A kitchen is often the heart of a home, so if you’re thinking of changing it, you need to get it right. While a carcass is important in terms of functionality, the element that everyone sees – and the one that gets the most use – is the kitchen worktop. This needs to handle being dumped on, chopped on and sloshed on, while remaining gorgeous. With lots of options available, how do you go about choosing?

Composite materials tick many boxes – for those unacquainted with the term, composite refers to ‘manmade stone’. Silestone is one of the better-known brands, a compound composed mainly from natural quartz, making it hard and resilient as well as highly stain resistant. As well as being practical, Silestone presents plenty of design possibilities, with more than 90 colours and three textures that can be combined: polished, which gives the smooth feel of natural stone; suede, with its unique soft touch; and the more rustic ‘volcano’.

Ross Pollard, Managing Director of Vision Installs in Exeter, waxes lyrical: “Clients can specify colours and finishes, and the worktops can be teamed with any base. For a modern kitchen, I would recommend a flat style of worktop, without texture, keeping the more heavily textured options for a classic kitchen. Although there are vibrant colours on offer, such as magentas, reds and greens, many clients are opting for grey, concrete-like colours – the more neutral colours that team with any accessories.”    

Another composite worth considering is Dekton, a relatively new product on the market from Cosentino, the makers of Silestone. Ross says it’s ‘bomb-proof’. Described as ‘revolutionary’, the techy bit explains that Dekton uses ‘sinterized’ particle technology to create a sophisticated blend of the raw materials used to produce the very latest in glass, porcelain and quartz worktops. Dekton is extremely scratch resistant, has maximum resistance to fire and heat, and a reduced chance of fading in direct sunlight. Looking ahead to warmer days, it is ideal for outdoor use – the ultra-compact structure making it a great choice for barbecue areas and outside kitchens. 

While the newer lines of manmade stone are unquestionably a superior choice for kitchens, there is always going to be a place for natural materials. Wood is a timeless choice, as long as you understand that it needs a little more love and attention than the alternatives. Wood must always be sealed; some people use oil, while others swear by floor lacquer. A common problem is blackening around sinks, where water can sometimes infiltrate the wood, so be disciplined and mop up any water spills. Puretree in Exeter is a specialist in hardwood worktops, each one made to measure. As well as more traditional woods such as beech, walnut and cherry, Puretree offers the more unusual African zebrano, which – as its name suggests – has stripes like a zebra, and African wenge, a tropical wood that is dark brown with black veins. All wood has FSC certification, ensuring not just quality but also ethical provenance. 

Another enduring option for worktops is natural stone. Steve Bristow from Steve Bristow Stone Masonry in Kingsteignton says, “In Devon, there are still many traditional-style kitchens that work best with natural materials.” Steve eschews marble as it is soft and porous, leading to problems with staining and scratching. He does, however, sing the praises of granite as a surface that will last a lifetime. “Although I wouldn’t suggest trying it, you could in theory chop vegetables directly on a granite worktop, or put down something hot straight from the oven, and get away with it.”  

Steve imports granite directly, with six of his top ten bestsellers coming from India. He keeps more than 700 slabs in the showroom yard for customers to peruse. Customers usually have something in mind when they arrive in the yard, but, Steve says, they often go away having chosen something completely different. Although Steve’s company seals every granite worktop and gives customers a care kit, it also offers a unique service: if customers damage their granite worktop with a chip or stain, for example, Steve’s team will whizz over and make repairs, free of charge – even years after installation.   

Finally, for anyone wanting an ‘absolutely fabulous’, unique worktop, one London company is leading the field in bespoke resin terrazzo countertops. Terrazzo is a manmade mixture, traditionally concrete with marble chippings. However, using concrete can lead to crazing and cracking, so Diespeker & Co developed new methods to make moulded resin-based terrazzo worktops instead. 

The choice of colour and marble chippings are customer-led, and options are almost limitless. The Diespeker crew will make up samples to your specification, but you can also visit the showroom to browse hundreds of slabs of marble, and mix and match to your heart’s content; some customers like to grab a bucket and make their own combination on the spot. Making a kitchen countertop using resin terrazzo is not an option for those on a budget, but you can be sure you’ll have a kitchen that will be the envy of your friends.

"While the newer lines of manmade stone are unquestionably a superior choice for kitchens, there is always going to be a place for natural materials"
Dekton Sirius external kitchen countertop
Dekton ‘Sirius’ external kitchen countertop
Silestone countertop
Vision Installs’ Silestone countertop
Sue Cade

Published 27 February 2017

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