New Zealand Home & Building, October-November 1998
Kitchen benchtops and cabinetry need to be durable, hygienic and easy to clean, as well providing the right style of finish. There's a huge range of materials to choose from today, representing an equally wide range of costs. Here we look at some of the more popular options.
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With an enormous array of colours, patterns and finishes to select from, it's not surprising that laminates are one of the most popular choices for benchtops. Different designs can be used to mimic the look of timber, granite, marble or terrazzo, or simply to inject a splash of solid colour. Laminates are stain-resistant, hygienic and tough - though not so tough as many of their competitors - and they're one of the least expensive bench-tops. Patterns and flat or stippled finishes will hide marks better than solid colour or gloss finishes, making them more suitable for high wear areas. High density laminates are typically used for benchtops, however, low density laminates can be used if you are prepared to take extra care.
Timber has enduring appeal for the warmth and texture it adds to a kitchen. There's a wide range of imported timbers now available, which vary in colour and grain. Resin finishes applied to timber create a durable surface, but a timber bench will still require more maintenance than other surfaces. Moisture can be a problem along edges and splashback joins, where the resin coating may crack. Although timber benches are generally heat resistant, very hot pans will scorch them, just as heavy pots and pans may cause dents.
Ceramic tiles are not one of the most popular choices for benchtops, but they are hard-wearing, colourful, heat-proof and stain resistant if glazed. Heavy pots and pans can take their toll, but chips and scratches will be less obvious if vitrified tiles are used, as they are the same colour throughout. Equally, tiles can be unforgiving on glasses and china. Don't be put off by memories of grotty grouting in the tiled benchtops of the seventies. New waterproof epoxy grouts mean it's much easier to clean the grout lines between tiles.
Eucalyptus Fastigata forms a pale timber counter top in this vibrant kitchen by Richard Priest Architects. Cupboard doors are lacquered MDF with frosted glass insets.
Terrazzo offers infinite design possibilities and a virtually limitless range of colours and textures. Made by inlaying glass, stone or marble chips into a concrete /epoxy mix, it is then finely ground to create a smooth surface. Like other stone benchtops, terrazzopage 75
needs to be sealed and will stain and become pitted as a result of prolonged contact with acidic substances, such as wine or lemon juice.
Granite is one of the hardest wearing kitchen surfaces, as it is scratch and stain resistant and impervious to heat. It is, however, one of the more expensive benchtop options. A cheaper alternative is Granit 90, a product manufactured from 92 percent natural granite chips fused in a quartz resin.
If you're a keen cook with a penchant for pastries, you can't go past a marble benchtop. Its cool, smooth surface is excellent for pastry-making but, because it is porous, marble is liable to stain and chip and will need to be resealed from time to time. Although less expensive than granite, it is not considered to be as practical.
Solid surfaces, such as Corian, Avonite and Acapella, are among the more expensive choices for a kitchen. Made from composites of minerals, resins and acrylic or polyester, they are soft and warm to the touch and have the strength of stone. Solid surfaces are resistant to scratching, staining, heat and dents. A very hot saucepan may scorch, but marks can generally be buffed out with an abrasive cleaner. Available in a range of plain and patterned finishes, including stone and jewel looks such as sapphire, garnet and quartz, solid surfaces can be moulded into any shape, and sinks and splashbacks seamlessly integrated. The latest solid surface to hit the market is Logos, the creation of Italian designer Atelier Mendini. Glass mosaic granules are combined with an organic amalgam to produce a colourful and durable surface that is heat, scratch and impact resistant.
Concrete is an extremely durable but relatively inexpensive alternative for kitchen benchtops. It can be cast in-situ or off-site, custom moulded and coloured to suit. Like other porous surfaces, it needs to be sealed to prevent staining.
Another unusual choice for kitchen benchtops, aspage 76
This Richard Priest-designed kitchen has a concrete island bench and a mix of kahikitea and glass-fronted cabinetry.
well as splashbacks, is glass. Laminated glass bench-tops can be made to any thickness (a minimum of 30mm is recommended) and edges can be square polished or rounded. Glass is easy to clean and very hygienic but does not respond well to extreme heat.
Although only recently introduced in New Zealand, slate has been used for benchtops for centuries in the UK and Europe. A non-porous surface, slate doesn't require sealing and is not affected by acids. Slate has a silky feel and oil or grease will mark its dull surface, however, a wipe over with lemon juice or a degreasing agent will remedy this. Currently, slate benchtops are available only in grey and dark green.
Another new look for benchtops is sandstone. Like slate it can be curved and shaped to suit any situation, but, being porous, it will need sealing. The composition of both sandstone and slate makes them extremely strong, so wide bench overhangs can be achieved.page 75
When it comes to choosing cabinetry for a kitchen, the same considerations apply - durability, ease of care, and the look you want to achieve.
If you're on a budget, you might opt for painting your own cabinetry, using enamel paint or acrylic paint coated with clear polyurethane. For a professional, hard-wearing finish, however, two-pot lacquer over MDF is the best choice. Sprayed-on lacquer gives a smooth, glossy finish and is harder than conventional paint. If it does scratch or damage, it can always be resprayed. A mirror gloss can be achieved with lacquer, but this adds markedly to the cost and will show scuffs and scratches more than a satin finish. Perhaps the biggest advantage of lacquer is the unlimited range of colours.page 77
Colour, texture and pattern can all be achieved with laminates, making them a popular choice for cabinetry. Bonded to MDF, laminates provide a hard-wearing and easy-care option for cupboard doors and drawer fronts. Not all laminates are created equal, however. High density laminates are much tougher than their low density cousins. Another option is thermal laminate PVC, which is basically an MDF core shrink-wrapped in PVC. This allows a pattern to be routered into door and drawer fronts. For a high-gloss look, Acrocore, a solid colour acrylic sheet laminated to MDF, provides a finish that's even more hard-wearing than lacquer, but the colour range is fairly limited.
Timber veneer over laminated plywood or MDF is the most cost-effective and environmentally sound way to achieve a timber finish for cabinetry. There are more than 100 native and exotic timber veneers to choose from in a wide range of colours and textures. Any timber finishes in a kitchen need to be sealed.
Frosted, clear, sandblasted, reeded or patterned glass is a great alternative for cupboard doors. Set into lacquered MDF or timber frames, it provides an effective contrast to solid surfaces. Backlit glass surfaces add drama to a kitchen at night.
Stainless Steel has slipped off the benchtop and onto doors and drawers to create a modern, streamlined look. Large expanses of stainless steel can be overpowering (and are difficult to keep smear-free), but used judiciously it provides an effective foil to coloured laminates, painted surfaces or natural wood. Stainless steel will scratch but over time this adds character.
Any number of materials can be inserted into timber or MDF frames to create interesting drawers and cupboard fronts, from chicken wire to translucent fibreglass, copper and stainless steel mesh. The design possibilities for kitchen cabinetry are literally limitless but, as with most things, the more complicated the design the higher the cost.page 78page break