Making it work
The hardest-working room in the house has a feature that really takes a hit. Anna Shelswell-White asks the experts about the countertop materials that can handle the heat
You've chosen the colour of your cabinetry and the appliances you need - that's half the battle, right? Well, yes and no, these may also be the easiest decisions of the thousands that choosing a new kitchen involves.
Your kitchen countertop sets the tone of the space - and it can be one of your most expensive purchases. There are a multitude of options and finishes available on the market, from wood to laminate to natural stone.
"People tend to choose the colour of their kitchen first and then spend many painstaking hours trying to find a stone to suit the colour of the kitchen they picked," says Ed Mulligan of Comet Stone (cometstone.com). "We always advise you to choose the stone first and then match the paint for the kitchen to the stone."
The good news is that nowadays many paint companies partner with stone manufacturers. Once you're aware of this, matching the shade of your kitchen cabinet to a stone worktop is child's play.
'Trending' is probably a word you don't want to hear when it comes to such a well-thought out and hopefully long-lasting purchase. Yet there are some materials that are more fashionable these days than others.
Top of the list is quartz, an 'engineered' stone that has been crushed and mixed with resin for a more durable finish. "Quartz has been the most popular stone surface for a number of years due to its durability. It is maintenance-free and many quartz brands are now offering a lifetime guarantee," says Ed. "White quartz with grey vein is the most on-trend colour or style, and it's what you see in every kitchen magazine. However, I find that people generally choose something to suit their space, which may not be on trend but will make their kitchen stand out," says Ed.
"Quartz is really popular at the moment as it's more durable than natural stone," agrees Denise O'Connor of Optimise Design (optimise-design.com). But she points out that there are many other good choices.
The new-kid-on-the-block is Pyrolithic stone, which contains no resins, and is made from an engineered mineral that has been processed to look like a non-porous, stain resistant version of marble. It is almost indestructible and so a good option for hardworking areas.
Natural stone worktops such as granite, limestone and marble, in particular, grey-veined Carrara marble, are also popular for their unique patterns and textures.
"While style sets the tone," says Denise, "practicality, durability and price are equally as important." If your budget is generous then quartz may be your best bet, typically prices start from €600 per metre. At the other end of the price scale, laminates - which these days are available in a fantastic selection of styles, including quartz effect - start from €150 per metre.
Whether you want to spend a few hundred euro on a laminate or a few thousand on a material that will last you a lifetime, nothing beats visiting a kitchen showroom to see the various countertops in place.
"There are some amazing laminates that look like quartz - you have to get up close and touch them to realise they're not," says Denise.
However, if you like the aged look, then more porous natural stones and stainless steel may be of interest. "Stainless steel is really popular but you have to put up with the scratching - some people like this look though. It's a flexible material as it can run on to your sinks. Coloured glass is also popular," adds Denise.
In fact, many surfaces need maintenance. "Natural stone countertops would require re-sealing annually to avoid stains or unnecessary ageing of the stone, although some people like a kitchen surface to age, as each stain reminds them of a good night, with usually an interesting story to tell their friends and family for years to come," says Ed.
In terms of more bang for your buck, longevity, as well as little or no maintenance, quartz is the winner. It will give you a work surface that stands the test of time. This hard-wearing engineered mineral is on the top of most renovators' lists, but with the variety available, you're bound to find a worktop that will suit your way of life, style and budget - whether it is quartz, natural stone, glass or laminate.