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Buyers' Guide to Kitchen Benchtops

Tuesday, 12th July 2011

A dated kitchen, particularly one in an open plan living space, can hamper the style of the rest of your home. One of the simplest and most effective ways to lift a tired kitchen is to fit a brand new benchtop. They come in a variety of different materials, including stone, engineered stone, laminate and stainless steel, each with their pros and cons. Get to grips with the benchtop basics before you hit the shops so that you can make and informed choice.

Stone

With its stunning loops and swirls, stone is probably the most luxurious - and expensive - benchtop material.  Granite and marble are available in a dazzling array of colours and patterns, ranging from grey to sparkling blue, and you can choose from different finishes including hi gloss and a more contemporary matt honed finish.  Granite is tougher and more scratch resistant than marble, and is generally considered a better choice for the kitchen.  However, both stones are porous and will need regular sealing to prevent liquids penetrating.  With proper care, though, granite and marble will last you a lifetime.  Check out Rococo Stoneworks at www.rococostoneworks.com.au

Engineered Stone

Engineered Stone, which is made from quartz and resin, doesn't pack quite the same visual punch as natural stone, but it's tougher, less expensive and easier to care for than its natural equivalent.  Engineered stone is non-porous, so it won't require sealing, and it can be cut to fit curved or awkwardly shaped kitchens.  The edges of an engineered stone benchtop are prone to chipping and repairs can be costly, but for long-lasting good looks in the kitchen, it's a sound choice.  Try CeasarStone at www.caesarstone.com.au and Quatum Quartz at www.quantumquartz.com.au

Laminate

Laminate allows you to recreate the look of just about every surface imaginable including wood, marble, concrete and stainless steel, for a fraction of the cost of the real thing.  Laminates vary greatly in quality, so it's worth seeking out one that's specially designed for benchtops as it will be extra durable, moisture resistant and antibacterial (try Laminex, www.laminex.com.au or Ikea, www.ikea.com.au). If you're handy with the toolset, you can save even more money by laying a laminate benchtop yourself.

Acrylic

For seamless look that integrates benchtops, sink and splashbacks in one, it's hard to go past super-smooth acrylics from the likes of Corian (www.corian.com.au) and Staron (www.austaron.com.au).  This versatile material can be designed to fit tricky kitchen spaces without a join in sight, and comes in a wide range of colours ranging from cool whites to electric brights.  It's also non-porous, heat resistant and anti-bacterial.  However, some claim that acrylic benchtops look lackluster, and the upper end of the market tends to be expensive.

Stainless Steel

Love the look of a professional kitchen?  Consider installing a stainless steel benchtop and matching splashbacks.  Stainless steel is designed for serious cooking; it's hygienic, copes with spills and high heats, and is easy to clean.  On the downside, it scratches easily and will show fingerprints, so it's probably not the best choice if you have young children.  Mix stainless steel with other materials such as timber and glass to get the current 'mix and match' kitchen look.

Wood

Give you kitchen a warm, earthy feel by laying a solid wooden benchtop.  Australian hardwoods such as Jarrah, Spotted Gum and Merbau all make stunning kitchen benchtops, but they'll need to be sealed regularly and any spills mopped up immediately to prevent staining.  For an on-trend look that says everything but 'country kitchen,' mix a wooden benchtop with glass splashbacks and stainless steel cabinetry.  Always seek out timber from a sustainable source.  Check out Australian Timber Laminators (www.solidtimberbenchtops.rtrk.com.au).


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