How to choose the right counter for kitchen islands – experts tell us

Choose the best counter for your kitchen island to help your worktop last and look stylish to boot.

Black kitchen stools around wooden kitchen island countertops in small space
(Image credit: Ikea)

Choosing the right counter for kitchen islands is like choosing the right icing for your cake – it’s the final touch that completes the overall look and feel of your kitchen space. A lot depends on what you’re going to use your kitchen island worktop for. Is it simply as an extra work surface? Or, are you going for the whole works and incorporating a basin and stove too? 

Choosing the right material for the worktop to bring your favorite kitchen island ideas to life is key as there are a few great contenders to pick from – each with their pros and cons.

Choosing the right worktop for your kitchen island

From marble to quartz, wood to stainless steel, our expert advice will guide you to choosing the right worktop material to suit all kitchen island sizes and needs too. 

1. Quartz for a natural look that's easy to care for 

Dark kitchen island counter with wooden stools, back accessories, stainless steel faucet and a little greenery in front of large windows

(Image credit: Caesarstone)

‘Kitchen islands are a building block that sits proudly in the centre of the room to enhance a more ergonomic flow. This central attraction needs to look the part as well as being ultra-practical,’ say Caesarstone UK. ‘Consider the work surface carefully. It’s the first thing that you’ll see as you enter the room so it needs to have aesthetic appeal as well as being durable, hard wearing and tough enough to cope easily with everyday wear and tear.’

Caesarstone is an engineered stone made from processed quartz, this makes for a very durable surface that is impervious to stains, scratches, cracks and heat and cold resistance. It’s a great option if you want to create a natural stone look without the price tag. 

2. Wholesome and classic wood finishes

Black kitchen stools around wooden kitchen island countertops in small space

(Image credit: Ikea)

Wood is a good option if you’re on a budget. Naturally antibacterial, it’s hard wearing and will give character and warmth to your kitchen with its organic elements. However, it will need sealing to keep it looking great, stop any liquid absorption or surface scratches. Wood looks great with Shaker style kitchen units and paler shades like white, duck egg blue, pale green and gray.

3. Sleek and contemporary stainless steel

kitchen with stainless steel kitchen island worktop

(Image credit: Eggersmann)

‘Work surfaces are an always-visible part of the kitchen, so it makes sense that they should be chosen very much based on their looks, but the material they are made from also needs to be highly durable and easy to keep clean,’ advises Daniel Bowler, Director at Eggersman UK.

Stainless steel counters are ideal for kitchen islands as they are durable and corrosive-resistant. ‘A surface that is resistant to heat, scratches and stains will look the part for much longer than one that is difficult to care for and not really suited to such a demanding environment as the kitchen island.’ Adds Bowler.

4. A luxe marble counter for kitchen islands 

white kitchen with marble worktops kitchen island

(Image credit: Harvey Jones)

Perhaps one of the most popular choices in recent years, marble is uber stylish and adds an elegance not found in other countertop materials. It comes at a price though, literally, but can be well worth the investment. It goes with most color schemes so it’s incredibly versatile. In terms of cleaning countertops and care, marble is porous and softer than other materials like quartz and granite. This means stains can seep into the stone if you don’t use a good quality sealer.

5. Durable and dramatic ceramic island counters

kitchen with ceramic kitchen island worktop

(Image credit: CRL Stone)

‘A worktop needs to be durable enough to handle any activity, from food preparation to homework,’ explains Simon Boocock, Managing Director at CRL Europe.

‘Ideally, the surface should be scratch and stain resistant, as well as waterproof, with as little in the way of maintenance as possible. A ceramic surface such as Ceralsio is ideal for the kitchen as it is very simple to care for and is highly stain resistant and scratch resistant. It’s available in a natural, textured or polished finish and a wide choice of colors.’

6. Integrate your kitchen island counter seamlessly

dark kitchen with dark kitchen worktops

(Image credit: Kitchen Makers)

‘Kitchen island worktops are often an afterthought in design but are one of the hardest working pieces of your kitchen so it's important to take into consideration how you cook and live when choosing your material,’ advises Ben Burbidge, Managing Director at Kitchen Makers.

‘One practical consideration is after care and how they will age. Wooden worktops are elegant but require regular maintenance compared to laminate. Marble is beautiful but is more susceptible to spills, whilst zinc or copper will weather and change with wear creating a beautiful patina. 

Don’t be afraid to use darker colors. Deep shades can add drama and luxury to your kitchen, whatever the size, and help achieve an on trend look. To complete your opulent design, accessorize with sleek pendant kitchen island lighting, high shine accessories and structural furniture.

Choosing a material that can be replicated throughout the rest of the room, in furniture and smaller accessories, will ensure the space feels cohesive; especially useful in today’s modern open plan kitchens.’

7. Putting function first with your countertop material

We asked Graeme Smith, Designer at Life Kitchens for his top tips on choosing the right material for your kitchen island worktop needs:

‘Your work surfaces are continuously used, whether for preparing and serving food or dining as well as to store everyday items. As such, they need to be able to withstand regular, intensive pressure from pots, pans and utensils as well as cleaning. They are also always on display and so are a key part of the design process. If budgets are tight you can opt for cost-effective cabinetry, which gives you the freedom to splash out on your work surfaces instead. Combining materials such quartz and granite with end-grain timber provide you with resilience and durability as well as a strong, statement look.

What is the best countertop for a kitchen island?

‘If budget is not an issue, granite and quartz are both exceptional options. Extremely hard wearing and aesthetically spectacular, these impressive materials will create a visual statement in the kitchen. Granite, which is naturally sourced from stone quarries whereas quartz is engineered by experts. Both are also available in various finishes allowing you to create a truly extraordinary look. Life Kitchens, for example, offer granite in matte linen, honed and leather effects and quartz in a variety of speckled, veined and marbled patterns to emulate natural stone.’

Sophie Warren-Smith
Sophie Warren-Smith

Sophie has been an interior stylist and journalist for over 18 years and has worked for many of the main interior magazines during that time. On the side, as well as being the News Editor of indie magazine, 91, Sophie has a passion for flowers and colour and has recently launched an online styling course, Style with Blooms.