Top things to consider when choosing a new kitchen worktop
Image credit: Caesarstone's Quartz Worktops UK
Apart from the cupboards, the worktop is one of the most visible features of any kitchen - and almost certainly one of the most well used.
So, whether you're refreshing an existing fitted kitchen or going all out with a brand-new installation, it's crucial to weigh up the costs, practicality and appearance of the different worktop options.
An engineered alternative to solid marble or granite, it's easy to see why a quartz worktop, of the kind produced by Caesarstone, is an increasingly popular choice - echoing the elegance and high quality of natural stone worktops, at the same time as addressing some of the limitations.
So, it's true that quartz isn't quite as heat resistant as solid stone - though it's not really an issue if you use heatproof mats anyway - and, as you'd expect, has a slightly less 'natural' look. On the other hand, that can be a plus point if you're not a fan of the veining and colour variation found in natural granite.
One area where quartz really excels is in its durability. So, it will typically resist staining and scratching, even though - unlike solid granite, marble or wood - it doesn't need any sealing or oiling. Additionally, the wide range of beautiful colour and finish options for quartz make it a great choice for bold, contemporary kitchens, while the lack of visible joins - due to it being a composite material - can work well if you're creating a centrepiece kitchen island.
If your budget is relatively tight, laminate worktops can be a good-value, all-round option. You'll typically find them in a wide range of colours and finishes - including stone, slate or wood - and with a choice of square, curved or rounded edges.
However, though they can be hardwearing and attractive to look at, laminate worktops are never going to have as premium a feel as the more expensive, more solid alternatives.
Among those dearer options, solid wood remains a popular choice - a material that is full of character, and that can look just as gorgeous in a slick and modern space as it does in a traditional country kitchen.
The downside is that wood does require more maintenance than most of the other worktop options, including regular oiling - at the time of installation, and then usually every three months or so - to keep it looking good. The flipside of this is that if you do have an accident, minor damage can usually be remedied with some fine sandpaper and a re-oiling.
Granite and marble
If money's no object, it's hard to argue with the beauty and prestige of solid granite or marble worktops. Attractive, heat resistant and - at least in granite's case - very durable, both are popular options if you're after a kitchen that combines practicality with a great wow factor.
Both materials come with some provisos, though. Most importantly, the porousness of both granite and marble means that your countertops need to be sealed - once when they're installed, and probably every few years afterwards - to prevent spilled wine or oil causing permanent staining. Second, while natural solid stone is pretty robust for everyday use, there's always a risk of chipping or scratching - especially with a marble worktop - if you're unfortunate enough to drop something heavy.
In short, there are pros and cons of all the most popular kitchen worktop materials, and your decision will come down to how much you're prepared to spend, the look and feel that you're wanting to create, and considerations such as durability and the need for ongoing sealing.
Whatever your worktop, however, we'd always recommend using chopping boards and surface protectors. No matter how durable or heatproof the worktop you choose is, it makes sense to take basic precautions - and it's much easier to replace a cheap accessory from the IKEA Market Hall than it is to fix a ruined kitchen countertop!
Written by Graham Soult
23 March 2016