more than you would for the precut offerings, but of course you can design them to a precise specification and fit them exactly (and seamlessly) to your kitchen. Fitting a bespoke worktop normally entails waiting until the kitchen cabinets and appliances are built and in position, after which you get an on-site measure, and then up to a six-week wait for the product to be cut, finished and delivered. You can have sinks set into the counter,
or even moulded out of the same material if you’re going for a plastic-based composite.
Wraparound surfaces look spectacular,
and sharp corners can be softened or rounded.
Thick or thin
You can get a really chunky piece of wood or stone as your worktop, or maybe a slimline streak of glass or steel.
The precut worktops in laminate or wood are usually sold in thicknesses of around 4cm, although a few are made slimmer at 3cm. There are also differences to consider in your worktop edges: an abrupt square or rounded bevels.
It should go without saying that lighter colours are more likely to show stains. A lot of stone counters are porous and a stain will eventually sink down if you leave it too long.
If your kitchen is busy and you can’t guarantee every spill will be noticed or wiped up immediately, it’s worth considering a darker shade.
Can you show it a knife? Can you show it a pan? Can you show it a drop of water?
A joiner once asked me these questions after musing on the gleaming Corian work surface which had just been installed in our kitchen. I had to answer ‘No,’ ‘No,’ and ‘Yes.’
No work surface is perfect. I don’t think any worktop manufacturer would recommend chopping directly onto the surface: you should always use a board to cut and prepare food. Likewise, some surfaces are more hardy than others when it comes to direct heat – granite is obviously a bit tougher to damage than a sleek plastic or natural wood – but most suppliers would suggest using a trivet or board for your hob-fresh pans, rather than searing a charred circle into your countertop. Some materials are completely impervious to water; others swell or blacken if you don’t mop up puddles.
Maybe you already have a clear idea of the look you want for your kitchen, but if not, it’s worth asking yourself some of the questions covered above to find out what you’d value in a worktop, and what you’d consider to be just too much hassle.
Next time I’ll explore some of the different materials you can use — and give you some clever cheap alternatives too.