Faythe Willis of Lula, Ga., has a husband, three boys and three pets, so she wanted to install a low-maintenance and durable floor that would last. After all options were considered, Willis chose to install a concrete floor.
Throughout the years, concrete has been used for sidewalks and cold garage and basements floors. However, this material was once a unique, versatile and
durable material for a home’s interior. Today, designers and homeowners are gradually being reintroduced to the benefits of concrete as countertops, fireplaces, roofs and more.
"The modernist architects and designers of the mid-century, including Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Neutra, were proponents of the indoor-outdoor relationship between house and nature,” says Eddie Edwards, architectural designer and founder of the vintage architectural book resource, DigModern.com. “Concrete, a natural extension of the garden, was used extensively from the 50s through the 70s, indoors and out, as floors, planters, screen walls, benches, tables, decorative panels, mosaics and fountains."
Edwards says her customers are searching for do-it-yourself books from the 1940s through the 1970s to gain inspiration for concrete projects from small pots to large decorative wall murals.
Fu-Tung Cheng, designer and founder of the Concrete Exchange, is considered a pioneer in the concrete design industry and specializes in countertops, fireplaces and indoor water designs. Cheng enjoys the ability to color, texture and sculpt cement into any design he or his customers choose. Each piece is then a one-of-a-kind original that offers the same smoothness of marble and granite.
“Concrete has a way of bringing the practical into the home with the aesthetic,” he says. “Ergonomically, it works well and it’s pleasing to the eye. It also harkens back to the era when people did things in a crafted, appropriate way. We’ve come to accept a home for what it is, but now we can look to the past because homeowners are looking for an emotional connection to craftsmanship.”
If You Can Imagine It…
And what’s old can be new again with a process called ‘acid staining’ in which stains are used to color or stamp new or old concrete, designing any possible pattern combination desired.
“No two slabs are ever the same,” says Craig Adamson, co-owner of Special Effex in Machesney Park, Ill., who explains that the concrete needs to be properly cleaned, diamond grinded smooth and sealed in order to achieve this exquisite result.
Interior designer Nicole Sassaman of Malibu, Calif., tried concrete for the first time around a fireplace strictly because of budgetary reasons. “Trying to find a stone to attach to the surface and prepping it for other tiles was three times more money than using the concrete,” she says. “I loved how it turned out and I use concrete all the time now, even just as an accent wall.”
Tim Austin, owner of Austin Design in Hoboken, N.J., says that whatever the homeowner imagines is possible with concrete. “We made a radiator cover bowl with water and we’ve incorporated bamboo into the cement around the fireplace to make a horizontal grain pattern,” he says. Next on the horizon for Austin is a line of concrete furniture.
Cement roofing tile is also becoming more popular. “The cement can look like slate wood or clay,” says Cheryl Inbody, marketing communications manager of MonierLifetile, in Irvine, Calif. “If you are building a Tudor style home you want that kind of roof. It allows the homeowner to enhance the personality of the home.” Inbody explains that cement roofing tiles are higher priced than shingles but last longer.
It’s Green, Not Just Gray
Concrete can also be an eco-friendly material if the consumer asks for “green-manufactured concrete,” says Jeff Wilson, a home building and remodeling expert who has appeared in hundreds of shows on HGTV and the DIY Network.
“[In non-green cement] the raw ingredients are mined, just like granite or marble, then heated to nearly 2500 degrees F, cooled and ground down again, then mixed with aggregate and water and finally poured. If the consumer doesn’t specify ‘green-manufactured’ concrete, it’s not a particularly eco-friendly option. That said, the stuff will last forever.”
New York City-based Savanna Partners, a developer in Brooklyn, N.Y., is using 100 percent recycling glass combined with concrete, called Icetone, as kitchen countertops in every new residence.
"Icestone is an incredibly durable surface that is both eco-friendly and high design," says Shep Wainwright, principal of Savanna Partners. "We are diverting glass from landfills, working with a local manufacturer and offering our buyers a unique element for their homes."
Chad Gill, owner of Concreate in Richmond, Va. recently designed a 60-foot cement bar top for a local restaurant with a stained finish that incorporated cooling tubes throughout. These tubes would be frozen so that patrons could keep their beverages cold. He also designed a fireplace that incorporated ‘veins’ throughout the cement that represented the homeowner’s various stages of his life. “It’s a pretty unique thing,” says Gill. Concrete has few, if any limitations, he adds, but cracking and staining are two major concerns and sealing is a vital part of the process.
The price of a concrete countertop or floor varies depending on the project, whether it’s an affordable do-it-yourself project that a homeowner can do over two weekends, says Cheng, to one with high-end, luxury features.
From the roof to the walls to flooring and countertops, concrete has finally been recognized as an extremely versatile, durable and environmentally friendly material.
Credit: Renovate Your World