The Changing Faces of
by Joyce Volmer Brown
photos courtesy of Sonoma Stone.com
We all remember the story of the ugly duckling.
Oh come on, sure you do – the one where the little ugly duckling
is magically transformed into a beautiful swan. Well, here’s
a real-life transformation story that has nothing whatsoever to do
with ducklings or swans, but rather, with concrete. (Which can’t
float nearly as well as an ugly duckling, but can be made beautiful.)
Not long ago, nondescript gray concrete was relegated
to some pretty limited, ugly duckling like uses: primarily drab foundations,
basements, sidewalks and driveways. Today, concrete has come into
its own – with limitless faces and countless applications.
New chemical stains and coloring pigments allow
concrete to be stained to match any hue. A wide variety of stamping
and brushing techniques provide endless textures as well. Tactile
concrete can be polished to a high-luster that replicates the look
of polished marble, granite or even metal, or left with a casual,
rough texture. Colored aggregate can be added to the concrete mix
or “seeded” into the top layer. Bits of glass, pieces
of metal, fossils or coins may be embedded. Artisans may paint and
On the exterior, stamped concrete can resemble brick,
slate or flagstone, at a lower cost than the actual materials – adding
warmth and character to entries, patios, walkways, retaining walls,
borders and pool decks. Colors and patterns are often chosen to blend
with other elements at the residence.
Concrete can be molded to form artificial rocks
to enhance water features and landscapes. Because of the equipment,
effort and expense required to haul large boulders into a backyard,
many designers and contractors are turning to concrete faux rocks,
which can be built on site. A home’s walls can be covered with
built-inplace stone veneers – often at a lower cost than installing
Inside, a kaleidoscope of colors and textures allows
designers to create one-of-a-kind finishes and to coordinate surfaces
with other materials within a room. This tremendous versatility is
being expressed in multiple applications: kitchen countertops, sinks,
bathtubs, floors, fireplace surrounds and even furniture.
Sonoma’s Soft Stone pavers may remind onlookers of a
trip to Europe, where generations of people, animals and carts
wore the edges of old roads and church stones.
ABOVE LEFT: Sonoma Cast Stone’s Chef Sink provides fluid
lines with functionality. A perforated stainless steel bottom protects
the sink from years of pot and pan abrasion. A stainless steel
rack slides across the sink.
ABOVE RIGHT: A substantial concrete surround lends character and
warmth to a commercial range.
While interior use of concrete can compare to natural
stone in cost, it is less limited in color, thickness or pattern – and
it can be molded in nearly unlimited shapes. Concrete floors are
easy to clean and may be a better choice than carpeting for families
with hay fever, dust or mold allergies. They also work well with
radiant floor systems.
One of the concerns people often have when discussing
concrete is cracking. Jim Peterson, President of Concrete Network
comments, “Although concrete is prone to crack, this can largely
be controlled by incorporating control joints into a decorative scoring
design. Because indoor concrete is not subjected to drastic temperature
changes, it is less likely to crack, but small hairline cracks may
appear in time. If they become noticeable or grow, they can be filled
with polyester-based resins colored to match the surface.”
surrounds by Sonoma Cast Stone of Sonoma, California, show concrete’s
from sleek Contemporary to Old World to Southwestern.
Peterson says concrete upkeep is minimal. “Each
countertop craftsman will provide his own instructions, but the norm
is a fresh coat of sealer will need to be applied annually. Floors
usually require a wax finish to be applied once a year. A polished
concrete floor may eventually lose its luster, but its gleam may
be restored by buffing.”
Like stone, concrete requires proper sealing and
careful maintenance. Hot pots should not be placed directly on concrete
countertops. Some designers incorporate special trivets into the
countertops; otherwise, hot pads should always be used. Acidic liquids,
such as citrus juices or vinegar, left on unsealed concrete can etch
the surface. Similarly, oil and fat may soak in. For these reasons,
homeowners should realize concrete is not a static material. It will
continue to evolve over time, acquiring a patina with its own character.