Here’s a question that I’ve been plaguing my friends with for the past few weeks:
(well, more like months)
Oak worktop or stone?
I think this is the most middle class problem I’ve ever had, after gems from my friends such as ‘There’s just too much Champagne in the fridge’ and ‘The Michelin Star restaurant was very good, but there were just far too many borlotti beans‘.
I’m pretty lucky to even have to make this choice, but I rank kitchen counters as one of the more important (and well used) features in my my house. I’m working on a budget of about 20-30 grand to do up this house, and I’m willing to drop one tenth of that on kitchen worktop if it will make the fantasy kitchen of my dreams come true.
(Though at this point a kitchen that isn’t filled with plaster dust is looking pretty spectacular right now.)
Here’s a diagram of the worktop I have in my kitchen. I’m keeping most of the original lower units and keeping the gallery style design. It’s just over 5 metres of worktop that I need to acquire. Most kitchens I’ve had in my life have had 3 maximum, so my budget took a bit of a shock when I realised I need to double what I expect kitchens to cost.
Anyway, before we get into what worktop I DID choose, let’s talk about what I DIDN’T
I’ve had laminate worktop most of my life, and beaten the hell out of it. I’m not a tidy cook, I dream of something I can just chuck a pan down over. Laminate, while cheap also couldn’t be cut and shaped for my weird corners easily, so it was out from the start.
As much as I love glitter, the idea of a kitchen attempting to look that clean and modern personally offends me. Lived in or GO HOME. Someone else’s home. Not mine.
Okay, so there’s a company over in Leeds who make recycled glass worktop which is neat as hell. The green ones are made from old gin bottles! Unfortunately for me it’s pricey (between 2-3 k to do my area) and unfortunately they couldn’t do sheets large enough for the lengths I needed.
There’s this new stuff called Richlite and it’s hella cool. It’s made from recycled paper and apparently feels like leather. I got super excited over the stuff, contacted lots of companies and finally found someone who could do a install near me, but they wanted 2.5k for it. I was hoping for something closer to 1.5k max, and I baulked at the idea of paying more for old paper than I would for sheets of stone. Which brings us on to the Stone Section
Let me be honest with you, when I was dreaming of worktop and ideal kitchens, all I ever wanted in my head was some gorgeous black marble so I could roll delicious pastry on it and touch it’s smooth, ancient surface and absorb some of it’s mystical powers. So I started researching Stone Masons and during that research, turns out that marble is…kinda crap for kitchens.
This is what lemon juice and acids does to black marble. With white and lighter stones you can get away with it, but I didn’t want to be crying out ‘SAVE MY STONES FROM THE FRUIT’ every time I felt like I wanted to get citrusy in the kitchen. The above article talks about soapstone as an alternative, but I’ve hunted and it’s pretty much impossible to get over here, mostly because everyone here just loves….
My problem with granite is that I’ve grown up with fake granite laminate all my life. And turns out, that stuff is a pretty decent copy! But that means that real granite, which costs more than I spend on groceries in an entire year, to me just looks a bit like that stuff you can buy off the shelf in B&Q.
So, I went on a quest to find a granite, that doesn’t look like granite.
This was the first stone masons I visited, about half an hour away from my house in south Manchester. These places are friendly as they can be, but they’re workshops more than anything, which means a lot of the time you’re wandering about like ‘helllooooo anyone there?’ while trying to sneak about and hunt for the perfect stone while not being shot for trespassing.
This one has red dots in it! There was a lot of seriously cool stuff, but mainly in the lighter tones and I wanted black.
Black like my attempts at flambé.
This is where I found a stone called Cosmic Black, which looks kinda awesome. I got a quote for just under 2k from the first shop, then drove another half an hour to the next place.
Who had exactly the same 10 types of stone, including cosmic black, and quoted an install for just under 2.5k.
We then took a trip into inner manchester, to yet another super scary factory. We wandered through many dangerous places until a harangued office staff member found us and gave us some high vis jackets to go look at the pretty stone.
Here’s my mum helping me with my poor life choices as we look at yet another sheet of Cosmic black. They wanted just over 3k for the same installation.
So, the first place was looking the best… but there was one problem. I didn’t actually like Cosmic Black that much. I’m sure it would look lovely in someone else’s house, but it just didn’t make me go ‘ooooh.’
(I’m getting to the point in the renovations where I’m finding it harder and harder to make decisions. I’m basically throwing aside good taste and just following the ‘ooooh’ instinct, which is probably why I’m looking at flamingo wallpaper right now like it’s a valid life choice. )
So I limped home and then it was back to searching for a mason that had a black marble effect granite that wasn’t Cosmic Black, and was within a 50 mile radius.
Several weeks of hunting later I found one up in Bradford, with a stone called BLACK STORM. It looked AMAZING in pictures and they could do my install for 1.5k. I drove to bradford the next day, right before I was due to go down to London MCM comic con to go look at the stuff with baited breath-
-and in person it was just a bit of a crap brown colour.
Not wanting to waste the trip I had a look at the other slabs they had in stock, with an awkward salesman who thought he had a guaranteed sale out of me, but then just awkwardly made my way out of there and awkwardly drove off and awkwardly ignored the following emails and the one awkward phone call that felt like breaking up with someone.
“It’s not the stone, it’s just me, okay?”
I spent most of Comic Con telling my friends about my woes, and bless them they managed to not look too bored while I went through the 5 stages of grief over worktop.
Eventually I messaged one of my friends like ‘I think I know deep down that a stone worktop won’t make me happy’, so it should be no surprise that she made this and sent it back to me:
I’m going to print this out and hang it in my kitchen, because through a process of elimination, I finally came to the worktop suitable for my kitchen.
My mum has solid wood. I’ve never been that much of a fan, but turns out she’s got a solid softwood, and right now Ikea does a very nice solid oak:
I’m a bit leery about the idea of smushing pastry into the wood grain, but turns out wood has a lot of natural antibacterial properties. It’s warm (and anything helps with my ice box house), it’s easy to cut (for my weird corners), you can buff out most scratches with sandpaper and there’s something just nice about saying ‘oh, it’s oak’ that makes you want to touch it. It’s not as ancient as marble, but it was a living, breathing thing which will be at home in a living, breathing kitchen.
And at £350, the money I save can buy me a fancy tap and a marble chopping board. Heck I could even buy one of those fancy Kenwoods they use on Bake Off, and still have £500 left to spend on Champagne and Borlotti beans.
So I toddled off to Ikea, added 3 lengths of worktop to the cabinets and sink I was buying from there, and clicked order.
Today I’m staring at the first piece of kitchen worktop fully installed, and I think I already love it, but before I show you that, I’m going to have to show you the horror it took to get there.
Until next time!