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    Benchtop materials for high-traffic hospitality areas

    Geraldine Chua

    Rany Obaidi from Marblo Group says that benchtops are one of the most utilised and visible features in hospitality design, and play a major role in contributing to the success of any business. As he puts it—“We all know the feeling when we approach a counter that is stained or unsightly.”

    As Obaidi puts it—“We all know the feeling when we approach a counter that is stained or unsightly.”

    A great benchtop merges design with performance, functionality and reliability—a combination that is especially important in high-traffic areas such as reception counters, drink bars and even commercial kitchens.

    According to Jessica Almeida, marketing coordinator at Wilsonart Australia, such spaces require surfaces that outperform other products across a variety of factors.

    These include durability and resistance to scratches, which are critical considerations for top-surface use, as well as impact resistance, which address the structural impact of use—important for the edges of benchtops and tabletops.

    “Is [your material] going to work into the lifespan of your project?” Grace Simitzis, national sales manager at Cosentino Australia, suggests designers ask before specifying a benchtop product.

    Also high on the checklist is the ability of a chosen surface material to resist stains, spills and chemicals, and its maintenance requirements. This includes ease of cleaning, and whether the product is able to stand up to different types of cleaning solvents and cleaning frequency.  

    How the material feels and works in the practical nature of the space is also important, Simitzis adds. Can it withstand the design proposed? Is it conducive to curves, overhangs, cantilevering, exposed edges, or larger formats for minimal joins?

    COMMON MATERIALS

    The most common benchtop materials range from entry-level laminates and natural stones, to timber and solid surfaces. Those manufactured for hospitality applications should meet the requirements listed earlier, in addition to low porosity levels and high fire—and often heat—resistance.

    LAMINATE

    Considered to be one of the most cost-effective, stain-resistant materials, laminate is a popular choice for benchtop design in commercial and hospitality projects. However for heavier-duty applications, High Pressure Laminate (HPL), as opposed to Low Pressure Laminates (LPL), is recommended, says Almeida.

    A phenolic resin-based product cured under high pressure and heat, HPLs have a dense core that contributes to their high impact resistance and surface durability. This makes them ideal for surface applications that need to support heavy loads.

    One such product is Laminex’s Multipupose Compact Laminate—a thick, self-supporting panel designed to stand the test of time in the most demanding spaces. It is scratch and stain resistant, non-porous, and features antimicrobial and antifungal properties. It is also versatile, able be installed both horizontally and vertically.

    Another HPL example is Wilsonart’s AEON HPL benchtops. According to the company, AEON’s interior surface is “measurably clearer and stronger” than standard laminate because of its high intense technology, which outperforms traditional laminate on wear, scratch, scuff and mar resistance.

    “A new way of making high-pressure laminate results in finer and more accurately layered aluminium oxide particles sitting in the top layer of the material, protecting it when objects slide across the surface,” Wilsonart explains.

    Coming in several design options and textured finishes, AEON HPL benchtops are easy to work with during construction. Builders don’t have to worry about preventing scuffing in transit, on the job site, during fabrication and installation. It also helps counteract moisture-related issues in high-traffic interior areas.

    However, there are some downsides to specifying certain HPL surfaces. For one, the material may be more vulnerable to heat compared to other surface materials, which means it may not be ideal for certain applications, including commercial kitchens. Gloss and darker coloured laminates are also prone to easy marking over time.

    SOLID SURFACES

    In the 1960s, the DuPont chemical company designed a new surface that looked like natural stone, but unlike stone, was non-porous and homogenous in color and material. They named it Corian.

    Today, Corian is one of the most poplar solid surface materials on the market. It is a mineral-filled acrylic material with exceptional versatility—suitable for use in a variety of applications, from wall claddings and bathrooms, to bars and reception desks. Thanks to its thermo-formability, it also enables creative freedom, allowing designers to “play with shapes and adapt the material to any space”.

    Its other key highlights include seamless joins, which has hygienic benefits as it makes bacteria growth less prominent, and allows for easier cleaning. It is also durable, non-porous, stain-resistant and scratch-resistant, and will not delaminate. Importantly, it is ‘repairable’ onsite.

    Marblo is another solid surface material on the market with similar properties. Designed to stand the test of time, Marblo combines superior stain and chemical resistance for a bacteria-free, clean and seamlessly jointed surface. Many of the colours offered are translucent, which allows design teams to explore the use of lighting in conjunction with their surface design.

    A serious choice for high-traffic hospitality areas, solid surfaces tend to be more expensive than laminate, although most advocates will say it is a worthwhile long-term investment.

    A full version of this article is avilaible in the March / April issue of INFOLINK | BPN 

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