Customized Concrete Countertops
Move over Granite-Concrete offers a New Era of Customization
As granite countertops slowly invade the kitchen of nearly every home in America, it is important to keep in mind that alternatives do exist. One alternative material in particular that is rapidly gaining popularity in the market is concrete. Concrete has become a viable option for decorative countertops for a number of reasons, and particularly due to its uniquely customizable quality. A few major factors should be considered when determining whether a concrete countertop is right for the job.
Aggregate (commonly stone or gravel) is essential to any concrete mix, and a finer, lightweight aggregate is most often used in countertop mixes. As with any decorative concrete element, the introduction of alternative aggregates provides nearly endless aesthetic possibilities. Recycled glass has become a popular aggregate option, due to its availability for re-use and the wide array of colors available combined with its inherent translucence. Granite, marble, metal, and even found objects can be added to the cement mix and exposed with diamond polishing to provide a very unique end result for the imaginative consumer. The natural stone aggregate can be revealed by the same process, achieving the look of stone with greater design flexibility for more traditional tastes. Nearly any item can be cast into the surface of the counter. Logos, seashells, leaves, souvenirs – even a handprint can be embossed to personalize a home. Integral lighting, such as placing light sources beneath glass or exposing fiber-optic lighting for a pinpoint effect, is a unique way to dress up a bar top or table surface.
The made-to-order nature of most concrete countertops provides infinite pigment options as well. Consumers can choose from an extensive array of color options to match any décor, or combine colors to create an artistic centerpiece for the kitchen. Mosaics may also be incorporated into the surface of the cement, providing limitless illustrative and decorative pattern options.
Concrete countertops are generally custom-made, and are therefore only limited by the client or designer’s imagination in terms of form and function. A countertop can fold over the cabinet below and fall to the floor in a single cast. The fluid nature of concrete allows almost any shape to be realized, often with a single piece of material. Reveals (such as a shallow groove) may be cast into the pour to provide shadow lines, and curved shapes are easily achieved.
This fluidity provides a unique potential for casting functional elements into the countertop as well. Drain boards, butcher block recesses, and even metal trivets are becoming popular design options, as well as integral backsplashes and wall treatments. A cutout may be provided for a sink basin, or the basin may be formed into the concrete itself. A cutout with exposed edges, which allows grime to be wiped directly into the basin as opposed to over a lip, is achievable with concrete or stone but not with laminate countertops. Concrete is one of the few materials flexible enough to allow the complete integration of a sink basin into the counter design.
Custom-built concrete countertops range in cost depending on the features, complexity, and contractor, but generally garner a premium over comparable granite and marble surfaces. The cost of a concrete countertop, however, is largely in the labor intensive process, not the material itself, and the end product is therefore much more unique.
oThe custom-build nature of the cement also provides an opportunity for particularly industrious homeowners to attempt the job themselves in order to save cost on a kitchen remodel. Curing time is much greater than that of a concrete floor system due to the required strength of the counter, formwork can be quite complicated depending on built-in options and the shape of the slab, and more care is required with a decorative counter surface as a smoother finish is desirable and there is less room for tolerance, but many resources are available for the layman who decides to attempt a counter surface of their own creation.
Environment & Durability.
Concrete is not an inherently renewable resource by definition, but concrete countertops can provide an extremely viable green countertop option. This largely depends on the inclusion of recycled content, such as fly ash, recycled aggregate, and fiber reinforcement. The countertops must also be sealed to prevent stain penetration, and close attention should be paid to VOC content when choosing a sealant. The sealed surface is very durable and stain-resistant, and with proper maintenance will endure indefinitely. Some countertop designers attest that little to no maintenance is required over time due to the aesthetic quality of the natural patina that concrete develops with age.
After carefully considering all of the properties of concrete as a countertop surface, a consumer’s final decision will often come down to personal preference. Concrete is largely perceived as a more modern or contemporary alternative, even though very traditional forms and details can be just as easily achieved. The growing acceptance of concrete as a viable countertop option provides creative designers and consumers alike with endless possibilities.