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How to Use Concrete in a Traditional Kitchen

Concrete's use in kitchens and bathrooms may still be considered relatively "modern" design-wise by the standard homeowner. But while concrete can be used to create a modern or minimal look, it's also perfectly adaptable to a more traditional setting — where it was so extensively used in the first place.

Concrete can act as a substitute for more traditional materials. Rather than just using concrete to explicitly re-
create something from the past, you can also combine it with other elements to suggest a timeless quality. In my work, I always strive to strike a balance between innovation and emotion, between spare contemporary and warm traditional. Adding mosaic tile along the front edge of a concrete surface, inlaying bits of tile along a backsplash, or even embedding a fossil in a countertop all connect us to the past.

A California cottage we renovated recently moved from "traditional" to "transitional". A large concrete curved wall/counter boldly separates the living room from the kitchen. Meanwhile, a stainless steel integral sink countertop straddles one wall— yet, by inlaying glass tiles into the backsplash and inserting a traditional plate holder in the cabinetry, enough balance is achieved to avoid a conflict of styles.

Let’s take a turn-of-century "Craftsman" style kitchen for a hypothetical example. The cabinets would most likely be frame-and-panel with flush inlay doorframes. There would be wood wainscoting in the dining area and perhaps tile around a single porcelain sink. The lighting fixtures might have beveled glass or echoes of Tiffany lamps. What concrete application would be appropriate in this situation? I would look into one or more of the following ideas in combination:

1. Choose an earth tone color or natural gray. No bright colors.

2. Keep the front face, or thickness, of the countertop at a minimum of 2-1/2" to 5".

3. Inset "panels" into the front face of the countertop to reflect the cabinet doors. These panels would be no deeper than 3/8" and would measure approximately 1/3" to the height of the front face, or

4. Recess the appropriately sized or proportioned ceramic tiles with some embossing on them into the face of the countertop or into a cast backsplash. Allow the recess to be at least 1/4" in depth.

5. Mosaic tiles in groups of four separated by 1/8"-1/4" spacing could be placed on the countertop surface as inlaid "trivets" next to the stove burners. (In the mold, they would be placed face down on the bottom of the form.)

6. Line the drain board into the sink with tile or marble.

Now I wouldn't want to use all of the above accents — just enough to carry a complementary flavor to the Craftsman look and feel. The concrete itself is earthy enough to carry that load. It's up to you as a homeowner or designer to add the touch that personalizes and enhances the piece. In some cases, for instance, the overwrought "traditional English manor" kitchen, usually full of elaborate detailing, can use a touch of restraint — the concrete counter with a simple ogee edge detail and a complementary white porcelain farm sink might just be perfect.

As they say, it's all in the details.


About the Author: Fu-Tung Cheng, the founder of Cheng Concrete Exchange, is an internationally known designer and bestselling author, whom the LA Times calls "the master of the craft of concrete on a residential scale" (November 2004). His innovative design and building resources for concrete countertops and other interior concrete applicationns can be found on his website at www.ConcreteExchange.com.




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