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Which worktop?

granite worktop 10 2 12Whether you want the warmth of wood, ease of laminate or quality of granite, our guide can help you choose the kitchen worktop that will be perfect for you.

Granite
What is it? Granite is a natural stone that’s formed when lava cools and solidifies. Quarried around the world, it comes in a vast array of colours and patterns. ‘When you choose granite, you choose a unique piece of natural art – direct from Mother Nature,’ say kitchen experts at B&Q.

Advantages It doesn’t come much tougher than granite. It can put up with super-high temperatures, is resistant to water and most stains, and holds its colour for years. And as every slab is unique, you’re guaranteed a one-off worktop.

Disadvantages Installation can be a pain as it’s heavy to handle. It is porous and therefore needs to be cleaned gently and also sealed at least every few years to prevent staining. The look can vary significantly within even a single slab, so bear in mind that your final worktop might look different from the sample you chose it from.

Approximate average cost From £200 per sq metre.  

Best for: An investment buy that not only has the wow factor but is also extremely durable

Corian
What is it? Corian is the brand name for a product that’s a mixture of acrylic and natural minerals. Completely solid, it’s available in more than 100 colours.

Advantages If there’s one word for Corian, it’s ‘flexible’. It can be cut, drilled, sculpted and bent. Worktops are thermo sealed, so lack the edges or corners that usually trap dirt. As its manufacturer, Du Pont (www.dupont.com), says: ‘Corian is joined in a way that creates inconspicuous seams and a sleek, hygienic, non-porous surface.’ Any scratches or burn marks can be sanded out and it doesn’t need sealing before you install it. It offers superior design possibilities and has an excellent long-term performance.

Disadvantages Best not to put a hot pot straight on to a Corian worktop, as it’s resistant to heat only up to 100ºC. To protect its 10-year warranty, your worktop must be made and installed by a certified fabricator. Probably
the main drawback, though, is that it’s not cheap.

Approximate average cost From £300 per linear metre.

Best for: Seamlessly integrating a sink and worktop. its design options are almost limitless

Laminate
What is it? Laminate usually consists of a core of plywood, chipboard or MDF with a laminated veneer on top. A favourite with DIY kitchen-fitters, there’s a huge range of colours and looks to choose from.

Advantages Laminate can be a cheaper alternative to wood or granite, and is simple to cut to size and lighter to install than natural stone products. As a general rule, it’s easy to clean and, with no sealing required, low maintenance to look after. ‘Laminate worktops are a good choice for kitchen work areas because they’re hard wearing, comparatively resistant to heat and easy to maintain,’ say the kitchen experts at B&Q.

Disadvantages Modern laminate is more heat resistant than it used to be, but still warps under the pressure of a hot pan. You can’t repair chips or scratches, and it starts to deteriorate sooner than other materials. When the joins and seams begin to degrade, they look unsightly – plus the fact that laminates can harbour bacteria.

Approximate average cost From £30 per linear metre.

Best for: Those on a tight budget. If you can afford to, spend that little bit extra and go for a better quality, high-pressure laminate – it will last longer

Hardwood
What is it? While laminate tries to emulate the look of a solid wooden worktop, nothing can beat the real thing. Genuine oak, walnut, maple, cherry and beech are all popular choices, and durable, too.

Advantages Wood has a natural, warm feel that brings just as much character to a traditional, rustic kitchen  as it does to a more modern space. Durability’s a definite plus point and, rather than deteriorate in quality with age, wood matures. Barncrest (www.barncrest.co.uk), manufacturers of hardwood worktops, says: ‘Surfaces that have been neglected, become a bit tired and lifeless or accidentally damaged by cuts, burns or stains can usually be sanded and re-oiled to restore them fully to their original splendour.’ And compared with other worktops, wooden ones are moderately easy to install.

Disadvantages Naturally porous, wood requires extra TLC to keep it in tip-top condition. It needs sealing with oil before installation, and if there are any spillages, you should mop them up as soon as possible, do not leave liquid to soak in. Never use a hardwood worktop as a chopping board or put hot pans directly on to it.

Approximate average cost From £125 per linear metre.

Best for: The long haul. With the right amount of care – or possibly renovation – this type of worktop will become EVEN better looking over time

Quartz
What is it? A man-made alternative to granite, quartz usually consists of 95% raw material that’s ground down and mixed with resin and colour pigments (and often mirrored particles for sparkle) to produce a sheet of material. This is why it’s known as ‘engineered stone’. Quartz rates seven out of 10 on the Mohs hardness scale, a way to judge how scratch resistant minerals are.

Advantages Quartz’s toughness means it repels scratches and scorches. Non-absorbent even without the need for sealing, hygiene is another plus point. ‘It has the ability to repel a large majority of the usual household chemicals and stains’, says Karonia (www.karonia.com), which manufactures solid work surfaces for kitchens. Day-to-day cleaning is as simple as wiping with a damp cloth and warm soapy water. You know exactly what colour and pattern you’re going to get, as there’s no variation – unlike with pure granite.

Disadvantages Quartz’s manufacturing process can mean it costs a little more than granite, without having the natural stone’s purity (granite fans say that quartz can look artificial). It’s also much heavier than granite
and needs to be professionally installed.

Approximate average cost From £240 per linear metre.

Best for: A tough, hygienic worktop that’s uniform in colour and pattern


This article was first published in at home with Sarah Beeny in December 2011. [Read the digital edition here]


Photograph: Getty Images

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