Benchtops and work surfaces are among the more significant cost items in your new kitchen and subject to the most wear-and-tear, so benchtops need to look good but also provide years of hard-wearing performance.
Paying more doesn’t necessarily reflect the best durability or even the best appearance, so consider the attributes of the various work surfaces available to get the best value.
Beautiful marble is often suggested among luxury finishes for kitchen benchtops, however marble is a relatively soft stone which stains rather easily. Granite is so durable that it will dull knife blades but on the other hand it is also porous and vulnerable to staining.
All natural stone is costly and there is a risk of cracking if anything heavy is dropped on the surface or edges, particularly the corners. Stone must be sealed and resealed at regular intervals or it could harbour dangerous bacteria. Care must be taken with the cleaning of sealed natural stone, to avoid compromising the sealed surface.
Modern composite stone is extremely durable and can look just as beautiful as natural stone. Composite stone is resistant to heat and staining, and also very cost-effective because it is much easier to handle in manufacturing and installation. Unlike natural stone, composite stone is not porous so it does not need to be sealed or resealed. Any light scratches can be removed by sanding.
Natural timber benchtops can look gorgeous, however wood is perhaps not the best choice for kitchen work surfaces because it is porous and easily marked. In rustic-style kitchens, however, a well-loved and battle-scarred timber benchtop adds to the character. Polyurethane can provide a tough shield for timber but even this treatment will degrade over time. Oiled surfaces are beautiful and durable but again the oil will need to be reapplied at regular intervals. The wooden bench itself may last forever but some stains may penetrate so deeply that they can’t be sanded out. Water can cause discolouration, and tiny cracks in sealed surfaces can encourage the growth of bacteria.
Laminated surfaces are the most popular choice for kitchen benchtops because they are tough, easy to clean, and cheapest to install because they are lightweight and easy for tradespeople to handle. Melamine is one of the toughest finishes for laminated benchtops – it’s heat resistant, scratch resistant, hygienic, and available in a huge array of colours as well as stone and wood-like finishes.