The simplest and cheapest wall covering is paint but this must be applied to a good, smooth, well-prepared surface. Poor plasterwork or other idiosyncrasies are best concealed by something more substantial. Gloss paintwhich is easily washable is most appropriate in kitchens, although if you dislike a high-gloss finish vinyl emulsions are easier to clean than the old water-based ones. lf you are having a new kitchen built or renovating an old one and like the country look, you may choose to have one wall in exposed fair-faced brickwork. lf you are exposing plastered bricks in an old house, test an area first to make sure they are worth exposing.
The cleanest and most hygienic withchen worktop is lamated. Fake wooden worktops are textured to feel like the real thing. I begin to lose sympathy. It seems to reveal a foolish lack of confidence in the qualities of this excellent material. And so many of the materials emulated – leather, linen and raffia, for instance – would be completely inappropriate for kitchen work surfaces anyway. But a plain, good quality plastic laminated surface with square or curved edges, or with wooden edges (some unit manufacturers offer this detail) is splendid.
Many people prefer real wood, and of course it must be hardwood. This is good as a chopping surface (one manufacturer actually makes a curved-edge inset to go with his plastic worktops for this purpose) but seems to lose its fresh, clean appearance too quickly for my taste. The stains, chips and scratches which appear are permanent once acquired, so that the kitchen never looks really clean again. However, many people are prepared to forego pristine looks for the undoubted natural charms of hardwood.
Marble, again, seems more suitable as a slab, inset for pastrymaking, into another type of surface. It undoubtedly looks handsome as a whole surface when new, but it is very expensive, and stains easily. A kitchen is no place for having to bother about leaving wet ring marks. Stainless steel, though it loses its initial glitter over months of use as tiny scratches mar the surface, nevertheless acquires a softer sheen which is perfectly acceptable, and as its name implies it is certainly stainproof. It makes an excellent surface for standing hot pans, does not damage easily and will last for a very long time.
There are no standard surfaces available in this material (or in marble, come to that) which means they would have to be custom made, and therefore expensive. But a high tech enthusiast who does not object to diligent daily buffing with a soft cloth to remove smears, would make stainless steel first choice. Ceramic tiles make a good if expensive work surface, and are suitably rustic looking for the farmhouse type of kitchen. They are impervious to both heat and dirt and unless something really heavy is crashed upon them from a great height, are unlikely to suffer damage. Good strong sealants are essential so that water cannot penetrate between tiles, but given that they will look good for many years. Be careful about colour and pattern, though. The gentle colours of quarry tiles are fine, but anythingtoo strong and strident could quickly become offensive.