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When choosing a kitchen, everybody tends to focus on the units – but it’s worktops that can make, or break, a new kitchen design. Kate Hamilton reports.

Worktops are often over looked when it comes to planning the kitchen – but it can be a costly mistake. Worktops need to do what they say on the tin – work – and any surface that will scratch or stain might not be up to the job.

“People often ask the question ‘will they mark?’ when looking to purchase worktops,” says Gilbert E C Gillan from Hinton Interiors in Craig-y-Don. “The short answer is yes, most worktops will mark if not used sensibly. We always recommend the use of chopping boards and trivets for hot pans.”

Laminate is a pretty practical solution, and the huge choice available means that there is bound to be a finish that complements your design. It is also probably the most cost effective worktop material currently on the market.

“Modern laminate worktops are pretty resilient and have come on in leaps and bounds over the years, with a wide variety of patterns and finishes to choose from,” continues Gilbert.

Howdens in Mochdre stocks a wide range of laminate worktops in a choice of matt, gloss, smooth and textured finishes – including a realistic stone-like appearance. You can choose from either a square or bullnose edged profile and, while all of Howdens laminate worktops are moisture resistant, those marked P3 have an extra moisture resistant core.

Solid wood worktops meanwhile add warmth and character to any kitchen, but they might be a little more high maintenance than their laminate counterparts. When they are installed they will need to be treated with Danish oil (around four coats as a rule of thumb according to Gilbert), and have an annual treatment from then on.

Wood worktops will also need to be kept dry so, if your other half tends to get a bit messy when doing the washing up, then this probably isn’t the most practical worktop for you. But, if you wipe up spills as soon as they happen, then a wood finish adds a great depth of warmth to your most used room in the house.

Howdens sells a wide range of wooden worktops too, and they can be profiled or grooved to create intricate detailing. They are available in two thicknesses, 27mm and 40mm and all of Howdens worktops come with a one-year manufacturing guarantee for peace of mind.

However, if you really want to make a splash in the kitchen, then stone is the way to go. But, again, choosing isn’t as easy as it sounds.

“When customers call into our showroom, they are often overwhelmed by the huge choice of granite and quartz available,” explains Julie Williams, managing director at Stoneworkz in Denbigh. “At this stage many have already been worn down by all their other kitchen choices such as colours and style of doors, shape of units, handles, sinks types, taps and flooring. I consider it my job to be as helpful as possible and if required guide them through the process of selecting the right worktop to suit their taste and requirements.”

The first consideration is whether you want granite or quartz. Granite is a natural stone that is quarried in blocks, sliced into slabs and then either polished, or textured to show it’s colours at it’s best.

“All natural stone is porous and dependant on the grain and colour, and the porosity varies considerably,” continues Julie. “However with some excellent sealants available you are able to protect your granite from staining. Lighter colours will need sealing more frequently although there are branded granite ranges such as Sensa by Cosentino and Naturamia by Levantina that are pre-sealed at the processing stage and come with guarantees against staining.”

Quartz meanwhile is man made into slabs using natural quartz and granite particles mixed with resin and formed into slabs.

“Quartz goes through the same fabrication process as natural stone, although we use higher grade consumables as the quartz can be more hard wearing on our tooling,” adds Julie. “Quartz has the advantage of being non porous so there is absolutely no concerns of the lighter colours staining. However, quartz doesn’t like heat so we advise the use of pan trivets as hot pans can distort the resin and cause areas of the worktop to singe or mark.”

Julie recommends asking yourself four key questions before choosing the type of stone you want:

1) Who uses your kitchen?

If it’s a busy household then practicality is vitally important. Either a textured granite that doesn’t show every crumb or a non porous quartz (so no worries about staining) would be a good choice

2) Are you considering light or dark worktops?

If dark, there are some lovely granite choices – if light, then quartz is ideal or a pre-sealed branded granite

3) Are you looking for a contemporary look or do you want something more traditional or rustic?

Granite has more character and the textured ones even more so. However, if a contemporary look is desired there is such a large range of quartz available to suit all colour palettes

4) Do you want your worktops to compliment your units, or contrast against them

This immediately eliminates or introduces colours similar to carcass units and is a great starting point as to which materials to look at first

“If there is one piece of advice I’d offer it’s to take as many trips back and forth to see as many samples as required, and borrow the samples to see the colour in the setting that they will be installed,” continues Julie. “Put in the time required to make a confident decision with your worktops, because once production has started, there’s no going back – and your worktops are made to last a lifetime so you don’t want to regret your choice after only a year.”

These days there is such a large choice, even within the materials themselves, that you can rest assured there is a worktop for everyone.

Just remember Julie’s parting words before making your final choice between stone, laminate and wood: “I remind my customers that although theses days many of us are looking for a kitchen with a wow factor, it is still a working room and practicality is essential. Make sure that you choose the worktop material that suits your way of life.”