10 Popular Kitchen Benchtop Options, Compared!
It appears that laminate is experiencing a renaissance!
First things first, what actually is laminate? Essentially, it’s coated paper. No, really! Laminate is a surface material made from paper, coated in a layer of plastic or other protective finish. The result is a versatile, hard-wearing and flexible substrate that can be used for various interior applications. In the case of benchtops, the laminate surface is adhered to a board such as particleboard or MDF.
The colours available are extensive and quite beautiful. Laminate can also be bent around soft curves — showing just how versatile this material is when used creatively. It’s widely available, easy for most cabinetmakers to install, and gives you maximum bang for your buck.
Laminates are available in a huge variety of colours and designs — including solid colours, wood grains and imitation stone. Remember, laminate is made from coated paper, so, when you’re looking at a woodgrain laminate, this is not real timber, but a surface that is printed/designed to look just like timber.
Laminates are hardwearing, budget-friendly, but not invincible. Avoid putting hot pots directly on laminate surfaces, and keep an eye on joins, especially near sinks. Not all laminates are created equal!
Brands include Laminex, Formica, Polytec and the lesser-known; Abet Laminati, Admira and Duropal.
A timber benchtop is a classic choice that suits a wide variety of spaces. However, they can vary substantially in cost, depending on the type of timber, and construction of the benchtop.
A benchtop crafted from long pieces of high quality timber such as American Oak isn’t cheap. Benchtops like this don’t come ‘off the shelf’ either, they’re one-of-a-kind. You will need a cabinetmaker to create this, which involves hand selecting the timber pieces and glueing them together with minimal joins, before thicknessing and sanding down your benchtop to the perfect size and finish, and often staining or applying a coating to the benchtop to seal it.
A more affordable option is buying a ready-made timber benchtop from somewhere like Ikea or Kaboodle (via Bunnings). These timber benchtops are usually made from solid pieces of plantation timber, but typically patchworked together using quite short timber lengths, which means more joins on the surface of your benchtop. This is still a great option if you’re keen on a solid timber look, but you’re working to a budget.
A timber-look benchtop can also be achieved using timber grain laminate surface, as outlined above.
Keep in mind water can affect solid timber benchtops, which can be problematic around the sink area. Timber can also be affected by heat, and it will scratch over time. But don’t be too precious — it’s all part of the rustic charm and texture of real timber.
Since I started writing this story the landscape has changed around using engineered stone. So unless you’ve been living under a rock (pun intended) then you may have heard that there are some big problems around the fabrication of engineered stone. Engineered stone is a composite slab of stone that in generally made from around 90 per cent crushed quartz, bonded together using polymer resin.
There have been concerns about the health impacts of respirable crystalline silica dust, especially for workers who cut, grind, or polish these surfaces, leading to the call to ban this product or at the least, the need for low-silica alternatives.
Engineered stone has been used widely as a less porous and cost effective alternative to natural stone, but with its potential ban, there will be a huge gap in the market. Times are changing. Watch this space!
Authentic terrazzo is made from marble chips and/or other stone pieces, suspended in a cement base. Available in countless colours and styles, this surface has been enjoying huge popularity in recent years.
If you’re wondering how terrazzo wears over time, grab some pizza in one of the traditional restaurants along Lygon Street in Melbourne. The flooring that was laid in the 60s is still there – and looking great!
I love this nostalgic feeling that terrazzo has. There are some gorgeous colours to choose from with peaches and creams to earthy greys and warm terracottas. The speckled pattern makes terrazzo easy to live with — it hides the crumbs!
A terrazzo slab can be used as a benchtop but as hardwearing as it is, it is not totally indestructible. Terrazzo needs to be sealed with a penetrating sealer, much like natural stone. Some of the same issues with silica dust that are affecting engineered stone may also apply to terrazzo — although strictly speaking, ‘real’ terrazzo should be made from cement, not resin.
Who else is here for the tiled benchtop comeback?
I love tiled benches because they add interest and texture — and there are so many gorgeous options to choose from. The type of tile you choose and the size of your benchtop will largely dictate how much this option will cost.
Remember, not all grout is created equally. You need an epoxy grout because it is impervious, so nothing can be absorbed.
Concrete benchtops feel solid and permanent.
Traditionally concrete benchtops can be formed and poured onsite. This means you get one shot! It can be risky, but now you can find concrete benches made off-site in molds and then flipped — this gives it a smoother finish as conditions are controlled.
Concrete by nature is porous so it needs to be sealed with protective coatings. These need to be maintained every few years if you want your benchtop to be ‘perfect’. But I’m guessing if you want to use concrete, you’re leaning into those imprefections of this industrial and strong material.
Porcelain panels are a relatively new benchtop surface. It’s made by compressing stone (minerals extracted from nature) at extremely high pressure. This means that it has no weak points and it’s non porous.
Scratches? Nope, not gonna happen. Stains? Don’t even think about it. And, large panel sizes mean that joins are kept to a minimum.
It has taken a while for the fabricators to become well versed in handling it as porcelain can’t be cut like stone. This means that it can be expensive to install.
It comes in solid colours, and a white porcelain benchtop stays white — it’s hard to stain. Porcelain panels that look like natural stone are so real you’ll be doing double takes. The only giveaway? The veining doesn’t run right through the slab, because it’s a digital image printed on the surface.
Some brands to look out for are; Artedomus, Dekton and Neolith.
Mother nature simply cannot be beat. There is something absolutely irresistible about running your hands across a slab of stone that comes from the earth. There is a stone to suit every taste; from the pure white of Greece’s Thasos marble to the intensity of the spider-web like veins of New York marble. Not to mention the variety available – there’s something for everyone, from pink granite, green onyx, soft travertine or classic Carrara marble.
Some stone varieties need a little extra TLC, like the soft and porous ones (marble and travertine), while others are like the rock stars of the stone world (granite and quartzite), tough and wont let stains crash their party.
If you’re in it for the long haul, stainless steel is your ride-or-die.
Yes, it scratches, but that’s part of its charm. Sheryl Crow said it best, the first cut is the deepest. When the bench top is all shiny and brand new, the first few scratches will hurt. But over time the entire benchtop will show an overall softly brushed appearance – lean into this, the scratches are actually part of the beauty of the material. It’s called patina and we love it.
Other benefits include no risk of staining, it’s heat resistant and hygienic.
But, stainless steel can be expensive because of the fabrication costs – each benchtop is custom made just for your kitchen. And, it can be extremely glary when the light hits it.
Solid acrylic surfaces are sometimes known as the brand name Corian or Hi-Macs. Essentially, they are a solid plastic surface.
An almost seamless surface can be achieved with the solid acrylic sheets glued together resulting in near invisible joins. Even the kitchen sink can be integrated into the benchtop surface for one continuous smooth surface. It feels lovely and smooth to touch. It’s ideal for the perfectionist that likes a clean smooth surface.
Even better, it’s non-porous. So that means that stains can’t penetrate the surface. Solid acrylic can scratch, however if there is damage to the surface these can be buffed off and repaired.
Acrylic is not commonly used as a kitchen benchtop material as it can be cost prohibitive. I prefer the solid colours that don’t try to imitate real stone. White, creams, speckles or the bold colours come up so beautifully.