We love marble. It’s a time-honored classic choice for benchtops, that is versatile enough to look good in all kinds of kitchens. But it’s not without it’s downsides: susceptible to staining, scratching, and etching, marble is a natural product that develops patina with use. Some of us love a surface that reflects our cooking history, others don’t. This residence in Vancouver by Scott and Scott Architects uses a solid marble benchtop with integrated sink, weighing around 800 kilograms. Words and image editing by .
Engineered quartz is a dead ringer for the real, natural thing. Architects and designers love it for its durability, colour accuracy and the fact that it needs little maintenance - it's stronger than granite or limestone. It’s also non-porous so you don’t need to bother with waxers or sealers. This family kitchen in Brooklyn by Workstead uses a monolithic island in quartzite (bisected with an oak breakfast counter) as the hub for cooking and gathering. Photograph by Matthew Williams.
Concrete countertops have become a serious contender for those seeking a custom material with a natural sensibility. It comes in virtually any colour, finishes range from rough to smooth, and it will wear well with use.
Concrete kitchen by Vincent Van Duysen Architects.
Consider toughness and heat resistance as well as looks when choosing kitchen benchtops: granite and marble can take a lot more knocks than limestone for instance. This kitchen by DeVol features classic yet modern black granite worktops. Photo by Sebastian Cox.
One of the most luxurious ways to achieve a slick, modern look is to install concrete benchtops. They're stain- and-water-resistant, as well as being effective at absorbing sound. The most popular shades are grey, and concrete can be buffed and polished to create a sleek surface or left with a more natural, matt look. This 1930s kitchen remodel in west London is by Feilden Fowles.
Norm Architects reinvented this IKEA flat-pack kitchen by employing designs by Reform, who specialise in custom counters and cabinet fronts that work with IKEA kitchen skeletons. The slick 18mm-thick counter was made to order from concrete, with an integrated sink and square lavastone workboard.
One of the attractions of marble is that it’s available in a wide variety of natural colours, including white, black, grey, green, yellow and pink. Some pieces of marble have dark, prominent patterning, while others have more subtle marks. The irregular lines of veining can be a good contrast to the straight lines inherent in kitchens. Photo by Sean Slattery.
We love timber benchtops because they mix well with other materials, such as marble, and are easy on glassware and dishes (no noise when you put down a stack of plates). If maintained properly, timber is a long-lasting and durable choice that, unlike solid surface counters or laminate, can be repaired. This DeVol bespoke kitchen made from sustainable British timbers was photographed by Sebastian Cox
Despite being susceptible to scratching and staining, marble is heat resistant, strong, and generally doesn’t chip or dent. This white Calacatta marble countertop looks beautiful in the kitchen of a San Francisco bungalow. The architect was Ian Read of Medium Plenty.
Benchtops take a battering. Marble can take more knocks than limestone, but if you go with natural stone, treat it as you would a leather sofa – not with fear, but with love and respect. If you’re extra rough and tough in the kitchen, consider mixing benchtop surfaces: stainless steel on the area where you are going to plunk hot saucepans, stone for showpiece areas, timber for work spots. Photo of an east Dulwich kitchen by DeVol, with sections of Cararra marble and timber.
Quartz looks great and is a sturdy option that stands up well to heat and hard knocks, being tougher than the real stone on which it is based. This DeVol kitchen features benches made from a quartz slab in ‘Lagoon’ from Silestone.
Timber is an affordable benchtop material with a lot going for it. Maintain it regularly and it'll age well. However, without proper upkeep, it can dull and crack. Different woods come with different finishing oil recommendations and it’s best to follow the instructions of your installer. This Wymeswold kitchen is by DeVol.
If you’re worried about the weight of big, thick edges on your stone benchtops, bear in mind that the rest of the slab is usually cut thinner. In terms of finishes, marble is still the most popular option for most renovators - it’s a classic that adds charm and character. When it comes to limestone, honed has lovely matt textures, onyx is sleek and can be backlit, and the reconstituted options have multiple benefits. Sarah Sherman Samuel’s kitchen in LA features this counter and backsplash in Calacatta Gold marble and the butler’s sink is from IKEA (the Domsjo; $299).
Buying a benchtop can be a time-consuming and complicated process. Before selecting, get advice from your kitchen supplier and builder so you know all the options. Ceramic countertop by Heath Ceramics.