Bench Top Choices

How do I choose between different bench top materials?

Yes, we know there's a lot of choice when it comes to bench top materials and it can become quite confusing. 

What we are going to cover here is the range of products available together with their advantages, disadvantages and relative pricing. We intend for this to be completely unbiased but acknowledge that not everyone may agree with our assessment.

When advising you on bench top options we will start with a discussion about your lifestyle and likely budget. A family with active young children has very different needs in terms of durability than a couple whose grown-up children have all left home. Likewise a young couple starting out in their first home are likely to have a lower budget than someone building or renovating a high end property.

It is very important that you discuss your lifestyle and likely use of the kitchen with your designer so that they can recommend what bench top is likely to work best for you. This is where it is important that the designer is impartial and not aligned to any one product. The table below gives an overview of the most commonly used Bench Top materials. After you have glanced through that you may want to read about the different products in more depth.

Bench Top Choices
Bench Top Material Advantages Disadvantages
High Pressure Laminate
Formica, Wilsonart, Laminex
  • The most cost effective product
  • Huge Colour selection (over 300)
  • Bench top arrives with kitchen cabinets so no delay in installation
  • More prone to heat and impact damage compared to other products
  • Can be perceived as a cheap alternative in more expensive homes
Stainless Steel
  • Reasonably priced
  • Range of different finishes
  • Very impact and heat resistant
  • Price can increase if joins (welds) are required
  • Brushed and polished stainless steel can show scratches
  • There is a time delay between cabinet and bench installation
Natural Granite
  • Some colours are very competitively priced
  • A good colour selection
  • Good heat and impact resistance
  • Some colours are expensive
  • Light colours will show stains if not regularly resealed
  • Some people find the surface too hard to work on
  • There is a time delay between cabinet and bench installation
Engineered Stone
Caesarstone, Silestone, Quantum Quartz, Trends
  • Stain resistant
  • A good colour selection
  • Reasonable heat and impact resistance
  • Contemporary looks
  • Can be built up to any thickness
  • Thick tops are more expensive
  • Less heat and impact resistance than granite
  • Dark colours can look flat when compared with granite
  • There is a time delay between cabinet and bench installation
  • Gives a warm natural look
  • Can be used as a highlight when used with other benchtop materials
  • Expensive compared with everything else
  • Timber surface bruises more easily than other surfaces

High Pressure Laminate Bench Tops

High Pressure Laminates such as Formica are still the number one choice for bench tops in New Zealand. The product is very cost effective comes, in a huge range of colours and is very durable providing it is treated with respect. Laminates have been around for over fifty years and it is not unusual for us to replace a twenty year old kitchen with a top still looking in reasonable condition. The secret of looking after laminates is not to place hot pots directly onto the surface and not to cut without a chopping board. It is possible to design a great looking, cost effective kitchen while still using a laminate bench top. Once you move to a more expensive stone or stainless steel bench top you can expect more heat and impact resistance.

Stainless Steel Bench Tops

Stainless Steel tops are obviously very heat resistant and could be described as almost bullet proof. They can be very stylish as well as practical if the right profile and finish is chosen.

Stainless is sometimes eliminated as a bench top choice because it is reflective and tends to show scratches. With a brushed stainless top you do tend to be conscious of initial scratches but it tends not to be an issue after a year or so. Like a new car "the first scratch is the worst scratch." After a year or so a stainless top will be covered by a myriad of tiny scratches and take on its own patina.

Stainless tops also come in a variety of patterned surfaces and these do not show scratches or reflect light to the same extent as brushed or polished stainless. Stainless tops are more expensive than high pressure laminate but can still be cost effective.

Granite / Engineered Stone Bench Tops

Granite or Engineered Stone tops are the most popular choice for customers upgrading from high pressure laminate.

Granite is a natural stone product that is sourced from many different countries. It is a very strong product that stands up well to heat and abrasion.

Prices vary depending on the country of origin with the more expensive granites coming from countries like Norway that have high mining and processing costs. Scarcity of a particular stone and the difficulty of quarrying are also reflected in the price. Cheaper granites come from lower cost economies such as India or Africa. It is often assumed that the price of granite is an indication of the quality. This is not necessarily true as there is some stunning looking, first grade granites available at very affordable prices.

Light coloured granites can be more susceptible to staining if not resealed on a regular basis.

Being a natural product there is variation in the colour between shipments of granite so we typically arrange a visit to our granite supplier so you can choose your own piece of stone. Each piece of stone has its own character and it's a great feeling to pick your own piece of stone that has been millions of years in the making.

Engineered Stone also referred to as Composite Stone is a product that has been gaining in popularity over the last ten years.

The product is a man made mixture of chipped up quartz stone and granite mixed with resins to bind the stone together and seal it off.

The finished product comes in sheet form and varies in thickness from approximately 7mm to 30mm. The thinner products are typically built up with a timber base to a finished thickness of 40mm - 60mm and sometimes even thicker. The 30mm thick products are often used as a solid top with no extra build-up.

There are a number of different brands of engineered stone available with Caesarstone, Silestone, Trendstone and Quantum Quartz among the better known. There is a good range of colours spread between the different brands.

The product is abrasion proof, stain resistant but not as heatproof as natural granite.

Granite is often used in more classic looking kitchens, while engineered stone is used in more contemporary designs.

Timber Kitchen Bench Tops

Timber tops are typically laminated out of strips of solid timber before being finished with either oil or a two pot polyurethane product.

There are a wide variety of timbers available ranging from New Zealand natives to Australian and other more exotic overseas varieties. Some softer timbers such as Rimu can be prone to bruising while hardwoods can be extremely impact resistant.

If you use an oil finished product a regular application of oil is required but the advantage is any scratches or chips can easily be disguised. Some of the two pot finishes are extremely tough as you may have seen in their use in commercial bar and restaurant applications.

A good quality timber top tends to be at the top end of bench top pricing.

Ask us a question

Any questions or enquiries you may have, feel free to give us a call on (06) 326 8849, use this easy online form, or call into our showroom on Mulgrave Street in Ashhurst.

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