Let’s talk about benchtop options. Once upon a time there was one option, and that was good old laminate. This quickly became superseded by man-made composite stones like Caesarstone. We’ve all had an affair with a Caesarstone benchtop at one point or another, with most of us choosing Osprey or Ice Snow (most of Melbourne gazes down on this stone each night during dinner prep). BUT there is so much more to choose from. Here are just a quick sample of benchtop materials with a brief discussion around their pros and cons:
A high-end product, these sheets come in 3000mmx1500mm (typically) sheets that are only 6mm thick. Their purpose is to replicate the intricacy and beauty of marbles without the upkeep factor. My favourite product at the moment, I have used these sheets in recent jobs and just love them!
Pros: Depending on the brand, (my favourite is Aristea by Signorino, see above) this product is stain proof, scratch proof, heat proof and just about indestructible once installed, being 30% stronger than granite. The Aristea sheet is the most realistic replication I have seen of the different Marbles and Onyx and it is a fantastic product that will look just about brand new forever (just like any porcelain tile would).
Since its a man-made product different finishes are available (matte or polished). Being so thin, porcelain sheet is very versatile. Not only can you use it for benchtops, you can use it for splashbacks, walls and floors. It doesn’t need to be sealed unlike marble which requires sealing every 6 months.
Cons: Whilst not expensive to buy (around $1100 a sheet), you need to add 2-3 times that for installation. Ouch. This is a not product for the faint hearted or tight on budget. Having said that, it’s still more affordable than real marble which can cost around $25-30,000 for the same quantity.
It’s brittle which means a light touch is required during transportation and installation. A stonemason who has used the product before not a tiler should be consulted for a quote and used for installation due to the specialized tools and handling requirements of this product. Apologies to any tilers reading this but the sheets are susceptible to breakage during handling so make sure your building contract stipulates who the financial responsibility rests with before proceeding (your builder will take care of this for you but make sure you have the conversation with him ahead of time).
A much more popular product than it used to be, concrete has been used extensively for bench-tops, flooring, and seating in many contemporary homes.
Pros: Relatively inexpensive and can be formed on site. Look out for the fabulous burnished stains your floor installer can include in your concrete on polishing to give it a glossy, black/dark brown sweep of movement in it. Just beautiful! Concrete is heat resistant, durable if sealed. Many people think of the industrial look when you think of a concrete benchtop, but it can be very contemporary and fresh in a home, especially paired with rich timbers or and pairs well with many types of cabinet finish.
Cons: It’s porous and can sometimes chip easily. Concrete needs to be sealed once poured to reduce the porousness of it which prevents stains from soaking in quickly and damaging the concrete. Think of your concrete garage floor, it’s probably not sealed and probably quite stained. Eeww.