What benchtop materials can I use instead of engineered stone?

With ‘engineered’ stone being banned in Australia (a world first) on the 1st of July 2024, we need to look to other options for benchtops for kitchens, laundries, vanities and the like. The ban has come into place due to the continued incidence of silicosis amongst manufactures and workers/ installers using engineered stone.

Many people think of engineered stone simply as ‘Caesarstone’, which is the most established brand in the Australian market. There are however many manufacturers – who along with Caesarstone, have collectively supplied the majority of benchtops in the Australian homes for the last few decades.

With the ban coming into effect very soon anyone wanting a new benchtop in their home who was considering engineered stone will need to use alternative materials.

Our favourite design choices are natural stone (which doesn’t have the same health issues for workers) and timber – usually Australian hardwoods such as Spotted Gum and Ironbark. We like these materials because they feel authentic, have character and detail that is unique to each slab of stone or timber and because they age and change over time like all natural materials.

Like all natural materials there are a few trade offs. Natural stone, which could be marble, limestone, granite for instance, does sometimes stain (from red wine etc) and it can also get chipped. If you don’t mind a bit of character over time, then your stone benchtop could last for a few centuries, or even millennia. Think of an alter in a Roman church for instance…..

Timber, like stone, can also stain, but with most timber you can sand it back and re-seal it over time. There are numerous options for sealing including hard wax oil polyurethane, The main challenge though with timber is that because it contains moisture, it expands and contracts – i.e. it can move, over time. It makes sense to research what species of timber you want to use, how ‘seasoned’ it is and exactly how it is going to be made into a benchtop. Timber benchtops are usually made of several narrower lengths of timber fixed together mechanically (biscuit joints etc) and a lot of glue… There are various techniques you can use to reduce bending/ movement in a timber benchtop, but it makes sense to have an expert fabricator do this. Timber tops that appear less ‘slab-like’ (the kind you can get at Bunnings and Ikea) are made of lots of smaller pieces of timber.

Another popular alternative is the age old laminated benchtop, with Laminex being the oldest recognisable brand for many Australians. It is quite possible laminated surfaces will see a big resurgence as they are usually cost effective, easy to work with and quite durable, now with a myriad of finishes and colours to choose from.

A super durable choice, is stainless steel, which can be too clinical for many people. One option is to use stainless steel in just part of a kitchen on a high work surface (near a stove etc) and another material elsewhere. It can also be a nice contrast to natural stone or timber.

Concrete benchtops are in vogue at the moment and can look great in the right project. The mina consideration are high cost to install + quite a messy process (if made on site) + the need for more structural support.

Porcelain benchtops have been popular in recent years due to their hardness and extremely thin profile which can be used. Caesarstone already have a range of porcelain surfaces and will no doubt look to expand that sector in 2024. Caesarstone and others will also be working hard to create new products which are not harmful to those who produce and install them. 2024 and beyond will be an exciting time for produces and designers of benchtops!

Here are some kitchen benchtops in some of our projects: Limestone, recycled hardwood, stainless steel and marble…