What is the Best Kitchen Worktop? An In-Depth Guide

What is the Best Kitchen Worktop? An In-Depth Guide

A question I hear a lot is what is the best kitchen worktop? While I don’t think that is a question with a single answer, I do think that it’s very important to think about your kitchen worktop and what properties and functions you want out of it.

The worktops (or countertops) make up a large visual footprint of your kitchen and can also contribute to a large portion of your budget, so making sure you get the right one for you is something to take the time to research and think about.

What you should consider when choosing a kitchen worktop:

Before picking your kitchen worktop there are a few things to consider and ask yourself, taking a moment to think about and answer each of the following will help you to figure out which kitchen worktop is going to be best for you.

Budget:

How much have you got to spend on the overall kitchen budget, and how much of it do you want to spend on the worktop compared to the cabinets and appliances?

If you have a few hundred pounds to spend then you will most likely be looking at laminate or timber worktops. If you’ve got a bit more, or would rather allocate more of your overall budget to the worktop, rather than let’s say appliances, then you could start to consider options such as quartz and granite.

Durability: (Heat and scratch resistance)

Does your kitchen get used and abused a lot; do you need something that is going to withstand scratches and putting a hot pan down directly onto it? Just how tough do you need your worktop to be?

If you’re very careful and caring, then timber can look fantastic. If you need something a little more bombproof then maybe look into compact surfaces, also called porcelain composites. 

Care and maintenance:

Analogy time: Have a look at your car, odd thing to say I know. Is it covered in mud, does it have a load of empty crisp packets and bottles of water littered in the back? If the answers yes, then perhaps you should consider a worktop with less care and maintenance required.

Do you want to be wiping up every little spill as soon as it happens, do you want to be drying the splashes around the sink every time you run the tap? If the answers no, then timber is probably not the best choice for you.

Features and abilities:

Do you want to have a sink fixed into your worktop (undermount) and have draining grooves cut in next to it? Need something in a single length that’s over 3 metres long?

Do you want to create some flowing curves and have a seamless and joint free worktop? Depending on what features and abilities you would like for your kitchen, will dictate the type of worktop choices available to you.

The Different Types of kitchen worktop:

Now you’ve thought about what type of features and properties you want out of your worktop, let’s have a look at the options available to you.

In this post I’m going to go through the most common types of worktops or countertops there are to pick from these days. I’ll explain what they are and go into the pros and cons of each so you can fully understand what you are investing in and what is going to be the best kitchen worktop for you and your kitchen needs.

1. Laminate worktop:

Probably the most common and the most cost-effective of the worktops, laminate worktops are everywhere in the kitchen industry, although usually sold more in the lower end of the market.

There are many different brands out there including some ‘own brand’ versions. Some good names to look out for are Axiom and Duropal.

What is it?

Laminate worktops are made by combining layers of paper and resin to form semi-rigid sheets. A decorative sheet that has the colour or particular pattern goes in the middle with clear sheets on top.

These are then compressed and heated so the layers bond into one plastered sheet which is used to form the outer layer, this is then bonded to a timber (usually plywood) substrate to create the lengths we recognize as sheets of laminate worktop.

The thickness of this top layer is what counts when it comes to the quality and durability, not the thickness of the whole thing, as the rest is just the timer.

That thickness is purely a stylistic choice, usually, 40mm, 30mm or 20mm thick, although there are some newer thinner styles coming onto the market around 12mm thick.

Pros: 

  • Most cost-effective
  • Easier to install
  •  Large range of colours and textures
  • Good stain resistance
  • Easy to maintain

Cons:

  • Not heat resistant
  • Not scratch resistant
  • Vulnerable to water and steam at joints
  • Not a solid surface, so can’t have an undermount sink or drainer grooves

Approximate cost: £100-£1k

2. Timber worktop:

Kitchen with timber worktop
Kitchen with Oak timber worktop – 40mm staves – My mum’s kitchen 🙂

Next on the list is timber or solid wood, as a general guide this is usually a little bit more expensive than laminate but that will depend on what type of timber you go for. The most common and lower on the price scale is Oak, you then move up a bit with the likes of Cherry, Walnut and the characterful Zebrano.

What is it?

A little bit more obvious here, it’s real wood, all-natural from a tree. It’s then milled, machined and glued together to create worktop lengths. The thing to note here is the glueing together. When it comes to wooden worktops there are a few options to the size of the staves (planks) that are glued together.

The most common is a 40mm stave, this creates an almost block work pattern to the worktop. Then you move up to full staves or full planks, these are usually between 80-120mm wide and run longer lengthways. This style is often considered a bit more luxurious and you guessed it, is more expensive.

There is also end grain or butcher’s block but you don’t often see this used for the entire worktop, sometimes just a small end section or prep area.

Pros:

  • Relatively cost-effective
  • Warm and soft texture – Natural product
  • Easier to install
  • Can be repaired if damaged. (Sanded back down)

Cons: 

  • Requires care and maintenance (keep dry and oil to protect)
  • Particularly vulnerable to water and stains
  • Not heat resistant
  • Not scratch resistant

 Approximate cost: £500-£1k

3. Granite worktop:

Probably the material people think of most when they think of a more luxurious hardwearing worktop. Granite worktops have been around a long time and for good reason.

What is it?

A natural stone quarried out the earth make granite both very tough and completely unique. As it’s a natural material no two slabs are ever completely identical.

You can see this as a positive or a negative depending on your viewpoint, but there’s no denying that granite has certain depth and charm to it that other worktops simply can’t replicate, which is why it’s been a favourite for so many for so long.

Slabs usually don’t come any bigger than 3m, so keep that in mind when designing runs and islands. You may require joints.

Pros:

  • Very tough    
  • Unique pattern
  • Good heat and scratch resistance. (saying that you shouldn’t cut directly on it)
  • Real natural material – depth and charm – not an imitation

Cons: 

  • Naturally porous (absorbs liquids) unless treated with a sealant.
  • Picking from a small sample won’t give an accurate representation. (Each is unique)
  • Requires expert template and installation.  (Usually 1-2 weeks)

Approximate cost: £2k-£10k

4. Quartz worktop:

Kitchen with quartz worktop
Kitchen with quartz worktop

The worktop I get asked for the most and depending on budget, the worktop I recommend the most. There are now many brands of quartz worktop offering hundreds of colours and textures. The most recognizable brands are Silestone and Caesarstone.

You may also like:
Silestone vs Caesarstone – What’s The Difference and Which is Best?

What is it?

In simple terms, it’s man-made granite. 

Depending on the brand, quartz is approx. between 85 -95% natural quartz stone, the remaining percentage is made up of the dyes to create different colours/effects and resin to combine everything when compressed and cured.

This produces consistent slabs of the same colour or pattern that are incredibly tough with very good scratch, stain and heat resistance.

It also means that they are non-porous as they get completely sealed during this process. Similar to granite, these slabs are usually no bigger than 3 metres long.

There are certain brands and colours that offer ‘Jumbo slabs’ but these are only a little bit bigger at 3.2metre, so plan your kitchen design accordingly if you don’t want any joints.

Pros: 

  • Very tough
  • Good scratch, stain and heat resistance
  • Consistent colour and pattern across slabs
  • Huge range of colours
  • Easy to look after
  • Good longevity

Cons: 

  • Cost more than laminate and timber
  • Requires expert template and installation (usually 1-2 weeks)

Approximate cost: £2k-£10k

5. Acrylic or Solid surface worktops:

Close up of acrylic kitchen worktop samples
Close up of acrylic kitchen worktop samples

Got curves or want a seamless flowing worktop with no joints in sight? Acrylic, or probably the most popular brand Corian, is what you’re looking for.

What is it?

Made from a cocktail of acrylic resins, minerals and colourings, it can be moulded into almost any shape. This creates endless design opportunities to really go wild and create some fantastic shapes.

You can have your sink and upstands all moulded into the same piece to create one big flowing worktop that is warm to the touch, unlike granite and quartz. It’s completely sealed and non-porous, with the ability to be repaired should it get damaged.

Pros: 

  • Create unique shapes by moulding pieces together.
  • Completely non-porous
  • No joints
  • Can be repaired
  • Pretty tough solid worktop

Cons: 

  • Not as much colour choice as other worktops
  • Scratches easier (can be repaired, but it does scratch quite easy)
  • Usually a little more expensive than quartz and granite

Approximate cost: £3k-£12k

6. Compact surfaces or ‘Porcelain composite’ worktops:

Close up of kitchen worktop samples
Close up of kitchen worktop samples

The relatively new kid on the block for worktops, compact surfaces are branded as being almost indestructible (almost – nothing is ever indestructible). The main brands you may come across are Dekton and Neolith.

What is it?

Compact Surfaces are fabricated by putting the raw materials found in porcelain, glass, and quartz, under extreme pressure and heat to create an extremely durable material.

A pattern is then printed on to the top layer of the slab to create the different colour options. (Note: pattern doesn’t run through the slab on all finishes)

These surfaces are completely heat, scratch and stain resistant. So that means you can chop and put that hot pan directly on them. They come in 12, 20 and 30mm thicknesses and work perfectly with a more contemporary kitchen.

Pros: 

  • Incredibly tough and durable
  • Heat, stain and scratch-resistant
  • Solid worktop (can have drainer grooves and undermount sinks)

Cons: 

  • Higher-end of the price scale
  • Limited choice of colours currently
  • Most only have the pattern on the surface, doesn’t run through the slab. (Some finishes do, more are being developed)

Approximate cost: £3k-£12k

For a demo of how tough this stuff really is, watch this video:https://youtu.be/uFH0jNkxH2g

https://youtu.be/uFH0jNkxH2g

7. Stainless Steel worktops:

The professional’s choice, stainless steel is more commonly at home in the commercial kitchen but is making more of an appearance these days in the home. With its strong heat and water-resistant properties it’s perfect if you’re going for that more industrial or minimal look.

What is it?

Another one that does what it says on the tin, stainless steel is an alloy metal with chromium in its makeup meaning that it is resistant to rust, making it perfect for a busy kitchen.

When it comes to kitchen worktops it is made up in a similar fashion to laminate, in that there is a top layer (the steel itself) bonded onto a timber substrate to make a thicker worktop.

Pros: 

  • Good heat and stain resistance
  • Easy to clean and maintain
  • Natural antibacterial properties
  • Strong and durable

Cons: 

  • Can scratch quite easily
  • Very limited finish choices (slight steel variations)
  • Will tarnish over time
  • Cold and clinical feel

Approximate cost: £2k-£8k

Where to buy kitchen worktops:

Most commonly you will buy your kitchen worktop from the same place you buy your kitchen cabinets from, usually a kitchen design showroom.

However, if you are going for laminate or timber worktops, these can be purchased online or from builders merchants in set lengths to be installed by your kitchen fitter.

If you want to go a step further and save a bit of money on your kitchen project, then often times going directly to a stone fabricator or quarry can save you money compared to what a kitchen design company will charge for the same service.

It’s a bit of extra research, work and project managing on your part, but it’s definitely a way to save some money if the budget is tight.

Final Thoughts…

A worktop can be a big investment, so really think about your budget and how you want to use your kitchen. Take your time and look around at the different options to really get a feel for the materials.

There’s no right or wrong answer here, each has its own qualities and downfalls, you just have to find the one that’s going to fit your needs and be the best kitchen worktop for you.

If you’re looking to save a little bit of money on your kitchen project, then have a read of my post 12 Ways To Actually Save Money on a New Kitchen.