At Artichoke, our time is totally devoted to designing breathtaking, carefully considered and elegant bespoke kitchens and interiors for discerning clients, including kitchen worktops.
Many of our commissions involve stone, and anyone serious about ensuring their clients are offered the best and most beautiful and exciting stones will visit the Verona Stone Fair, or to give it its official and less romantic title, Marmomacc – The International Trade Fair for Stone, Design and Technologies. We attended the Fair again in September with Gary Walters, friend and Managing Director of Stone Age.
Stone forms such a crucial element of many our commissions, so keeping a firm grip on what’s available and what can be done with it is a vital part of our design process. Unlike the branded high street offering, we are simply not comfortable directing clients towards a controlled selection of uninspiring and pre-selected stones and granites. It’s such a waste; a kitchen worktop can make a kitchen.
The Verona Fair offers an incredible palate of stunning marbles, basalts, granites, slates, travertine, sandstone or limestones from around the World.
Discovered at the show, one of our favourite stones, a sandstone called Santa Fiore, comes from Italy and is the primary stone used for many of the ecclesiastical buildings in Florence. It’s also used as paving slabs in the city, and unlike many sandstones is incredibly hard, making it perfect for a unique kitchen worksurface. Being a sandstone it has wonderful dark veining, indicating an ash layer from volcanic activity many thousands of years ago. We have used this in several bespoke kitchens with great success
Another recent favourite, discovered by us at Verona at our visit in 2010 is a limestone called Belgian Blue. Belgian Blue is a particularly hard limestone with an almost slate like quality. Continuing the pavement theme, it is used as paving slabs in parts of Belgium and Holland. We used Belgian Blue in the bespoke kitchen in a project in Dartmoor, in the house lived in and built by the builders that built Sir Edwin Lutyen’s Castle Drogo.
Nero Marquina is a striking jet black marble broken with lightning like streaks of white calcite. It looks amazing in large slabs and we would certainly advise choosing a slab from the yard or quarry which we often arrange for clients.
Another striking marble which caught our eye at the show was Crema Valencia, which is found around the town of Barcheta in South East Spain. It is a medium to hard stone with fine grain and abundant darker reddish vein.
Another favourite was Statuary Venato which is in many ways a carbon copy of the Nero Marquina and it would take a bold scheme to use both in the same room.
Clients often ask us about the practicalities of using marble in bespoke kitchens. It can stain and scratch more easily than granites but in my view, some marbles are so striking it’s worth it. It also doesn’t conduct heat which makes it cooler to the touch and better for rolling out pastries.
One of the great joys of visiting Marmomacc, apart from seeing all of these wonderful stones in one place, is the technology and seeing what can now be done with stone and marble with that new technology. Zaha Hadid Architects were at Marmomacc, and here, one of their team discuss how they use stone and how they deploy the new technologies to shape it.
And here are some of the incredible technologies used to shape the wonderful stones on display:
Our visit to The Verona Stone Fair was a huge success and we will be back!
At Artichoke we pride ourselves on creating elegant, bespoke kitchen worktops and more for our clients. Visit our Portfolio page to view some of the featured examples of our craftsmanship carried out for clients over the years.
During the design process of any bespoke kitchen, discussions will inevitably reach the marble or granite worktops question. Choosing the best kitchen worktop for your home is not straightforward. Each has their pros and cons, and there is no right or wrong answer.
Hopefully this journal piece will act as a useful guide for each material, but feel free to contact us if you’d like to discuss designing a kitchen best suited to your country home.
In our view, marble is the most beautiful kitchen worktop material. Generally the patterns, hues and colours available in marbles are softer and more elegant than granite, so we consider them to be the best kitchen worktops aesthetically, and we feel its beauty outweighs its flaws.
Marble types vary in density, porosity and mineral content, and they will all stain if acids (such as red wine and lemon juice) are left on them for hours unchecked. However, if your marble surface is sealed and the offending material is removed quickly, you should be fine. Marble is also softer than granite so it will etch and antique with wear. It is similar to timber in this respect and it will create its own beautiful patina over time. We see this wear as an attractive quality but may not be to everybody’s taste. Explore marble as a kitchen surface in greater depth here.
Granite worktops are the most robust of all natural kitchen work surface stones. It is dense, scratch resistant and does not stain. It is considered one of the best kitchen worktops for any functional cooking surface.
With reasonable care, granite worktops will stay looking new for many years. In our experience, because granites are the post popular kitchen stone work surface, they also tend to be more susceptible to trend, meaning that they can also quickly go out of fashion. Certainly a few years ago, polished black granite was a popular kitchen worktop choice. Now it tends to be less so. Whenever we install granite, we tend to hone it to remove the polished surface, or flame it, a process which textures and antiques the surface.
Because of the way granite is formed geologically (it is volcanic as opposed to marble which is formed from sea bed activity), its patterns are, in our view, less exciting. They are typically bolder and less refined, and we tend to opt for using them in a scullery or pantry environment where the kitchen worktops are likely to get more wear and looks are less important.
Wooden kitchen worktops wear quickly in comparison to stone. It is less suitable for use as a kitchen worktop, particularly around wet areas, but it can look spectacular in a period country house environment. Our blog on kitchens in period country houses has some great images of period kitchens with wooden worktops.
Oak is the most commonly used solid timber kitchen work surface in Britain. It is warm to the touch and looks great, but it needs to be heavily protected with modern lacquers before it is fitted. Over time (in under ten years), these lacquers will wear, particularly in heavy use areas around the sink. Once the lacquer is worn and water can access the oak, it will start to go black (particularly around the sink taps), and ultimately the surface may need to be replaced.
If you are going to use oak, we would suggest not using it near sinks or wet areas. The island in the bespoke Edwardian cook’s kitchen we designed for a client uses both Italian black basalt and oak, with the basalt being used for the wet areas and the oak for the preparation areas. This was a good compromise when designing the best kitchen worktop to suit our client’s vision.
Basalt is a good alternative to Granite worktops (they are both silicates). It is hard, wears well and looks great, but mainly comes in dark colours (greys, blacks and blues) owing to the iron and magnesium that contaminates it during its formation.
Artichoke are fans of basalt, which is warm to the touch and softer to the feel than granite. Some people think it looks a little like concrete.
Slate is formed from heavily compressed clay at low heat and is very finely grained. Most slate (Welsh slate in particular) is not suitable for kitchen work surfaces. It stains easily with acid (wine, lemon juice etc) and it can chip.
Artichoke does occasionally use slate kitchen worktops from Cumbrian quarries for bespoke kitchens. These Cumbrian slates are extremely hard, extremely beautiful and do perform like granite (although can scratch a little more easily). They have beautiful graining and are soft to the touch. A disadvantage is that most slates do not come in slabs longer than 1,800mm long, which is around 1,000mm shorter than the lengths available in granite.
Artichoke typically use slates in pantries.
Corian is an entirely man-made material formed primarily from an acrylic polymer. It is non-porous, stain resistant, heat resistant and repairable. It can be jointed seamlessly and is also flexible when heated, which allows it to be moulded into limitless forms and is the best kitchen worktop for versatility.
It burns at 212 Fahrenheit / 100 centigrade, so it will not take very hot pans in the same way as granite will, but it can be seamlessly repaired should burn damage occur.
It also comes in a wide variety of colours, and because it can be bonded seamlessly to other Corian products, a worktop can mould seamlessly into a sink without any visible join, making it excellent for hygienic use. Artichoke often designs Corian into pantry environments.
In a recently completed project,the family’s preference for fresh food, prepared in advance, plated up and ready to serve, led to the design of a bespoke cold storage cupboard easily accessed from the corridor using moulded Corian to ensure it could be kept spotlessly clean.
Being man-made, there are no natural fissures or graining, making it a great choice for contemporary kitchens in particular.
In this Artichoke project, the work-surface and the backsplash were seamlessly jointed and curved at the join, meaning there are no angled corners for dirt to collect. The sinks are also seamlessly jointed to the work surfaces.
Quartz work surfaces such as Okite are made from three ingredients; quartz, polyester resin and colouring. Around 90% of the material is made from quartz, and it is highly resistant to staining, heat and scratches, five times stronger than granite and non-porous, making it one of the best kitchen worktops for durability.
It can also be “grained” and made to look like marbles and natural stone. This process is well refined now and manufacturers have it down to a fine art. It is a realistic alternative to marble but the graining can be a little formulaic.
Concrete is a great kitchen worktop, particularly if you are after a modernist / industrial look. Concrete typically comes with a smooth surface or with an aggregate surface and it can be pigmented to colour it. Depending on the shape and size of the piece, it can be cast on site or bought in pre-cast.
Concrete is porous and it will mark. If you place a coffee mug onto the surface, it will leave a stain. The same applies to oil and other liquids such as wine, and if you are fastidious about perfect unblemished surfaces, then this is not the surface for you. If you are prepared to relax and let daily life create its own patina however, it will look amazing in five years.
A recent online discussion with Russell Taylor Architects reminded me that I had missed out an important element; caring for stone. Their comments, which I quote here word for word, are worth reading.
“To be on the safe side, our suggestion would be to use a stone sealant. Some of the stone sealants now available on the market are very good and absolutely invisible: they are not shiny and don’t change the colour or texture of the stone in any way, but make it completely resilient to water and oil penetration. We have used successfully on stone work tops VULCASEAL V201 and Lithofin STAINSTOP, Lithofin MN Stain-Stop ECO, Lithofin Nano-TOPAlways, always, A-L-W-A-Y-S produce a sample of whatever treatment you decide to use and let it dry properly before applying it to the whole surface.” Always, always, A-L-W-A-Y-S produce a sample of whatever treatment you decide to use and let it dry properly before applying it to the whole surface.”
Thank you Russel Taylor Architects!
And in addition to that, Artichoke often provides sealed stone samples to clients to then pour wine on, leave lemon juice on and generally treat badly; this is a good way to gain confidence in what you are buying.
We wish you luck in finding the kitchen surface that has the right balance between beauty, durability and price that is right for your needs. Take a look at projects on our website for more inspiration. If you’d like to discuss your kitchen project in more detail, please get in touch via email firstname.lastname@example.org or give Andy a call on +44 (0)1934 745270.
With each project, whether a kitchen or a whole house, we aim to create Britain’s future heritage, adding architectural value to our clients’ houses for their family and for future generations. We aren’t simply making joinery. We are making history.