Kitchen countertops offer renovators the potential to inject their style into a new kitchen. Here is an overview of countertop options to help you make an informed decision about your new kitchen.
Creating your dream kitchen has to be on of the most rewarding aspects of any renovation. Only the bathroom rivals the kitchen in terms of creative opportunities, innovative product options, and not to mention cost.
Benchtops are now available in a myriad of materials. From stainless steel and dramatic stone to glass and laminate, the choices are many. Here is an overview of benchtop options to help you make an informed decision about your new kitchen.
The iconic Formica® brand has been around for over 100 years, and has played a starring role in kitchens every since. Formica laminate is still extremely popular in the kitchen and has developed a lot since its early days, always keeping up with the very latest trends in kitchen design.
Laminex and Formica are both well-known high-pressure laminates (or HPLs) and are possibly the most commonly used materials for kitchen benchtops. Teresa Walsh from Laminex New Zealand explains that there are many benefits to using HPL in the kitchen.
“Using HPL allows consumers to get the wow factor in their kitchen without seeing the wow factor on their invoice! Not only that but it’s extremely durable yet a softer material than granite or stone, making it a great practical choice. It’s also great for kids because they won’t be able to damage it as easily or hurt themselves as much if they bang themselves on it.”
Major building supply stores such as Placemakers, stock kitchen cabinet units with Laminex and Formica benchtops. Placemakers have a kitchen cabinet range (the Peter Hay range) that includes Formica cabinet tops; these are available in a range of colours and styles dependent on budget.
Bunnings Warehouse also sells laminated benchtops, priced as low as $240, making them a great option for budget-conscious renovators.
Concrete is a versatile option for kitchen benchtops, allowing for many different colours, finishes and textures. These benchtops tend to be cast to the client’s specification, which means they can be completely unique.
While plain concrete is the most popular option, some people opt for aggregates such as stone, glass or shell to be added; colour can also be added to create the desired look.
Peter Housiaux from Concrete Doctors says that there are a number of finishes people can opt for in their kitchen countertop.
“There is a basic finish, which is basically what appears once he concrete is cast, but cleaned and sealed. A semi-grind and polish finish reveals a bit of the texture of the concrete. With a heavy-grind and polish the texture of the aggregate is revealed.”
Concrete benchtops are easy to maintain, but it’s worth noting that cracks may occur. These are not structural, however, and can lend a certain deconstructed charm to the countertop’s appearance.
Concrete benchtops range in price from $4,000-$20,000 depending on size, finish and aggregates used.
For true drama in a benchtop, you can’t go past stone. Slabs of stone are ideal work surfaces, offering a natural beauty to any kitchen space.
Granite and marble are two very popular options when it comes to stone benchtops: granite is traditionally black and marble white with dark veins of colour, but these tones can vary.
Sam Thorne from Italian Stone explains: “Stone is incredibly varied, sometimes shipments of the same stone from the same quarry will be different in colour and patterning simply because the geology changes as they quarry into a mountain.”
He says that colour often dictates the decision people make about stone. “Colour pallet usually begins the conversation, from there is it truly the customer’s inspiration that leads and we follow by showing alternatives that fit the particular characteristics that led to the inspiration.”
Quartz is another popular stone for benchtops, as it is very strong, and relatively scratch resistant.
Natural stone is crafted by countertop makers to the specification of their clients, and is at the higher end of the price bracket from $800 per metre square.
It may not seem an obvious choice for benchtops, but glass can create real impact in the kitchen. One company that has been exploring the potential of glass for benchtops is Graphic Glass.
They create bespoke benchtops, with the customers’ choice of design, finish and texture, for high-end kitchens throughout the country.
The glass is 19mm thick, and can be laminated; images or other graphic elements are transferred on to the glass, which is then affixed to the base of the cabinet.
The pricing of the glass benchtops depends on the text and finish that is required, and the glass can be toughened or non-toughened depending on the intended level of strength needed. There are also ranges of textures that can be used depending on the look that’s desired.
Bespoke glass benchtops aren’t for the budget conscious, however, and sit at the top end of the market in terms of price.
Graphic class counter tops range in price from around $800-$1,500 per square metre, depending on image, texture and finish.
Combining the beauty of natural stone with durability and scratch resistance, engineered stone is a great option for kitchen benchtops.
Silestone is a good example of engineered stone: 94 per cent quartz and six per cent resin, it offers the best of both nature and technology. Another great feature of Silestone is its antibacterial qualities, which come from the addition of silver to the stone mix.
Tim Richards of Silestone says that the stone has other features that make it excellent for use as a benchtop. “We import jumbo-sized slabs of Silestone (3.2 x 1.8m) which means people who want a very large counter can achieve this without joins. There is a wide range of colour options, and it is more resistant to wear and tear than natural stone.”
Caesarstone is another form of engineered stone, also made from quartz. This material is virtually non-porous, as well as being free of mould and bacteria – making it ideal for food work surfaces.
Engineered stone can be worked to a client’s specifications by fabricators following a designer’s plan.
From $700 per square metre.
The warm caramel tone of Moso bamboo creates a real impact when used as a kitchen countertop. The Enspire range of Moso bamboo is sourced from sustainable suppliers (and pandas don’t eat it) so is a great choice for environmentally conscious renovators.
Crafted from strips of bamboo that are laminated together both vertically and horizontally, these benchtops are extremely hard and versatile and distinctive in appearance.
David Speedy from Gibson Veneer and Plywood (a wholesaler that stocks the Enspire range) says that bamboo stacks up well against other hardwoods. “Bamboo is 30 per cent harder than oak and 17 per cent harder than maple,” he shares. “It’s strong, straight and very hard-wearing.”
The ends of the benchtop have a distinctive striped appearance, which is ideal for retro or 70s-inspired kitchens, and the finish is smooth and even in texture.
Bamboo benchtops (40mm) retail for between $300-$350 a square metre.
The standard for any commercial kitchen benchtop, stainless steel is becoming an increasingly popular option for residential kitchens. Non-porous and very hygienic, stainless steel comes in a range of textures, although the traditionally polished look tends to be the most popular.
Cleaning of stainless steel benchtops is simple – simply wiping with a cloth will do the trick – and the sheen of steel creates a crisp, clean look in the kitchen. Stainless steel benchtops can be made to customer orders, following the plans of a kitchen designer.
John Bryant of Classic Stainless says that once their company has such a design, and the customer decides on the finish and texture they want, it takes around three to five weeks to complete manufacture of stainless steel benchtops.
“Stainless steel can become marked after a few years, but this adds to its character,” he says. “But we do offer a repolishing service for people who want to restore the original character of their benchtops.”
Stainless steel benchtops sell at between $300-$400 a metre depending on finish.
This home renovation advice article featured on page 40 of Issue 011 of New Zealand Renovate Magazine. New Zealand's first and only magazine solely dedicated to home renovations.
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