Cabinet & Bench Choices

How do I choose between all those different bench top materials?

Yes, we know there’s a lot of choice when it comes to bench top materials and it can become quite confusing. Add to this the misinformation that is given by some companies pushing their favourite product and you don’t quite know who to believe.

What we are going to cover here is the range of products available together with their advantages, disadvantages and relative pricing. We intend for this to be completely unbiased but acknowledge that not everyone may agree with our assessment.

When advising you on bench top options we will start with a discussion about your lifestyle and likely budget? A family with active young children has very different needs in terms of durability than a couple whose grown up children have all left home. Likewise a young couple starting out in their first home are likely to have a lower budget than someone building or renovating a high end property.

One of the other questions we ask is whether you are likely to be selling your home in the short to medium term. Intending home buyers have definite expectations about what materials a kitchen should be constructed from depending on the value of the house they are purchasing. A rule of thumb is that once a property is selling for more than $700,000 buyers are likely to expect that a stone top of some type is included. Once the selling price exceeds $850,000 the cabinetry would usually be upgraded to either a lacquered or vinyl wrapped finish. Obviously if you intend to stay in a house long term these considerations become less important.

It is very important that you discuss your lifestyle and likely use of the kitchen with your designer so that they can recommend what bench top is likely to work best for you. This is where it is important that the designer is impartial and not aligned to any one product. The table below gives an overview of the most commonly used Bench Top materials. After you have glanced through that you may want to read about the different products in more depth.




High Pressure Laminate

Formica, Wilsonart, Laminex, Bisonne

  • The most cost effective product

  • Huge Colour selection (over 300)

  • Bench top arrives with kitchen cabinets so no delay in installation

  • More prone to heat and impact damage compared to other products

  • Can be perceived as a cheap alternative in more expensive homes

Stainless Steel

  • Reasonably priced if used in straight runs

  • Available in a range of different finishes

  • Very impact and heat resistant

  • Can become an expensive alternative if site joins (welds) are required

  • Brushed and polished stainless are reflective and show scratches

  • There is a time delay between cabinet and bench installation

Natural Granite

  • Some colours are very competitively priced

  • A good colour selection

  • Good heat and impact resistance


  • Some colours are expensive

  • Light colours can show stains if not regularly resealed

  • Some people find surface too hard to work on

  • There is a time delay between cabinet and bench installation

Engineered Stone

Caesarstone, Silestone, Roxx, Iquartz, Quantum Quartz

  • Depending on thickness price can almost compete with laminate

  • A good colour selection

  • Reasonable heat and impact resistance

  • Gives a contemporary look

  • Thick tops can be relatively expensive

  • Less heat and impact resistance than granite and stainless

  • Dark colours can look flat when compared with granite

  • There is a time delay between cabinet and bench installation


Corian, Hi-Macs, Infinity


  • Similar in price to granite and engineered stone

  • Has no visible joins so long bench tops are possible

  • A good colour selection

  • Can be repaired and repolished

  • Scratches easier than stone and concrete bench tops

  • There is a time delay between cabinet and bench installation


  • Similar in price to higher priced stone

  • Good heat and impact resistance

  • Can be coloured to suit

  • Gives a contemporary industrial look

  • Can be expensive compared to granite

  • Can stain if not resealed on a regular basis

  • Can develop small cracks that are cosmetic rather than structural

  • There is a time delay between cabinet and bench installation


  • Gives a warm natural look

  • Can be used as a highlight when mixed with other bench top materials

  • Expensive compared to most other alternatives

  • Timber surface bruises easier than most other products

High Pressure Laminates
such as Formica are still the number one choice for bench tops in New Zealand. The product is very cost effective comes, in a huge range of colours and is very durable providing it is treated with respect. Laminates have been around for over fifty years and it is not unusual for us to replace a twenty year old kitchen with a top still looking in reasonable condition. The secret of looking after laminates is not to place hot pots directly onto the surface and not to cut without a chopping board.

It is possible to design a great looking, cost effective kitchen while still using a laminate bench top. Once you move to a more expensive stone or stainless steel bench top you can expect more heat and impact resistance.

Stainless Steel tops are obviously very heat resistant and could be described as almost bullet proof. They can be very stylish as well as practical if the right profile and finish is chosen.

Stainless is sometimes eliminated as a bench top choice because it is reflective and tends to show scratches. With a brushed stainless top you do tend to be conscious of initial scratches but it tends not to be an issue after a year or so. Like a new car “the first scratch is the worst scratch.” After a year or so a stainless top will be covered by a myriad of tiny scratches and take on its own patina.

Stainless tops also come in a variety of patterned surfaces and these do not show scratches or reflect light to the same extent as brushed or polished stainless. Stainless tops are more expensive than high pressure laminate but can still be cost effective.

Granite or Engineered Stone tops are the most popular choice for customers upgrading from high pressure laminate.

Granite is a natural stone product that is sourced from many different countries. It is a very strong product that stands up well to heat and abrasion.

Prices vary depending on the country of origin with the more expensive granites coming from countries like Norway that have high mining and processing costs. Scarcity of a particular stone and the difficulty of quarrying are also reflected in the price. Cheaper granites come from lower cost economies such as India or Africa. It is often assumed that the price of granite is an indication of the quality. This is not necessarily true as there is some stunning looking, first grade granites available at very affordable prices.

Granite at 30mm thick tends to be more heatproof than engineered or composite stone products. Light coloured granites can be more susceptible to staining if not resealed on a regular basis so it may more be sensible to opt for an engineered stone if you are unlikely to carry out regular maintenance.

Being a natural product there is variation in the colour between shipments of granite so we typically arrange a visit to our granite supplier so you can choose your own piece of stone. Each piece of stone has its own character and it’s a great feeling to pick your own piece of stone that has been millions of years in the making.

Engineered Stone also referred to as Composite Stone is a product that has been gaining in popularity over the last ten years.

The product is a man made mixture of chipped up quartz stone and granite mixed with resins to bind the stone together and seal it off.

The finished product comes in sheet form and varies in thickness from approximately 7mm to 30mm. The thinner products are typically built up with a timber base to a finished thickness of 40mm - 60mm and sometimes even thicker. The 30mm thick products are often used as a solid top with no extra build-up.

There are a number of different brands of engineered stone available with Caesarstone, Silestone, Iquartz, Roxx and Quantum Quartz among the better known. There is a good range of colours spread between the different brands.

The product is abrasion proof, stain resistant but not as heatproof as natural granite.

It is important that any composite stone you purchase has a stone content of at least 90% as more than 10% resin makes for a bench top that is too soft and prone to scratching.

Granite is often used in more classic looking kitchens, while engineered stone is used in more contemporary designs.

Acrylic bench tops are another option available. There are a number of brands available with Corian and Hi-Macs being the best known.

Acrylic tops come in a good range of colours and have the advantage that joins are not visible. This enables you to have a seamless top whether going around a corner or wanting a particularly long bench top that would require a butt join in other products.

The product is moderately heat resistant and has the advantage that it can be repaired in the event of impact damage. It tends to be less abrasion resistant than other products but any scratches can be buffed out.

Acrylic bench tops are a similar price to engineered stone.

Timber tops are typically laminated out of strips of solid timber before being finished with either oil or a two pot polyurethane product.

There are a wide variety of timbers available ranging from New Zealand natives to Australian and other more exotic overseas varieties. Some softer timbers such as Rimu can be prone to bruising while hardwoods can be extremely impact resistant.

If you use an oil finished product a regular application of oil is required but the advantage is any scratches or chips can easily be disguised. Some of the two pot finishes are extremely tough as you would have evidenced in their use in commercial bar and restaurant applications.

A good quality timber top tends to be at the top end of bench top pricing.

Concrete bench tops are another option.

Tops are typically manufactured in a factory and delivered to site ready to install.

The product is obviously strong and can give a contemporary industrial look to your kitchen.

While they are very strong concrete tops do need resealing with wax on a regular basis. They are prone to superficial cracks that do not affect the strength of the top.


Bench Top Material Links


Engineered Stone

Natural Granite


Stainless Steel





RH King



Kitchen Cabinet Materials

Cabinet Interiors

The inside of the kitchen cabinets will almost always be constructed from Melamine. This is a product manufactured from a wood bi-product core sandwiched between two layers of melamine material. The board used for cabinets will typically be white but you can always specify a coloured interior at additional cost. Melamine is the accepted industry standard for cabinet construction because it is durable, easy to clean and reasonably priced. A coloured version of the same board is often used for door and drawer faces.

Door and Drawer Fronts

When it comes to door and drawer finishes you have a number of choices that vary in price and durability.


The greater percentage of kitchens installed in New Zealand still consist of coloured Melamine doors and drawer fronts. The product is extremely durable provided that the right board and edge banding options are supplied.

Melamine kitchens are not only durable but also very cost effective. This makes them the natural choice for families, landlords or anyone wanting a hard wearing, economic kitchen.

When buying any kitchen it is very important to ask the company what type of melamine board they use. You should be looking for a supplier who uses High Moisture Resistant MDF rather than Particle Board. The particle board (chip board) version of melamine can easily soak up moisture to significantly reduce the life of your kitchen.


If you would like more information on how to avoid buying inferior cabinetry please download our free information sheet: click here to download >

At Jag kitchens we only use High Moisture Resistant MDF which we source from three major suppliers being Prime Panels, Bestwood and Melteca. These New Zealand companies combined give you a choice of over 150 colours in a variety of finishes.


Vacuum Formed Vinyl

The next doors finish to consider Vacuum Formed Vinyl of which Designatek and Aborline are the main suppliers. The product is a vinyl skin that is vacuumed on to the face of a water resistant mdf door. The process has been around for over fifteen years and has the advantage of having no visible line around the edge of the door. Vinyl gives you the ability to specify a patterned door in a product that is well proven and very durable.


Expect to pay approximately $1500 more than melamine for a vinyl kitchen.


Spray Painted Lacquer

Lacquer is a two pot paint finish somewhat similar to the paint on your car. It has the advantage that you can specify any colour and degree of gloss giving you almost limitless possibilities. Doors are available in a wide variety of patterns.

Lacquer is more expensive than the other two options but has a very definite place in more expensive homes. It does require more care than other products and we tend not to recommend it for rental properties or families with busy children. Expect to pay approximately $3000 more for a lacquer kitchen than a melamine one.


Other Door Options


Other door options include timber veneer and solid timber. A large range of genuine timber veneers are available and they do make for a beautiful looking kitchen.

Timber veneer can be used for the whole kitchen or as a highlight when combined with other finishes. Solid timber doors are available but it is a small part of the overall market as the cost is higher than most kitchen buyers are prepared to spend. New Zealand kitchen buyers tend to specify native timbers such as Rimu or Kauri and these timbers are becoming scarce and expensive.

Melamine, Vacuum Formed Vinyl, Lacquer Paint and Timber Veneer kitchens are on display in our Botany showroom.


The following are links to cabinet materials and hardware used by Jag Kitchens:


Vacuum Formed Vinyl

Hinges & Drawer Runners

Pull-out Pantries & Accessories

Prime Melamine