By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon
Who would have thought to use a sidewalk as a kitchen countertop? Well, someone did, because the once drab, gray concrete is now an artistic upscale trend in home design.
Today, contractors can transform this typically utilitarian building material into whatever you can imagine. They can make concrete any color you want and make it resemble any pattern you want — from stone to slate to wood.
Moving from driveways, walkways and pool decks, this chic trend has found its way inside — through the entryway and into family and dining rooms, bathrooms and kitchen and utility areas, not to mention fireplaces, countertops and backsplashes.
One interior trend is to extend the exterior walkway into the foyer or entry of the home, creating a smooth and seamless transition from outside to inside. When used in a transition from an interior space to a back patio, decorative concrete ties the two spaces together and complements outside living spaces.
One of the most common decorative concrete techniques is stamped concrete. Stamped concrete is a technique applied to new concrete where rubber molds are pressed into the surface of the concrete before it sets up. Concrete can also becolored by adding pigment when the cement, sand and water are mixed. Because this is not an exact science, it is best to make sure the entire area is poured at the same time to ensure the color is consistent.
A decorative concrete fireplace graces California home. Concrete is used for kitchen counters and backsplashes, floors and more.
In terms of remodeling, replacing existing floors with concrete is generally not an option because of the weight and depth of a new concrete slab. Concrete can be used in a new addition (where the floor is a new concrete slab on grade or ground level) or when a concrete basement floor is removed so it can be lowered and replaced. Options to use concrete as countertops or in other limited decorative applications in a remodel are much broader.
Since removing an existing concrete slab is a messy and labor-intensive proposition, rather than removing the slab and starting over, it is possible to transform existing concrete by applying an overlay. This overlay is a cement material placed over the existing concrete about 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch thick. The overlay can then be stamped, etched and/or stained to create the look you want.
Whenever you work with concrete you have to understand that it is going to crack. That is why control joints are placed in a slab, which encourage floors to crack we want them to crack. Even with the control joints, however, the floor may crack. You have to be willing to take the cracks as they come and see it as part of concrete’s character.
With exterior decorative concrete applications, especially in Utah, you have to think about snow removal. When a driveway is colored and stamped to look like stone, it is harder to maintain. More care must be taken when shoveling to avoid chipping the edges of the patterns. It helps if the color is continuous within the slab, rather than an overlay, which will expose a different surface beneath if it separates.
While using decorative concrete inside a home may result in the interior look you seek, it has some disadvantages you should consider: A room with concrete floors can be noisy. Concrete counters are unforgiving when you drop something, and concrete floors can be uncomfortable if you are standing for a long time.
Also, concrete is porous, so if you choose a concrete countertop or floor, make sure you have the right sealant to discourage stains. Concrete floors can also be cold and must be insulated so as not to transfer the cold from the ground into the slab. An ideal solution is to install radiant heat, where you bury pipes or cables (depending on whether it is an electric or hydronic system) in the floor to heat it.
Decorative concrete is a trend that started more than a decade ago in California and has spread in popularity across the country. Although it has been around for a while now, it is still expensive and considered a high-end option. Prices are determined by the size of the job and the artistic method requested, but costs can range anywhere from $1 to $20 a square foot. Polishing and acid-staining the existing concrete is typically on the low end while stamping overlays and other decorative resurfacing is on the high-end.
Most concrete countertops are custom made and can cost anywhere from $45 to $225 per square foot. Although it is more expensive than other options, such as granite or tile, decorative concrete can be a beautiful option for your home whether applied inside or out. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.