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Your benchtop/countertop is an important part of your kitchen. Not only does it need to be durable for daily use, it also affects the overall design of the kitchen. Do you want your benchtop/countertop to blend in with the rest of the kitchen or do you want it to create a contrasting feature? You can also combine benchtops with different colours/materials in your kitchen. For example, a stainless steel benchtop in the cooking area and stone benchtop in the rest of the kitchen, or a raised breakfast bar in timber and the rest in plain-coloured laminate.
Thickness of benchtops/countertops varies, but is usually around 3-4cm. However, many new designs now have either very thick front edges (around 6 - 10cm) or very thin front edges (around 0.5 - 1cm).
A popular choice in benchtop/countertop due to its hard wearing property, affordability and variety in colours and patterns, from simple solid colours to patterns that imitate timber and stone. You can also choose from a range of textures. Be aware that high-gloss laminate can show scratches easily so it is best to avoid using dark high gloss laminate for benchtops. To increase the life span of a laminate benchtop, never put hot pans onto the benchtop and never cut directly onto the benchtop. Once it's damaged, a laminate benchtop is difficult to repair.
Laminate benchtops can be "edged" in many options. The most common one is post formed front edge which is safe and easy to clean. If you like a square design on the front edge but prefer the one-piece design of a post formed front edge, you can choose a "tightform" front edge which has a very tight radius that looks almost like a square edge.
Granite is a very hard material and is less porous than marble, making it suitable for kitchen benchtops. Its surface is very hard so breakages such as glass onto a granite benchtop will hardly survive. Being a natural material, granite patterns and colours can vary from slab to slab, so make sure you select the slabs you like before installation. With any natural stone benchtops, granite should be resealed regularly.
When compared to granite, marble is more porous so higher maintenance is required. Any spillage should be wiped off immediately to avoid staining. Marble also needs to be resealed more frequently than granite to protect its surface.
Timber benchtops are warm to touch and will age beautifully with time. To protect the surface, the timber benchtop is either sealed with polyurethane or wood oil. Polyurethane usually gives a higher gloss finish, is more durable and requires less maintenance than an oiled timber benchtop. On the other hand, an oiled timber benchtop gives a natural matt timber finish, requires recoating regularly to protect the timber (which can be done by yourself) and is more environmentally friendly if you are using a natural wood oil. An oiled timber benchtop is also easier to repair too: any scratches and cuts can be sanded back and "oiled" again. Any damages on a polyurethane-coated timber benchtop however will often require professionals to repair.
Acrylic Composite / Solid Surface
An acrylic composite / solid surface benchtop is made of acrylic with natural minerals, and can be moulded into almost any shape. Its main advantage is that a long seamless benchtop can be created. You can even use it for splashbacks and sinks in one moulded piece with the benchtop to create one seamless surface, making it very easy to clean. Different colours and patterns can also be combined onto one seamless surface to create a unique design. The design possibilities are endless.
Stone composite/Engineered Stone/Quartz
A stone composite benchtop (or sometimes is called engineered stone or quartz) is made of approximately 95% stone powder/crushed stone and 5% binding agent such as polyester resin and acrylic, depending on the brands. It is extremely durable, able to withstand high temperatures and much less porous than granite and marble. Low maintenance is required to maintain its sheen. As a man-made product, uniform colour and pattern can be achieved throughout the whole surface and it is available in a wide range of colours.
An extremely hygienic surface, stainless steel benchtops are often found in commercial kitchens and is becoming more fashionable in domestic kitchens. It is very easy to keep clean and can withstand high temperatures, making it ideal for placement around the stove. However, as stainless steel is a soft metal, it is prone to scratches. Although some stainless steel benchtops have special textures that can hide scratches better.
A tiled benchtop offers a unique design that is both durable and affordable. Although it is more likely to be found in country-style kitchens, a tiled benchtop can also be designed to suit contemporary design. It is important that you use an epoxy grout which is more hardwearing and less porous than standard grout.
Many other materials for benchtops can also be considered such as glass, concrete and limestone.
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