By Hebe Hatton
When it comes to kitchen countertop ideas and choosing the styles and material for the most important surface of your home, it is not something to be done in isolation. The materials, colors and textures you choose for your floors, walls and cabinetry will all impact your selection and the overall look and feel in your kitchen. So it's something you should be planning at the very early stages of your kitchen design.
So consider whether the style you're going for is luxurious and minimal, or rough-hewn and rustic. Perhaps you're after an industrial vibe or simple Shaker style? Once you've narrowed down the kitchen ideas and trends you're drawn towards, you'll be able to simplify your decision about the worktops, as some materials will naturally be ruled out and others will contribute towards a certain aesthetic.
And there are, of course, practicalities as well as style to consider. There are so many choices out there (don't worry we will talk you through them all) that suit different looks, lifestyles, and budgets so it's worth looking at the pros and cons of each before you make a decision.
So if you are after a countertop that's both aesthetically pleasing and going to cope with almost constant use, we've pulled together all our favorite looks as well as asked the experts for their top advice to help you make the best decision.
What is the best kitchen countertop material?
Let's get straight in there with the practicalities. Choosing the right material for your kitchen is perhaps one of the most important decisions in your kitchen design. Sure it's not as fun as choosing your cabinetry, but these work surfaces are the most hardworking in your home and therefore you need to get them spot on.
We'd advise starting by considering how you use your space. Do you often cook large meals for guests and family or is your kitchen more... decorative? 'Worktops are often an afterthought in design but are one of the hardest working pieces of your kitchen so its important to take into consideration how you cook and live when choosing your material.' says Ben Burbidge Managing Director of Kitchen Makers.
'One practical consideration is aftercare and how they will age. Wooden worktops are elegant but require regular maintenance compared to laminate. Marble is beautiful but is more susceptible to spills, whilst zinc or copper will weather and change with wear creating a beautiful patina.'
When it comes to countertop material choice, the options are far too long to list, but the most popular options are wood, granite, marble, composite stone, marble, and stainless steel. We have even seen tiles making a comeback but let's not even go there right now. Each of these will have its advantages and disadvantages so again it's about looking at your needs and how you use your kitchen.
Budget is something else to consider when choosing your kitchen countertop. If you want anything solid and natural – exotic woods, concrete, marble – you may find it's one of the most expensive parts of your kitchen design. But there are options to keep costs down by using look-a-like materials. Or you could always splash on something special for a kitchen island and keep it cheaper for the rest of the surfaces.
Kitchen countertop ideas
1. Choose a classic wooden kitchen countertop
Perhaps the most popular kitchen countertop idea, wooden work surfaces have many advantages. 'If you’re looking for a natural look and feel to your kitchen, maybe you want something more traditional. A wooden worktop will provide you with a gorgeous rustic feel to your home.' explains Kam Bharadwa of Kutchenhaus. They give a real homely feel to your kitchen – something that the more modern kitchen styles and designs can lack. With age, wood changes color very subtly. You can apply different oils to change the color yourself which can work wonders if your wooden worktop needs that little boost.'
However, a wooden countertop can be high maintenance. As Kam says 'to keep them looking new, it is recommended to oil them regularly, around every 6 months, for the life of the worktop. The oil will keep your worktops water-resistant, hygienic and it’s also a great way to stop stains or watermarks forming.'
2. Create a cohesive look with a single material
If you have been blessed with a large kitchen, or have an island or it's part of an open plan space and you don't want your kitchen to drift, bring all the components together with one countertop material across all the surfaces. You'll instantly create a cohesive look that will feel like a complete space.
And another note to take from this gorgeous black kitchen idea, don't be afraid to go dark with both your cabinetry and your countertops. 'Deep shades can add drama and luxury to your kitchen, whatever the size, and help achieve an on trend look.' says Ben Burbidge. 'And consider choosing a material that can be replicated throughout the rest of the room, in furniture and smaller accessories, will ensure the space feels cohesive; especially useful in today’s modern open plan kitchens.'
3. Or mix and match your countertop materials
'Consider mixing worktop materials for visual interest and depth: for example, if the surfaces are mainly in granite, consider wood for a breakfast bar or stainless steel near the range or elsewhere. Change the level of the worktop where the material changes if possible, to add clearly zoned areas.' says Alex Main, Director of The Main Company.
This is a great idea if you have fallen for a material that perhaps isn't the most practical too as you can pick that for the lesser-used surfaces and opt for a more suitable choice for ones that have to work harder. Also, a look to consider if you don't want to blow all your kitchen budget on countertops.
4. Add natural textures with granite
Granite is ideal for kitchen countertops. It's one of the most durable materials out there, and that gorgeous veining that's unique to every slab is hard to beat so if you are after a bespoke look (and have the budget) it's definitely a strong contender.
'It’s very tough and hardwearing. Its own unique patterns are what makes it so different. No two pieces are ever the same!; says Kam Bharadwa. 'The unrivaled finish to a granite worktop is what makes it slightly more expensive in the current market. They have extremely high heat resistance being a natural stone, however, we would always recommend using some form of protection. They are also very highly scratch-resistant.'
However, granite worktops do have the slight disadvantage of being highly sensitive. Despite their durability they can be quickly dulled and stained by certain liquids. 'Always check which detergents are best to use to clean your granite worktop, but we would recommend a damp cloth and a very mild detergent. The watch-outs are citrus and acidic foods and liquids that may be solvent-based. As they usually come sealed when installed, it is recommended they are resealed every year as this is a porous material.' advises Kam.
5. Choose hardwearing engineered stone worktops
And if you love the look of granite and marble but don't want to splash all your budget on your countertops consider going for composite or engineered stone worktops. You can achieve a very similar look and these materials are also really strong and hardwearing. You don't get that uniqueness as you do with granite, but that could work in your favor if you want continuity amongst all your worktops.
'These are a very popular choice as there are many designs to suit all tastes and budgets. They are produced in batches, which means you can get more than one piece of the same material.' explains Kam. 'Highly durable, non-porous and scratch resistant make this one of the worktops of choice for any Kitchen. As they are not natural stone and mixed with a resin, you could not use any harsh chemicals on the surface to clean them. Warm water with a mild detergent will be ideal to clean. Again, with most worktops, hot pans would not be recommended to be put straight on to the surface as this may damage them. We would recommend some form of pan protector.'
6. Make a kitchen island the focus
A kitchen island tends to already be the heart of a kitchen, and the natural place everyone gravitates to, so make it a real stand-out focal point with the countertop material you choose.
Since kitchen islands are usually an uninterrupted surface space, a beautiful slab of marble would work perfectly – stunning and timeless. Plus, you could keep costs low elsewhere by choosing a cheaper material for the rest of your work surfaces. And marble and quartz surfaces don't just come in greys and whites, you can find some beautiful warmer tones, as can be seen here, and amazing green-veined marble too if you want to make more of a statement.
7. Create a rustic raw look with concrete worktops
Love that raw, rustic vibe in a kitchen? Concrete worktops are the way to go. Like all materials, they have their pros and cons but they are hardwearing and heat resistant. You are slightly limited in the color choice, but you can go from a light grey that's almost white up to a much deep more dramatic tone. And you can polish it or leave it matte depending on the look you are going for.
'Concrete is a fairly recent addition to the list of popular worktop materials, thanks to the rise of the industrial look.' says Richard Davonport of Davonport Kitchen & Homes. 'However, it is very porous, so stains easily, and unlike most other materials, it can also chip. To keep it in its best condition you’ll need to treat it twice a year, and be very careful putting things down near the edges. Concrete is of course also very heavy so careful consideration of how to support the surfaces is needed. The price point can vary hugely from commercial suppliers of bespoke worktops through to a more DIY approach.'
8. Go industrial with stainless steel
Usually found in professional and working kitchens, stainless worktops are seeping out of our favorite restaurants and into our homes. Super durable, heat resistant, and easy to keep clean it's hardly a surprise they are growing in popularity in modern homes.
'Stainless steel is most commonly used for metal worktops, and fits well with modern and industrial decor schemes. There are many good reasons why it is used in professional kitchens, such as its durability, strength, water, heat and acid resistance. Although it gets scratched over time, this doesn’t affect its antibacterial nature, and is fine if you don’t mind ending up with a ‘worn’ look. If you want a pristine finish to last though, think about something more hardwearing.' says Richard Davonport.
9. Bring warmth to a kitchen with a copper countertop
Copper kitchen countertops are a rising trend too. Warmer than steel, with a more rustic vibe they lend themselves perfectly to the modern country style. Copper can quickly tarnish if not treated with butcher's wax and because in comparison to steel it's relatively soft it is susceptible to dents and scratches, but actually, that's all part of the worn look it suits so well. You can always buff our minor damage but do avoid hot pans and always use a cutting board to avoid any irreversible damage.
10. Take the countertop material up the wall
Blending your countertop into the upstand is a chic alternative to tiles, offering a more minimalist, streamlined look. However, some countertop materials lend themselves better to this look than others. Avoid wood, as the term splashback would suggest this surface can often get wet, and stick with more water-resistant materials like marble, composite stone, Corian, and metals.
What is the most hardwearing kitchen countertop?
Granite is the most hardwearing kitchen countertop, it's incredibly strong, heat resistant, and very unlikely to scratch or chip. Plus, it only needs resealing every ten years, so beyond making sure you use the right products to clean it and avoid citrus, it can be the most low maintenance option too. However, its downside is the high price point and that's why engineered and composite stone are increasing in popularity as you get the benefits of it being incredibly hardwearing without the expense.
What's the cheapest material for kitchen countertops?
If you are designing a kitchen on a budget or want to save to spend elsewhere, the cheapest material for kitchen countertops is laminate. It's by far the most affordable option and can look chic too, just be aware is more the material is susceptible to scratches, heat damage, and stains than most and you may find it fades over time.
'You will sometimes see laminate worktops spoken about in a low-budget, cost-effective kitchen, but if you get the style and design right, then your kitchen will look incredible. They are a cheaper alternative to stone, but still very striking and can make your kitchen look stunning.' says Kam Bharadwa.
'Laminate worktops are low maintenance, however, they must be treated with care as sometimes they can be damaged by water ingress because they have a chipboard substrate. We would also recommend hot pans are never put directly onto the surface, as this will damage the worktop.'
A better option, if you are after longevity, would be to choose something slightly more expensive that will last longer like wood. Or alternatively, mix and match your worktops so you can pick and choose where you add the pricer but more hardwearing materials.
Hebe is the Digital Editor of Livingetc; she has a background in lifestyle and interior journalism and a passion for renovating small spaces. You'll usually find her attempting DIY, whether it's spray painting her whole kitchen, don't try that at home, or ever changing the wallpaper in her hallway. Livingetc has been such a huge inspiration and has influenced Hebe's style since she moved into her first rental and finally had a small amount of control over the decor and now loves being able to help others make decisions when decorating their own homes. Last year she moved from renting to owning her first teeny tiny Edwardian flat in London with her whippet Willow (who yes she chose to match her interiors...) and is already on the lookout for her next project.
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