Materials to Use For That Perfect Kitchen Countertop

Faced with myriad options when it comes to kitchen countertops, one can be easily overwhelmed. Here’s a handy guide of popular materials to help you select the perfect countertop for your dream kitchen.

Updated on June 09, 2017 11:06 am

Chin Wei Lien

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Article originally published in Kitchen Culture Volume 05 2013. Visit their website here

Natural Stones

Natural stones such as granite are popular materials employed in high-end worktops. That’s because minerals in natural stones are practically inert when they come in contact with other minerals and chemicals, making them easier to maintain in the long run. Countertops made of these materials are extremely popular in kitchens that are going for a more organic, naturalistic feel.

The Upside
Granite tops are scratch- and stain-resistant, and are naturally sealed against heat and water. Granite also comes in a wide array of textures and colours, ranging from variegated browns and midnight black to deep red and mottled white. With proper treatment, a granite countertop can last between 10 and 15 years. Chef Tan Huang Ming from Lolla, an up-and-coming Mediterranean restaurant in Singapore, knows the importance of a good countertop to a chef. “A countertop made of natural stone is important for pastry chefs because they offer a cold surface to work on. Natural stones also don’t react with pastry items, thus ensuring the longevity of the countertop,” he adds.

Note
Depending on the colour and complexity of fabrication, natural stone can be a fairly pricey option. Furnishings need to be properly reinforced, since countertops made out of natural stones are denser and heavier than other materials.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is common in professional kitchens, such as those in restaurants and hotels. The obvious reason is that these places handle a high volume of cooking, thus the hardiness of the material helps increase productivity and lower the cost of maintenance. In recent times, many kitchens in contemporary homes use stainless steel as the material of choice for the same reasons. This is especially so for designers who are gunning for the industrial look, since the rigid, hard lines of a stainless steel countertop form interesting aesthetic contrasts with the modern kitchen. However, for those who want the strong looks of steel but prefer a soft touch, there are brushed steel surfaces that impart a satiny feel.

The Upside
Bernice Ong, owner of Salted Caramel, took great care in choosing the right material for her kitchen’s countertop. “At Salted Caramel, we serve more than 1,000 scoops of ice cream every day, so we needed something easy to maintain for the long haul,” she explains. Stainless steel, for her, was the perfect material for the quaint ice cream shop. “It is low maintenance and cheaper compared to marble,” she explains. “Plus, stainless steel retains its low temperature well, which is ideal for making ice cream.” Chef Tan agrees, explaining how Lolla also uses stainless steel as the main material for countertops. “They are non-reactive, durable and easy to clean. My kitchen is open concept and completely exposed, so an emphasis on cleanliness and hygiene is extremely important.” Being non-porous also means that stainless steel countertops do not absorb oil, moisture, stains, odours nor germs, and are highly resistant to heat. These qualities make stainless steel one of the most fuss-free options when it comes to long-term maintenance.

Note
Stainless steel is susceptible to scratches and dents. Even though it is striking to look at, the surface can collect fingerprints fairly easily. In addition, the cold toughness of a stainless steel countertop can look rather harsh for a cosy home.

Solid Surfaces
Solid surface counters are extremely versatile when it comes to kitchen designs. Available in a variety of textures, patterns and colours, countertops made of solid surfaces fit into the modern, pragmatic kitchen that are built to work and last. Private homes, in particular, are increasingly looking to solid surfaces as their countertop material of choice.

The Upside
Solid surface materials are made of acrylic, polyester, or a combination of both. This means that they are highly resistant to stains and scratches. Even if scratches and burns are formed on the surface, they can be sanded out; even deep gouges can be filled!

Note
Although scratches and burns can be sanded away, it doesn't mean that solid surface materials are immune to damage. Careless wear and tear can still take their toll over time, and uneven sanding will damage the aesthetics of the countertop.

Ceramic Tiles
High-end industrial designers prefer the seamless look as it reduces the number of parts involved, thus increasing durability. As a result, designers tend to stray away from ceramic tiles when it comes to countertop designs. However, when used correctly, tiled countertops can give off a very inviting and homely vibe. Some kitchen designers love to use tiles to mimic the look and feel of a country home in the heart of a metropolis, a juxtaposition that many end-users seem to like.

The Upside
Tiles are relatively easy to coordinate in terms of colours and style, and are ideal for secondary workstations such as islands, dining counters, peninsulas, wet bars or pantries. The right tiles are also extremely durable, since they are water-, heat- and oil-resistant. On the market, tiles are often available in a variety of styles to mimic marble, timber or granite, making it a cost-effective option for designers.

Note
Tiled countertops are not seamless, making them unsuitable for the modern and sophisticated kitchen design. Furthermore, tiled countertops require some upkeep to keep grout looking fresh and clean. Careless usage may cause the tiles to crack, chip or be scratched.

Wood
Increasingly, kitchen designs in Singapore are taking on a Scandinavian touch, which is characterised by a generous use of wood and warm tones. Contrary to common misconceptions, wood is actually incredibly resistant against bacteria and germs. Based on a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin, 99.9% of the bacteria introduced to a wooden cutting board die within three minutes of exposure to the surface. In fact, wood continues to be a safer, more hygienic option than plastic when it comes to surfaces. As such, many kitchen designers are using woods such as rock maple, teak, walnut, cherry and oak to build a Scandinavia-inspired kitchen.

The Upside
Wood countertops can be both functional and decorative. Decorative ones are installed on kitchen islands for a warm, luxurious look, whereas functional ones, like a butcher’s block, are ideal for chopping food. “Personally, aside from a stainless steel counter to hold hot items, I would choose bamboo or wood as my ideal surface for a workstation because I can use the surface for cutting food directly and preparing items,” asserts Chef Tan. When properly sealed, wood countertops can withstand moisture, and you don’t have to worry about putting hot pots and pans on the surface.

Note
Wooden countertops require regular maintenance due to their porous nature. They need to be regularly treated with mineral oil, varnish or marine oil in order to continue repelling moisture from around the kitchen.

Concrete
Concrete fell out of favour with designers in the late 1980s due to difficulties in the fabrication process. Back then, concrete surfaces were mostly hand-trowelled, a process that contributes to unevenness, especially on the surface and in corners. In recent years, however, fabricators offer precast counters that are made in workshops and delivered fully cured and finished. These precast molds are extremely flat and smooth. They now also come in colour, thanks to pigments that are added to the concrete mixing process. This makes concrete an extremely versatile material in the contemporary kitchen. Keep the concrete bare to achieve an industrial look, or dye it black to balance between ruggedness and elegance.

The Upside
Compact, solid and durable, the concrete countertop is resistant to heat, pressure and scratches. Aside from its eye-pleasing appearance, concrete countertops are also energy-efficient: when the temperature in the kitchen rises, the concrete captures the heat and releases it when the temperature cools down.

Note
Despite its durable reputation, unsealed concrete can be rather porous. Concrete countertops need to be properly sealed to prevent unsightly stains, especially around the sink area. Due to its fabrication process, precast concrete countertops can be fairly pricey compared to their natural stone counterparts.

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