Kitchen Benchtops Melbourne An Essential Guide
So you’re in the market for a new kitchen benchtop but feeling confused about all the options?
Here’s the essential guide for all you need to know about choosing your new kitchen benchtop.
Where do I start?
Kitchen benchtops have the ability to either be the focal point of your kitchen or the subtle unifying element that ties in all the standout features of your space.
With so many materials, products, colours and finishes to choose from, there limitless design possibilities. Whether you prefer the one product across all your benchtops or you would like to create a feature island with a beautiful slab of marble, the options are endless.
However, with endless options comes the potential for headaches making a decision about what to use in your new kitchen that will both serve its purpose as a functional and hard working surface but also be pleasing to behold.
To make a decision, here are the products and materials that we talk to our customers about everyday and our advice on how to choose a material that will suit them and their family best.
Engineered Quartz Stone
BRANDS: Essastone, Caesarstone, Quantum Quartz and Silestone
Engineered stone is a blend of up to 93% natural quartz aggregates with pigments and polymer resins. As quartz is one of the hardest surfaces in the world, kitchen benchtops made of this material have significant advantages. They are known to be:
- Scratch resistant
- Stain resistant
- Heat resistant
- They do not require sealing
The main disadvantage with engineered stone is that they are only available in set slab sizes, which differ from brand to brand but are generally 3000mm x 1400mm thus limiting the size of a benchtop. This can sometimes be solved by using multiple slabs, however a visible join will be required.
Just like a lot of other benchtop materials, engineered quartz are only heat resistant and like all stone materials can be damaged by sudden and rapid surface temperature changes. It is for this reason that as a rule of thumb, if your hand cannot tolerate the level of heat for more than a few seconds, then the heat source is too high for the quartz. Hot pots, oven trays and fry pans should always be placed on a wooden chopping board or heat trivet. It is suggested that electric fry pans and slow cookers also be placed on a wooden chopping board when in use to ensure that any residual heat does not come into direct contact with the bench top.
The most popular brands include Essastone, Caesarstone, Quantum Quartz and Silestone. They each have a wide range of stone in different colour variations and finishes.
Natural Stone – Granites and Marbles
BRANDS: Sensa by Cosentino, natural marble
Granite is a very popular benchtop material due to its aesthetic appeal. As a natural stone, each piece is unique, with individual characteristics. Granite is also highly scratch resistant, providing a durable surface solution and are a great choice for clients that want to make a statement with something that is completely unique.
Being a natural and porous material, granite needs to be sealed to prevent the surface from staining. Over time, daily activity and the use of household cleaners can wear down standard sealers leaving the granite unprotected in some areas. To prevent this, you will need to keep reapplying a sealer which is an additional cost, and can cause darkening of the material.
Sensa, a product by Cosentino, is a range of high-quality natural granite which has been sealed by a revolutionary protective treatment that provides high stain resistance, is maintenance free and comes with a 15 year transferrable warranty. This revolutionary sealer that is applied to the Sensa Stone during the manufacturing process is unique as it penetrates the stone, unlike other sealers that only sit on the surface thereby giving it its hard wearing properties and resistance to kitchen stains.
Marble on the other hand is still a natural stone, but is not as durable as granite. It is very porous and can stain and scratch quite easily and hence requires sealing quite regularly to maintain its beauty. Marble is usually selected as a feature for the kitchen as highly veined marble can look like a stunning piece of art. It is better used in vertical surfaces such as walls and splashbacks rather than kitchen benchtops, as there is less likelihood of damage.
Unlike some European countries who embrace imperfections that arise in natural stone with use, in Australia, we like our kitchens to look new. We prefer our benchtops not to show signs of wear and tear or house a collection of stains from across the years. Hence, before selecting a natural stone, we encourage clients to think about how they use their kitchens and whether or not this wear and tear is something that would upset them.
Acrylic Solid Surface
Acrylic Solid Surface is a flexible alternative to stone that is renowned for its adaptability. It can be shaped (thermoformed) into a variety of profiles, designs or edge treatments and is tough and durable, easy to clean and non-porous. Most damage, including severe impact, heat or chemical damage can usually be repaired on site and light scratches can be easily buffed out by the average homeowner.
One of the major advantages of acrylic surface is that joins can be welded or fused together to create a seamless piece making it an ideal choice for long kitchen benches.
For example, for an extra long island benchtop say, 3500mm, most benchtop materials such as quartz, ultracompact and laminate would require a number of slabs joined together with a visible join to form such a long surface. With acrylic, such long benchtops can be achieved with the joins being virtually invisible.
Another advantage of Acrylic Solid Surface benchtop is the ability to seamlessly incorporate an integrated sink into the design made out of the same material. This minimalistic look cannot be achieved with any other material in the same way. Many of our clients love this concept of the integrated sink and we’ve seen the rise of its popularity, especially in high end bathroom design.
Whilst Acrylic Solid Surface doesn’t have any outstanding disadvantages, some clients prefer not to use the product if they are after a natural marble look in which case they might prefer engineered quartz or actual marble. Acrylic Solid Surface is also a lot warmer to touch than stone and has a man-made look, which some people want to avoid.
Compact Sintered Surface
BRANDS: Dekton by Cosentino
Sinterization, is high-tech method used to create Compact Sintered Surfaces. It is the process of heating or compacting a blend of raw materials including glass, porcelain and quartz to create an extremely hard, non-porous material suitable for use as a kitchen benchtop. The process represents an accelerated version of the metamorphic change that stone undergoes in nature over many years.
Dekton by Cosentino employs exclusive Sinterized Particle Technology and uses Electronic microscopy which allows them to create a material with zero porosity, which is a result of a sinterization and ultra-compaction process which is exclusive to Dekton. This zero porosity of the micro-defects that cause tension or weak spots mark the difference in Dekton.
This product as a benchtop has many advantages. It has a high UV resistance, is highly scratch resistant, resistant to stains, has a high resistance to fire and heat, resistant to abrasion and to ice and thawing meaning that it is thermal shock proof from both the hot and cold. Hence, Dekton is one of the only products that you can put a hot pot straight on.
From past client experience we do warn new clients that whilst Dekton or any other Sinterized Partical technology products are very durable, if the product is used as a straight 12mm or 20mm, you do need to be cautious about their edges. In the same way that the stone edges surrounding an undermount sink are fragile, the same can be said for the benchtop edges.
BRANDS: Laminex, Polytec
Laminate Benchtops have been around for many years and should be considered if you are looking for a cost-effective benchtop solution.
They are available in a wide range of colours, finishes and textures and there is now a range that looks like granite or marble. They can be post formed to have a rounded edge or square edged to create a more modern appearance.
As more and more clients are selecting a type of stone for their kitchen benchtops to create a statement, Laminate Benchtops are definitely not as popular for kitchen benchtops anymore. They are a more economical benchtop option so they are still often seen in smaller rooms of the house such as the laundry, small powder rooms or work spaces and studies.
What is popular and why?
Engineered quartz stone is still the most popular benchtop material for our clients. This could be due to the fact that between each of the leading brands, there is a very large array of colours and different textures which include polished, matt or more rugged surfaces.
These materials are also very durable, easy to clean and make a statement within the kitchen. Plainer colours can be dressed up with beautiful custom cabinetry and more intricate quartz speak for themselves. Whilst the colours do vary in price categories, this stone is generally affordable for most people undertaking a kitchen renovation.
What is on trend?
Most of the trends that we are seeing have been coming out of Europe. In kitchens today we are seeing less of the high gloss 2-pac or acrylic finishes, and are starting to incorporate more matt textures into our designs. These matt textures help to make the space feel more natural, organic and bring a warmth to the kitchen.
Another way to add character into the kitchen and to break up block colours is to use a textured woodgrain. With the technology available now, consumers can achieve a natural timber look in their kitchens without paying for solid timber or even natural veneer. There is now such a wide range of different woodgrain finishes available.
We are also seeing both thicker and thinner benchtops as well. Whilst the standard for some time now has been to have a 40mm thick stone benchtop, we are now seeing products that are as thin as 12mm being used for benchtops. Often these will be complimented by a shadow line in the cabinetry, just below the benchtop to help emphasize the sleek, thin bench top.
As a complete contrast, thicker benchtops are also quite popular too, with benchtops anywhere between 50-80mm used to create a feature of the surface material being used, such as a beautiful granite or marble.
In a kitchen setting both thicknesses can be used to compliment each other. The island could be made the feature with 60mm stone and the surrounding benchtops could be 20mm stone.
How to make a decision
We would recommend that you think about how you use your current kitchen. Are you protective about the benchtop surface now and do you get upset that it has a few scratched and stains on it? If so, we would recommend against a natural stone as they are softer and porous. Instead, you might like to think about an Acrylic Solid Surface. Should you stain this benchtop with food die or red one for example you can have piece of mind that it can be repaired.
If you love the look of beautiful natural Calcutta but don’t like the soft, porous qualities of natural stone, we would suggest something more durable such as an engineered quartz stone such as the Essastone Calacutta. This product will still be cool to touch like natural stone, but give you peace of mind that it will be more forgiving with stains and scratches.
For someone that is used to a beautiful natural granite and is in a period home we would recommend that you have a look at the Sensa range by Consentino. From past experience we understand that it can take some clients some time to get used to a new product, especially if they have loved their previous granite for some time. The Sensa range is each sealed with their Senguard sealer that penetrates the stone during the manufacturing, and comes with a 15year warranty, so you won’t have to worry about sealing it!
FAQ / TIPS
Engineered Quartz Care and Maintenance
Whilst many of the Engineered Quartz stone brands advertise that their stone is stain resistant, we recommend that clients still be careful, especially with the likes of food dies and red wine. Whilst these benchtops are not pours like natural stone and their resin in this stone acts as a sealer, we still urge that clients treat their benchtop with caution. Yes, from time to time these things may come into contact with the bench directly, but we recommend they be cleaned up right away to prevent any staining.
Selecting a Sink for your Kitchen Benchtop
Recommend to any of our clients that they select a top mount, or the beautiful new flush mount sinks that are now available. We recommend against an undermount sink for the simple reason that this is the first place that the bench is likely to chip, if you are washing pots or trays in the sink. These sinks also require a silicon between the benchtop and the sink, which overtime is an ideal place for mildew to build up.
At the end of the day, you need to make sure that the benchtop that you are selecting is something that you will be happy with. Whilst as designers we can make suggestions as to what would look great and have the best properties for a client, we are not the ones that have to live with it – you do!
More and more of our clients are selecting different benchtops for different areas in the kitchen. Some clients will have a feature island benchtop and plain surrounding benchtops, others might keep the benchtop quite neutral and have a beautiful marble feature splashback.
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