While traditionalists may still prefer the natural sparkle of granite, composite work surfaces have risen dramatically in popularity over the last few years. They’re man-made materials that are formed from either a mixture of quartz with binders (also known as engineered stone) or acrylic or polyester (also known as solid surfaces).
Not only are they hygienically non-porous, which means there’s nowhere for bacteria to linger, the joins between the pieces are practically invisible so it’s possible to have long, interrupted stretches flowing smoothly around your kitchen.
As they’re not a natural product, they have a consistent colour (there’s a huge variety available, from hot pink to earthy tones), built-in shimmer from particles of quartz, recycled glass or mica and as much or as little texture as you like.
Polished or honed matt finishes are common but you can also choose from silky suede textures or rough, rugged surfaces. Plus if you still love the look of granite or marble, there are plenty of composites that can replicate their markings and veining.
Add an edge
As well as matching side panels and splashbacks, one way to give your worktops some extra ‘wow’ is by including a decorative edge profile.
A simple chamfer or shaped ogee lends it a classic feel, while a slim pointed shark-nose is sleek and ultra-modern, so consider which you prefer. A rounded bullnose edge will create a softer look plus may be a good idea in a family kitchen so there are no angular edges to bump into.
Long live laminate
An enduring kitchen staple, laminate worktops have come of age.
They’re an incredibly practical choice but now they can be just as striking and stunning as other materials. Advances in technology mean that laminates can be textured and printed to look just like timber and granite worktops, yet they’ll still have the low maintenance and durability as well as be more cost-effective compared to the real thing.
There’s also more choice when it comes to matching splashbacks and profiles. Instead of old-fashioned post-formed edges, contemporary square edges are available that make the worktop look like a piece of slab-cut stone or timber. Look for HPL (high pressure laminate) that’s made using HD printing techniques for extra-convincing woodgrains, mottling and veining and, on more premium products, integral anti-bacterial protection.
There’s plenty of choice beyond just deciding between wood and stone, too. Try pale maple-effect laminates for a Scandi-style feel, golden oak shades for a more classic design and chocolate brown walnut and exotic wood-look patterns to make your surfaces the star of the show.
While laminate wins as an easy care choice, keen cooks may want to take a leaf out of the professionals’ book and choose stainless-steel surfaces for their design.
The reasons are numerous – stainless steel can cope with almost anything you can throw at it – hot pans, sharp knives and a thorough soaking. There’s also the option of integral sinks and hobs for easy cleaning afterwards. Polished stainless steel can scratch but most creative cooks accept that this just adds character.
Granite is also a good option, though it will require a little more care to prevent damage. Where it excels is if you like to make pastry as it has a smooth, cool surface.
Uniting your design
The colours and materials you select for your surfaces have a big impact in your kitchen, so before deciding, borrow samples and see how they look combined and at different times of day at home.
While bold colours are a statement choice that can look spectacular in a simple pale kitchen, timeless neutral shades, such as taupes, creams, greys and off-whites, work well across a wide range of door styles and allow you to choose more colourful finishes for other areas that can be more easily swapped if you want to refresh your design in years to come.
One way to help unify the look is to subtly tie together the finishes using colour or texture. For example, a pale worktop with flecks of orange in it will visually link to a range cooker finished in red, while a chrome or metallic finish on appliance handles can be reflected by stainless-steel surfaces. You could also echo the finish of a glossy enamelled range cooker by deploying stone or polished composite worktops because these two material options both will help to reflect light around the space for a bright, airy feel.
Unity is the watchword here. It makes you and your guests feel naturally at home and as one, instilling that natural good vibe you’re after. So go forth and unite!