Choosing the perfect benchtop or splashback can be a tricky business in a world of ever-evolving trends and new products. Finding something that stands the test of time, both aesthetically and structurally, comes down to having a good understanding of what is available and the associated pros and cons.
Probably the product of the moment, engineered stone benchtops are popular because they provide much of the beauty of natural stone, while being a bit more robust.
Sue Jansen from Kitchen Capital says the durability of this product is what makes it the number one choice for savvy home owners.
“Manufactured stone has become popular because people didn’t like the pattern and strong colours of granite,” she says.
“But the other major benefit is that they are very easy to look after because they are stain and scratch resistant.” Engineered stone is made from crushed stone mixed with a polymer resin, so it is non-porous and Sue says, there is greater flexibility with colour availability. Because the colours are consistent, large benchtops and waterfall edges can be created with virtually no visible joins.
Caesarstone and Essastone lead the market in engineered stone products and Caesarstone has recently released a new collection which features wider veins, aimed at making the product look even more natural.
“The Supernatural designs have had an incredible response from consumers and professional designers alike,” says Caesarstone’s Andrew Dixon.
“This combination of high quality nature-inspired designs with the benefits of quartz is enabling great design freedom,” he says.
“From a design perspective we are constantly evaluating new directions and opportunities, focusing on the most relevant new designs for Australia.
“Our focus is always on designs that have relevance to both residential and commercial interiors.”
Granite, slate, travertine, marble and limestone from around the world have been a popular choice for kitchen and bathroom benchtops for decades and people who are keen to achieve a very high-end finish often will not look past this product.
Stone is available in a wide range of colours at a range of price points, depending on the location of the quarry and the quality of the product.
While there are lots of people currently selling stone, most reputable sellers offer customers a point of difference.
Many businesses have something slightly different to their competitors and that means that by shopping around, consumers really can get something that is unique and that suits their needs. When it comes to sizing, colours, finish and the basic detail in the way the stone is installed, most people are selling something a little bit different, so shoppers do have choices.
Natural stone can be used on floors, walls and benchtops.
Experts agree that the market has really opened up, there are different types of stones now available from all over the world.
Products such as Staron® Solid Surfaces are non-porous materials, usually made using a mix of acrylic and natural minerals.
The product can generally be custom made into any shape or design, allowing for the creation of flowing curves and virtually any shape imaginable.
Nicki Rodriguez says Staron® is also a blend of natural minerals and pure acrylic which can be used in many places around the home, including the kitchen.
Ms Rodriguez says Staron® could be moulded into shapes, cut, inlaid, routed or sandblasted.
“The flexibility of Staron® extends to limitless edge profiles, drop down edges and splashbacks,” she said. “Also a 10mm tile cove can be featured where the benchtop raises 10mm to meet your splashback to create a totally seamless curved edge for an integrated and smooth finish which is easy to clean.
“But Staron® is not only a benchtop solution, it can be used as wall panels, making it fantastic for mould and grout-free shower walls, shower floors, integrated desk spaces, furniture, barbecue areas and more.”
Glass splashbacks have been a popular option for new home builders and renovators alike for the last decade because they are sleek, easy to clean and available in an endless range of colours.
As trends slowly begin to swing back to tiles, glass manufacturers are looking for ways to keep the product fresh and exciting.
According to Will Main from glass manufacturing company, Cooling Brothers, printed glass has been available in Europe for some time, but it has only recently started to take off in Western Australia.
He says it can be used to create fully customised splashbacks, screens, wall coverings, tabletops, windows, doors and virtually anything that calls for a hard, durable and decorative surface.
Currently the most common application was for the production of beautiful kitchen splashbacks but he hoped more people would become aware of its availability and versatility and start to experiment.
“Aside from the kitchen splashbacks, we are seeing people use it a little bit more on their shower screens to create a privacy strip,” he says.
“Budget permitting, it is also spectacular when used to replace tiles in bathrooms because it looks seamless and modern and you can have absolutely any design printed onto it.”
“Laminate benchtops have come an incredibly long way over the last ten years,” Sue Jansen says. “Now there’s better colours and textures and all have incredible strength and durability.”
But she says, the best development was in terms of what could be done with the edges. In the past, joins and edges were previously quite unsightly.
“Now you can have either post forming or square forming so that you can have either a rounded front or a tight square edge and when you combine this with some of the textures and colours available you can really achieve a wonderful result,” she says.
“And the benefit is that they are great value for money. When I talk to people who are working to a tight budget, I tell them just because they are having laminate, they need not think they are settling for second best.”
Keen cooks will know the virtues of a stainless steel kitchen benchtop. Hygienic and durable, stainless steel tops also can perfectly enhance modern or industrial decor.
“It is a very practical work surface,” Sue says. “You can bake straight on top of it, you can do things like clipping a pasta maker on the side of it or dropping hot pans onto it, without risk of damage.”
“I put them into people’s kitchens more commonly now,” she says.
“They are very convenient for cooking and they work back with a whole range of looks.”
While cost per counter can vary largely depending on the type of timber used, this natural product is mostly a very good cost-effective option.
Exotic timbers cost more than locally grown varieties, but there is a good overall range available, Sue says.
“There’s also a few different ways to finish them. You can either just oil the top and work straight on it or you have it fully sealed so no moisture gets in at all.
“The benefit of oiling the top is that you can place hot pans directly on the surface but the downside for some people is, that it will mark and ultimately you will get that worn look.”