Set It In Concrete

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Concrete isn’t just for driveways anymore. The sturdy material has moved beyond the strictly structural and is popping up as an exciting design element for homeowners looking for a little zing.

Techniques have been developed over the years to offer concrete in different textures, finishes and colors, allowing the natural-looking material to play alongside wood, marble, granite and stone, and show up as floors and countertops in various areas around the home.

But can concrete stand the test of time and a high-activity household? 

“Concrete is a great choice for those seeking to communicate a certain look and feel but need durability,” says Jeffrey Vasilatos, an architectural consultant in Chicago. “If the occasional nick occurs, it can easily be patched up, adding surface character in the meantime.”

Concrete allows for personalized, hand-crafted options, especially for homeowners who want to shy away from the manufactured-feel of laminate. 

Countertops can be used to express individuality and can include an etching of a proverb, a favorite flower, the twinkle of glass chips or fiber optic lighting, or keepsakes from a first home. Custom color options are available to match or complement a key element in the room, such as a china display.

Often used as the focal point of the room, concrete floors can be designed to look like tiles, stained like wood, stamped with a logo or elaborately stenciled. 

Architectural critic Lee Bey is also a fan of concrete for radiant flooring as it takes less heat to warm the floor since the material maintains a temperature in the 50s.

“If you are building at grade, to put a concrete floor in is actually sustainable,” Bey says.  “It is cool in the summer and warmer than the outside in the winter, so your furnace has to do less work.”  

The sustainability, flexibility and durability of concrete has given it a certain “cool” factor in some circles. Those who appreciate high-quality, natural, individually crafted items, might have an affinity for concrete. Concrete flooring can be used to showcase a homeowner’s hipster tendencies.

Still not sure? Vasilatos suggests starting off with a smaller element, like a concrete-topped butcher’s block or concrete basin, which allows homeowners to take the experience for a test drive without the heavy investment.

Or start even smaller and get inspired before setting anything in concrete, says Vada Tate, an architect at FGM Architects in Oakbrook, Ill.

Tate lives near the Merchandise Mart design center in downtown Chicago, where she goes for inspiration. However, she says her favorite resources include and “Concrete Countertops: Design, Form, and Finishes for the New Kitchen and Bath” (2002, Taunton Press).

Tags: concrete, trend, style, interior design