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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.

Wood

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.

Earn your stripes: create something beautiful, like AFOBI.com

Earn your stripes: create something beautiful, like AFOBI.com

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.

Bamboo is always a neat option/ photo from Bamboo Lamp Photo

Bamboo is always a neat option/ photo from Bamboo Lamp Photo

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.

Iroko wraparound counter top from Design Interior Solutions

Iroko wraparound counter top from Design Interior Solutions

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.

Faking it

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:

It's all in the texture -Duropal does Welsh Slate

It’s all in the texture -Duropal does Welsh Slate

Loving the marble trend but can’t justify the prices?

Simple and classy - but not real - Bushboard Prima Calacatta Marble

Simple and classy – but not real – Bushboard Prima Calacatta Marble

Fancy using some coarse-grained wood as a feature but know that it won’t deal well with the kitchen environment?

Keeping it rustic with Axiom's Shadow Oak, photo from Modern Laminates

Keeping it rustic with Axiom’s Shadow Oak, photo from Modern Laminates

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.

Stone (marble…y)

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.

Pinkish hue of Spanish limestone - worth the investment

Pinkish hue of limestone – worth the investment

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:

Cheshire Granite serves up some unique and eye-boggling patterns

Cheshire Granite serves up some unique and eye-boggling patterns

I’ve never got the knack of pastry (my mum was too good) but the cool smooth of stone is great for baking.

Who needs a bowl or a board? The Begrudging Baker rustles up a fruit tart

Who needs a bowl or a board? The Begrudging Baker rustles up a fruit tart

No need to define your edges, if you don’t want.

Edgy/ Rowat Cut Stone and Marble

Edgy/ Rowat Cut Stone and Marble

And don’t get stuck with a dull colour. Stone comes as wild as you dare:

Marble evoking shimmery fishscale  brings a distinctive sheen to this blue and white toned kitchen/ worktopfactoryy.co.uk

Marble evoking shimmery fish scale brings a distinctive sheen to this blue and white toned kitchen/ worktopfactoryy.co.uk

Which way do you lean? Let me know what’s worked for you — or even what really hasn’t!

I would say that generally there’s a rule about bathrooms, which is that should someone move to a new home, and find within it a bathroom suite that is not white, the introductory tour to friends would go something like this:

“And here’s the bathroom! Of course, we’re going to get rid of that avocado suite as soon as possible!”

And if I was asked to advise on updating bathrooms in that situation, I’d assume that the home owner was in the right.

Urk, where do we start? Apartment Therapy readers' dilemma

Urk, where do we start? Apartment Therapy readers’ avocado-based dilemma posed in “Good Questions,” 2009

So I was initially surprised by a recent design job where my client wanted to Keep The Suite. The shade was one called Pampas, and actually, when I started to consider it, would fit in unobtrusively amongst the Farrow and Ball ‘Greens’ collection.

Well helloo. Pampas shade of bathroom is at home with a shabby chic vibe

Well helloo. Pampas shade of bathroom is at home with a shabby chic vibe

It’s pale, and reminiscent with its sage tones of a lot of the upcycled furniture that populates eBay.

This cabinet is painted in vert de terre from F&B -- one of many reconditioned items to be found for sale

This cabinet is painted in ‘vert de terre’ from F&B — one of many reconditioned items to be found for auction online

With this in mind, creating a design around the suite was actually quite satisfying. These pale greens look too stark set against a brilliant white, they fit in more snugly with cream or natural woods. Any paintwork we do will be cream, and the overall effect we’re aiming for will be restful and calm.

The floor was the first thing I felt we had to pin down, and I was looking for a light, yellow-based wood effect. We found a wonderful vinyl by Amtico called Bamboo:

Bamboo theme vinyl floor by Amtico has a retro feel to it

Bamboo theme vinyl floor by Amtico has a retro feel to it

The next challenge was the wall tiles. Lynne likes limestone with nice geological markings, so we set out to find a match for the floor and Pampas colour.

The Pampas soap dish takes an outing to Tiles UK...

The Pampas soap dish takes an outing to Tiles UK…

It was surprisingly hard to get a complementary shade: too dark and the room would have looked murky; some tile colours looked great with the Pampas but terrible with the floor; others were too busy, or too grey, or too pink. Finally we found a lovely stone effect tile called Legend Marfil which had just the right amount of detail, a pale colour and even at a good price (around £15 a square metre).

Not too busy, not too dark, not too pink, not too pale: this tile is just right/ Legend Marfil from Tiles UK

Not too busy, not too dark, not too pink, not too pale: this tile is just right/ Legend Marfil from Tiles UK

The Seventies-design taps needed updating from the ubiquitous squat and dated basics…

WARNING: WE WILL DATE YOUR BATHROOM. IMMEDIATELY.

WARNING: WE’RE CHEAP BUT WE WILL NOT IMPROVE YOUR BATHROOM

… to some classy crossheads:

Stately traditional taps strike a confident pose

Stately traditional taps strike a confident pose/ Coniston bath taps by Victoria Plumb

And at the windows a natural wood effect slatted blind will be fixed, to filter the light.

Sable Venetian Blinds in Ecowood by 247blinds

Sable Venetian Blinds in Ecowood by 247blinds

Another important issue was the bath side, which back in its heyday would have doubtless sported a creaky plastic Pampas panel. We intend to bring it gently up to date with wooden cladding instead: so much more solid.

Like this, but just the bath side - so much more solid than a bath panel

Like this, but just the bath side/ photo from bighouseholidays: The Lookout House, Thorpeness

If there is room for storage (we’re going to have to wait and see after everything has been installed), we did find a fantastic range from Victoria Plumb called “Camberley.” It has cabinets in what seems like a matching shade:

What a lot of lovely storage. Camberley Sage from Victoria Plumb

What a lot of lovely storage. Camberley Sage tall cabinet from Victoria Plumb

Whether it is or not remains to be seen. If we’re feeling lucky we’ll order one up and check. Otherwise there are handy options in other stores, such as this bamboo and chrome wall shelf…

Tesco's bamboo wall shelf

Tesco’s bamboo wall shelf

… this cool locker cabinet…

Bamboo cabinet from Argos

Bamboo cabinet from Argos

… or this ladder storage:

Floor-standing box storage also from Argos

Floor-standing box storage also from Argos

If the Camberley range works for us, we can opt for their mirror and wall cabinet:

Slim cabinet for useful bathroom storage

Slim cabinet for useful bathroom storage

Camberley mirror

Camberley mirror

Otherwise a wood-framed mirror and possibly a cream-coloured cabinet would work ok. We’re also toying with the idea of paint colour-matching the Pampas shade, buying a cheap wooden cabinet, and simply painting it.

Work is already in progress, it shouldn’t be long before I can show you the room in all its peaceful perfection.

In the meantime, since starting this job, I have been mulling about daring interior design – where you leap for what you love and see where that takes you – and the contrasting blandification of houses which don’t scare estate agents but equally don’t give anything away about the character of the people who live there.

The basin and bath are unashamedly green in designer Luke Mortimer's home/ house tour by Design Sponge, 2012

The basin and bath are unashamedly green in Australian designer Luke Mortimer’s home. House tour by Design Sponge, 2012

Bold coloured sinks and taps from Byggfabriken on Pinterest

Bold coloured sinks and taps from Byggfabriken on Pinterest

I know which side I lean on. How about you?

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