There are many things to consider when choosing a benchtop for your kitchen or bathroom. There’s obvious thoughts about aesthetics, yet you also need to think about functionality.
Expectations have also become higher over the last few years – not so long ago reconstituted stone was considered a luxury, now it’s becoming the norm, along with other products of a similar quality.
Let me now run through some of the popular benchtop choices and what to consider for each;-
- Natural stone.
Natural stone is unique and not mixed with any other material, so no two pieces are the same. This makes it really attractive as a showpiece in the home. Being a natural product, natural stone has its own unique flaws, colours, and variations within it, which is also part of its beauty.
The great thing with natural stone is that you are able to choose your own unique slab, so you can pick out veining or colourways that you like, and select the feature piece within the stone that suits you.
Some natural stone is porous and doesn’t like acidity, in particular marble can be prone to these sorts of issues. Calacatta Marble is a beautiful product and currently very popular, however, things like lemon juice and red wine are certainly not its friend and will stain it. Other stone can be very durable, such as a Zimbabwean granite, so it’s worth finding out the differences.
Maintenance is also a consideration as it needs to be resealed regularly.
- Reconstituted stone.
A reconstituted stone, also known as engineered stone, is an alternative to natural stone. It’s composed of natural marble or granite granulates compressed in resin. Popular brands include Caesarstone, Quantum Quartz, Silestone, and Essa Stone, but there are many more.
Engineered stone is relatively stain-resistant and scratch-resistant, but not completely. Some brands are now promoting complete stain resistance, so look out for those. One of the biggest advantages with this type of stone is its uniform design. Be aware that most re-constituted stone is not able to be used outdoors, and some matt versions are prone to showing finger marks.
The ideal form of laminate for a benchtop is post-form laminate, which is where it is smooth and rounded as one piece and you don’t have pieces joining together at the edges.
The advantage with laminate is it is easier to work with. It’s lightweight, meaning the cabinet maker can install it easily. It can now emulate natural stone, such as marble or granite. It can also replicate concrete or timber and incorporate texture or even be finger-print resistant. For many, one of the main advantages of laminate is the price – it is cost-effective and a great alternative for those on a tight budget.
The disadvantage with laminate is that it is not as durable as stone as it does burn and the edges can chip more easily than stone. It’s also prone to swelling around the joints if water gets in and reaches the substrate, it’s not always scratch resistant and cannot be repaired.
- Solid Acrylic Surface.
Solid acrylic surface is often recognised by the brand name Corian, but there are many brands available (HI MACS is another). It’s made from a combination of acrylic copolymers and formed from a mould that can take any form or shape. This gives it complete flexibility, so it can be used for just about anything; from cladding on buildings, to custom-designed basins, benchtops, and furniture. Designs can be routed into it, and it can be illuminated.
It’s possible to form integrated basins into benchtops to create a seamless look. There are no visible joins (joins are buffed so it appears seamless). Being seamless makes it perfect for long benchtops, where with laminate or stone, joins would be visible. This gives solid acrylic surface a distinct advantage.
The actual colour of the solid acrylic goes right through the product, assisting to disguise scratches. It’s able to be repaired if it’s chipped or scratched and it’s also non-porous, hypoallergenic, and can be used outdoors.
Some brands offer it in designs that emulate natural stone, whilst it’s also available in translucent versions where it can be backlit to create a glowing appearance that can look beautiful in certain settings and creates a light source in itself.
Timber is a beautiful sustainable & natural product and can look fabulous as a benchtop. It’s particularly appealing when a stunning recycled piece of timber has been found!
It will be need to sealed and requires maintenance to ensure water doesn’t penetrate it. Sanding and oiling or the use of a water based coating is required. The aging of timber from use, with natural indentations, grooves and colour variations can be really appealing to some and suits many styles of homes.
And finally – consider how thick (or thin!) you want your benchtop to be as that can also affect which material would suit you most. The current trend coming out of Europe is for thin benchtops – some 3-10mm. The 60-100mm benchtops we saw about 5-10 years ago are definitely losing favour.
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