Unlike days gone by, when the exotic natural finishes of Europe were either unobtainable in New Zealand or out of most Kiwis’ price range, today the choice is extensive. Also new technology is delivering traditional or modernistic looks.
Laminate, frequently referred to as Formica, is one of the most common materials used and is an economical choice. It consists of several layers of plastic pressed together, and comes in a huge range of colours, finishes and textures.
Tiles, if they are strong, can be used as a bench top, although they are more commonly used for splash-backs or trimmings.
Most materials are heat and scratch resistant, but serious cooks need to consider a robust product which will stand up to hot vessels being plonked down straight from stove-top and oven heat. Hot items can be placed straight from the hot stove onto granite because it’s scratch and chip resistant.
It is a natural stone and popular with those who want to bring a touch of nature inside. To achieve the granite look without such a high cost, homeowners can install a granite overlay bench top.
Because it’s only six millimetres thick, it is easily placed over the top of an existing bench top, says Rob Thomas of My Kitchen Makeover.
“The overlay can also go over the top of an existing splash-back,” he says. “On average it will cost between $3000 and $4000. It takes only a day-and-half to install, compared with the time taken to remove the bench top and manufacture a new one.
“Damage can sometimes occur, for example wall tiles which can crack when the bench top is being pulled out.
“Because the overlay goes straight over the top, you are not risking any damage or extra work.
“It’s a more popular way of upgrading a kitchen when you might just want a bench top and are happy with the colour of the cupboards. It’s also a cost-effective way of adding value when selling a house.”
Making a comeback in recent years is stainless steel. It’s extremely durable and pots can be placed on it directly from the stove.
Marble is a favourite for pastry cooks because the surface is smooth and cool to touch. It has been traditionally used in expensive homes, but is becoming more popular in the mid-price range because it’s extremely durable.
Recycled glass in a mix with man-made stone fragments is being used for bench tops giving the appearance of smooth marble or textured granite. Despite being made from such a fragile material, the product feels like rugged stone and stands up well to wear and tear.
The look is created by the ability to join components together seamlessly and the resulting appearance looks as if the bench top has been carved from one solid piece. Special features are the under-mount sinks, which can be integrated into the bench top to enhance the seamless look.
Completing the picture is an attractive combination of stainless steel and glass, achieved with a crystal deck glass cover. The glass is white, harmonising with the ceramic hob, and can be slid across the entire width of the horizontal bowl. The sink comes with a matching glass tap ledge.
While Infinity products withstand high temperatures, a heat-protection pad is recommended for hot pots, especially cast-iron items. The company offers a segment of Infinity mounted on rubber buttons in the matching bench colour as a protective pad.
A stronger cleaning product, such as Jif, will not damage the top when stubborn stains and dirt need to be removed.
Most damage to the bench tops can be repaired on site, and they can be resurfaced with professional sanding to make the bench look brand new after years of use.
If it looks like an impossibly attainable dream kitchen in a picture book, a visit to local showrooms may yield some surprises. Technology, coupled with dramatic design, leaves 21st-century homeowners spoiled for choice.