We've created this guide for anyone who wants to know what their options are when upgrading their kitchen bench. Whether you're looking for a premium slab of marble, or you'd prefer a cheap and cheerful laminate option, this article will tell you all you need to know.
Kitchens are called the heart of the home for a very valid reason – its where the family congregates, friends gather and where unforgettable memories are made.
It also stands to reason then that the kitchen is always a key focus for renovators, propelling this hub of the home back into the modern era. While it is, of course, critical to lock down important decisions regarding layout, colour scheme and appliances, it’s the hero of this highly-popular room which needs the most attention: the not-so-humble kitchen bench.
With a myriad of options available to renovators, starting from lower-end laminates, through to mid-range stone and beyond into the ultra-luxurious marble and granite finishes, there are a variety of kitchen benchtop choices to suit every New Zealander’s budget. Ranging from as little as $300 a square metre for laminate, through to $20,000+ for a slab of superior polished concrete, we’ve broken down your choices by basic, mid-range and high-end, to help solve your kitchen benchtop renovation queries.
“A basic laminate benchtop can be ordered, measured and cut via a kitchen provider or sub-trade. These are a cost-effective option providing a nice fresh finish that can be upgraded easily,” advises Refresh franchisee, Rob McEwan. “Utilising a good builder with a finishing saw, a blank top can be purchased from any of the major hardware stores for about half the price and fitted within a day.”
Another Refresh kitchen expert, Carla Simmonds, offers this advice.
“When working on a tight budget yet wanting the wow factor of a top-end kitchen, the high-pressure laminate option is a solid choice with most Kiwis. Formica is an easy way to create a stylish kitchen that does not hurt the pocket,” she advises. “It also hosts ranges such as 180FX, where you are offered a true to scale stone and granite patterns, giving you more of a sophisticated laminate look.”
The iconic Formica® brand has been around for over 100 years and has played a starring role in kitchens every since. Formica laminate is still extremely popular in the kitchen and has developed a lot since its early days, always keeping up with the very latest trends in kitchen design.
Laminex and Formica are both well-known high-pressure laminates (or HPLs) and are possibly the most commonly used materials for kitchen benchtops. Teresa Walsh from Laminex New Zealand explains that there are many benefits to using HPL in the kitchen.
“Using HPL allows consumers to get the wow factor in their kitchen without seeing the wow factor on their invoice! Not only that but it’s extremely durable yet a softer material than granite or stone, making it a great practical choice. It’s also great for kids because they won’t be able to damage it as easily or hurt themselves as much if they bang themselves on it.”
Starting from approx. $300 per square metre, this trusted surface type is a perennially popular choice when on a budget.
For further inspiration, take a look at this Laminex benchtop.
From $300 per m2
If you are seeking the warmth of a timber finish for your kitchen, why not opt for a bamboo benchtop? At approx. $300-$350 per square metre, it will be far friendlier on your hip pocket than its wood counterparts, Jarrah or Ironbark.
The warm caramel tone of Moso bamboo creates a real impact when used as a kitchen countertop. The Enspire range of Moso bamboo is sourced from sustainable suppliers (and pandas don’t eat it) so is a great choice for environmentally conscious renovators.
Crafted from strips of bamboo that are laminated together both vertically and horizontally, these benchtops are extremely hard and versatile and distinctive in appearance.
David Speedy from Gibson Veneer and Plywood (a wholesaler that stocks the Enspire range) says that bamboo stacks up well against other hardwoods. “Bamboo is 30 per cent harder than oak and 17 per cent harder than maple,” he shares. “It’s strong, straight and very hard-wearing.”
The ends of the benchtop have a distinctive striped appearance, which is ideal for retro or 70s-inspired kitchens, and the finish is smooth and even in texture.
For inspiration on how a wood benchtop could enhance your kitchen, check out this award-winning kitchen renovation. Alternatively, take inspiration from these solid timber benchtops or solid oak benchtops.
From $300 per m2
You could look to install stainless-steel, which sells at between $300-$400 a metre, depending on finish.
The standard for any commercial kitchen benchtop, stainless steel is becoming an increasingly popular option for residential kitchens. Non-porous and very hygienic, stainless steel comes in a range of textures, although the traditionally polished look tends to be the most popular.
Cleaning of stainless steel benchtops is simple – simply wiping with a cloth will do the trick – and the sheen of steel creates a crisp, clean look in the kitchen. Stainless steel benchtops can be made to customer orders, following the plans of a kitchen designer.
John Bryant of Classic Stainless says that once their company has such a design, and the customer decides on the finish and texture they want, it takes around three to five weeks to complete manufacture of stainless steel benchtops.
“Stainless steel can become marked after a few years, but this adds to its character,” he says. “But we do offer a repolishing service for people who want to restore the original character of their benchtops.”
From $450 per m2
“To create the kitchen of your dreams on a mid-range budget, I would recommend a material of choice here in New Zealand, engineered stone benchtops,” Carla confirms. “The likes of Caesarstone and Smartstone have the feel of the Granite top with lower maintenance. It is a strong and durable product, with a reasonable heat and impact resistance. It is non-porous, and its antibacterial properties inhibit the growth of bacteria. The Engineered stone range offers a good colour selection and gives you that natural and luxurious look and at an affordable price range.”
Silestone is a good example of engineered stone: 94 per cent quartz and six per cent resin, it offers the best of both nature and technology. Another great feature of Silestone is its antibacterial qualities, which come from the addition of silver to the stone mix.
Tim Richards of Silestone says that the stone has other features that make it excellent for use as a benchtop. “We import jumbo-sized slabs of Silestone (3.2 x 1.8m) which means people who want a very large counter can achieve this without joins. There is a wide range of colour options, and it is more resistant to wear and tear than natural stone.”
Caesarstone is another form of engineered stone, also made from quartz. This material is virtually non-porous, as well as being free of mould and bacteria – making it ideal for food work surfaces.
Engineered stone can be worked to a client’s specifications by fabricators following a designer’s plan, and usually costs from around $700 per square metre.
If you are interested in a dark engineered stone benchtop, check out this Wellington kitchen renovation for further inspiration. This villa’s engineered stone benchtop installation provides an example of a lighter product.
From $700 per m2
“Granite is the most popular high-end benchtop,” Rob reveals. “What isn’t often appreciated is that granite comes in different grades. A mid-range (C) grade granite can be similar if not a bit cheaper than engineered stone. As a result, the last two kitchens I’ve done used granite.
Granite would start around the $4,500 through to over $10,000.”
Looking for inspiration? Check out this kitchen renovation featuring a granite benchtop.
Carla recommends Corian when creating a deluxe kitchen. “It is highly popular for its seamless finish,” she advises. “It stands a higher grade than your granite and engineered stone options and is easy to maintain for stains as well as being scratch-resistant. Unlike other products such as timber, granite or marble, no sealant is required and can be repaired and buffed up,” she adds.
If you’re looking for inspiration, check out this luxurious Corian stone benchtop installation in Auckland.
Sold per half sheet or slab, it can only be quoted correctly from plans.
Polished concrete benchtops are another popular choice in the high-end price bracket. Super solid and adored by those who boast an industrial influence in their homes, it can be fabricated with a wide variety of textures, colours, shapes and inlays to add a unique feel to your kitchen. And while concrete itself is an inexpensive material, due to its labour-intensive creation process, expect to pay anywhere between $4,000-$19,000 depending on size, finish and aggregates used.
Peter Housiaux from Concrete Doctors says that there are a number of finishes people can opt for in their kitchen countertop.
“There is a basic finish, which is basically what appears once the concrete is cast, but cleaned and sealed. A semi-grind and polish finish reveals a bit of the texture of the concrete. With a heavy-grind and polish, the texture of the aggregate is revealed.”
Concrete benchtops are easy to maintain, but it’s worth noting that cracks may occur. These are not structural, however, and can lend a certain deconstructed charm to the countertop’s appearance.
From $4,000 - $19,000
It may not seem an obvious choice for benchtops, but glass can create real impact in the kitchen. One company that has been exploring the potential of glass for benchtops is Graphic Glass.
They create bespoke benchtops, with the customers’ choice of design, finish and texture, for high-end kitchens throughout the country.
The glass is 19mm thick, and can be laminated; images or other graphic elements are transferred on to the glass, which is then affixed to the base of the cabinet.
The pricing of the glass benchtops depends on the text and finish that is required, and the glass can be toughened or non-toughened depending on the intended level of strength needed. There are also ranges of textures that can be used depending on the look that’s desired.
Bespoke glass benchtops aren’t for the budget-conscious, however, and sit at the top end of the market in terms of price.
Graphic glass countertops range in price from around $800-$1,500 per square metre, depending on image, texture and finish.
From $800 per m2
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*Costs are rough estimates and are subject to change. For a fixed-quote accurate to your specific project, please consult your local Refresh Renovations specialist. All Refresh Renovations franchises are independently owned and operated.
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