Kitchen benchtop selection guide

Information verified correct on December 6th, 2016

Kitchen Benchtop Guide

Everything you need to know to select the right benchtop material for your kitchen.

You need to make a long list of important decisions when renovating a kitchen. From fixtures and fittings to appliances, lighting and the colour scheme, there are myriad difficult choices you need to make to get your kitchen looking and feeling “just right”.

One of the biggest decisions you will need to make is selecting a kitchen benchtop. There is a huge range of different benchtop surfaces available, each with its own pros and cons, and choosing the right one is crucial to the look and everyday practicality of your kitchen.

Let’s take a look at the range of kitchen benchtops available and how you can choose the right surface for your needs.

Laminate

Laminate benchtops allow you to enjoy the stylish and sophisticated look of a timber or stone benchtop but for a fraction of the price. Consisting of layers of plastic laminate on a chipboard, ply or MDF board, laminate is available in a broad range of colours and effects – from wood-grain to marble- or granite-effect benchtops.

This versatility, along with laminate’s impressive affordability when compared with most other options, makes it the most popular kitchen benchtop choice in Australia. It’s also quite easy to install and can stand up to a fair bit of wear and tear, while maintenance isn’t too taxing.

On the downside, heat damage can be a problem, and laminate can sometimes scratch easily. And remember that once the top is damaged, water and other liquids can find a way in and cause the board underneath to swell.

However, for a stylish look at minimal expense, laminate is well worth considering.

How much does it cost?

$120–$400 per square metre.

Natural stone (including granite and marble)

There are few kitchen features more stunning than a natural stone benchtop. Granite and marble are the two headline acts in this category, and both offer timeless elegance that is very hard to match with other options.

Granite is highly durable and can withstand a lot of punishment. Not only is it stylish, but it will also last for the life of your home. However, it needs to be sealed (and re-sealed regularly) to ensure it stays resistant to stains, it’s heavy (and therefore difficult to install) and is not the most forgiving of surfaces if you drop your fine china. Unfortunately, granite is also quite expensive.

However, it’s not as expensive as marble, which is the priciest option on the list. Marble looks spectacular and can add a touch of luxurious opulence to any kitchen. It’s strong and durable and will stand the test of time, plus it offers unique colour variations for individuality.

Like granite, marble also requires regular sealing and is quite heavy, which makes it difficult to install. However, if you’re looking for a top-of-the-line benchtop, you can’t go past granite or marble.

How much does it cost?

Granite $700–$2,000 per square metre; marble $800–$2,200 per square metre.

Granite benchtop

Engineered stone (including quartz-based surfaces)

Along with laminate, engineered stone is one of the most popular kitchen benchtop surfaces on the market today. There are a heap of different engineered stone options available, made from natural materials (quartz is most commonly used) that are combined with silicon or resin. They can also be referred to as composite stone benchtops or reconstituted stone benchtops, and sold under names like Caesarstone and Essastone.

Engineered stone surfaces are worth considering for a number of reasons. They offer the same attractive looks as natural stone but with the added benefit of being less porous than the real thing, meaning less maintenance is required. They also provide a sturdy, durable surface that stands up well to everyday wear and tear, and come in a wide range of colours and effects.

To top it off, the fact that they’re made from crushed rock rather than large slabs like granite and marble benchtops makes engineered stone options more affordable and they have a smaller carbon footprint.

However, chipping and excessive heat have been known to cause problems with some surfaces.

How much does it cost?

Average $600–$750 per square metre; quartz-based surfaces can cost as much as $1,300 per square metre.

Cesarstone benchtop

Stainless steel

A stainless-steel benchtop is a unique option for kitchen renovators looking for a versatile and hygienic surface. It offers a stylish, industrial-chic look to provide a point of difference for the right kitchen and it’s also perfect for food preparation – which explains why it’s such a common feature in commercial kitchens.

Durable and resistant to stains, stainless steel also has great heat-resistant properties. It also allows you to incorporate the sink into the surface and create a completely seamless look.

However, it won’t resist scratching and you will also notice that fingerprints show up quite quickly on this surface. Specialist stainless-steel cleaning wipes and cream can be used to help keep it looking neat and tidy, or you may wish to opt for a brushed or textured look.

It’s not the cheapest option going around either, but it’s worth considering if you’re a keen chef.

How much does it cost?

$900–$1,000 per square metre.

Synthetic solid surface

Also referred to as acrylic benchtops, solid surface benchtops are becoming an increasingly popular choice among Australian renovators and home builders. The most recognisable brand name in solid surface materials is Corian, but there are several options available.

Made from an acrylic resin, these surfaces are versatile enough to be moulded into just about any shape to suit your space. They’re also available in an extensive variety of colours and textures, allowing you to create a look that’s “just right”.

Acrylic benchtops are hard wearing and will stand up quite well to everyday use, and because they’re non-porous they won’t stain and are very hygienic. They’re also easy to clean and very low maintenance, plus easy to repair if damaged.

However, these benchtops have poor resistance to heat – you’ll need to protect them from hot pots and pans – and aren’t as affordable as some other options.

How much does it cost?

$1,000–$1,200 per square metre.

Polished concrete

If you’re looking for a low-maintenance benchtop with a distinctive industrial look, polished concrete should be on your shortlist. This increasingly popular option can be constructed and finished in a range of different ways, allowing you to mimic a granite or marble look or even showcase concrete itself as a design feature.

In addition to its striking good looks, polished concrete is fairly hard wearing and will stand up to the punishment of everyday use for many years.

On the downside, concrete is porous, so it needs to be sealed regularly to protect against stains and heat damage. The labour costs involved in producing a polished concrete benchtop mean it will usually cost more than an engineered stone surface.

How much does it cost?

$1,000–$1,800 per square metre.

Bamboo

Bamboo is an eco-friendly benchtop surface option and also provides a unique, rustic look to any kitchen. Bamboo benches can be sealed with oil or polyurethane and can add warmth and character to your space.

Bamboo stands up well to heat damage and is also one of the more affordable options available. The fact that this type of benchtop is made from a completely renewable source will also increase its appeal to environmentally conscious renovators.

However, scratching can be a problem for bamboo benchtops and you’ll need to make sure any spills are dealt with straight away so they don’t cause lasting damage.

How much does it cost?

$300–$400 per square metre.

Tile

Tiled benchtops are fairly rare in Australia but they do offer a range of advantages. The huge range of tiles available means you can create a completely unique look and pattern that suits your design preferences down to the ground. Tiles also stand up well to heat damage and scratching, which is quite handy if you like to get messy in the kitchen. And if you can find the tiles you want at the right price, this option can be relatively easy on the budget.

Unfortunately, tiled benchtops can be hard work to clean. The grout in particular can be a time-consuming cleaning task, and you’ll need to have it sealed to keep the elbow grease required to a minimum.

How much does it cost?

Varies widely depending on tiles chosen.

Porcelain

Porcelain is a relatively new player in the world of kitchen benchtops, so chances are it’ll offer a point of difference to your renovation project. Also known as sintered compact surfaces, porcelain benchtops are very popular in Europe and on the rise here. Dekton and Neolith are two of the best-known brands offering porcelain benchtops in Australia.

Manufactured from a blend of natural raw materials, porcelain benchtops are as hard-wearing as they come and will withstand heat damage, scratching and stains. Because they’re non-porous, porcelain surfaces are also a hygienic option, while they’re available in a wide range of shapes, sizes and looks to help you create the feel and atmosphere you want.

However, porcelain is heavy and therefore difficult to install, while it’s also far from the cheapest option around. Chipped edges and other damage can also be hard to repair.

How much does it cost?

$1,300–$1,500 per square metre.

Timber

The final benchtop option on this list is a classic and still a favourite for many Australians. Timber benchtops add warmth and a rustic country feel to a kitchen, and are a particularly popular choice for breakfast bars. It also combines well with other materials, such as natural stone, and there are many options available to create the look you want.

Red Gum, Tasmanian Oak, Spotted Gum and Jarrah are just a few of the popular timber choices in Australia, but there are plenty more options available and cost varies widely depending on the timber you select. However, if it’s properly sourced, timber can be a very environmentally friendly option.

If you damage a timber benchtop it can be sanded back and repolished, which is handy because it does stain and scratch fairly easily. Regular sealing is also required to keep it in tip-top condition.

But if you want to add a beautiful, natural design element to your kitchen, a timber benchtop is well worth considering.

How much does it cost?

$500–$1,500 per square metre.

Choosing the right surface

As you can see, there’s a huge range of options available when choosing the right benchtop for your kitchen. To help make your choice easier, it’s important to remember three main factors:

  • The look you want. From the grandeur of marble to the versatility of solid surface benchtops, the looks you can create with different benchtop surfaces are endless. Make sure you choose an option that suits your tastes and desired appearance.
  • How much maintenance is required. While stone surfaces are beautiful, they need to be sealed regularly to protect against stains. Timber also has many benefits, but needs to be treated to ensure that it resists moisture and heat. Make sure you’re aware of how much maintenance each surface requires before making your final choice.
  • The cost. Remember to consider the cost not only of purchasing the surface, but also of having it shipped to your house and installed. As the above info shows, the difference between a budget benchtop and a premium option can have a huge impact on your bank balance.

Images: Shutterstock

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