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Inspirational Ideas for Using Concrete in Your Home

Concrete is an extraordinary material that is practical, expressive, and aesthetic all at once. From a primal and formless slurry, you can transform it into virtually any shape that becomes a solid mass. The possibilities for creative expression are endless. You can grind, polish, stamp, or stain it. You can embed meaningful objects within it.

Concrete has substance and mass, permanence and warmth. It feels earthy, and is at home in both traditional and modern settings. It assumes forms that irrevocably touch our daily lives-bridges, highways, floors, walls... even countertops. Concrete is also surprisingly tactile. Cast and shaped, it can feel like stone rounded by the sea. Textured and colored, it can echo the patina of timeworn tile.

It first occurred to me to make a countertop out of concrete in 1985, when a friend and I were hired to design and renovate a professor's house in the Berkeley Hills. He gave us a modest budget and announced, "This is all I can afford to spend; do whatever you want." Armed with this rare creative license (and plenty of youthful exuberance) we aimed to be as innovative as possible.

This invitation to imagine, play, and explore inevitably led me to experiment in my own kitchen, where concrete and I began what is now our nearly two-decade dance. My first countertop was a single piece containing 11 cubic feet of concrete. It weighed nearly 1500 pounds and took 10 people-and 2 engine hoists-to turn it over once it had cured. We barely managed it, but the piece came out beautifully and is still being put to good use today.

Because of its adaptability, concrete finds itself welcome in all areas of the home, especially in the kitchen and bath, but also in fireplaces, patios, garden paths, or water features. Concrete can also be used as a floor material with enormous creative advantages whether seeded, stained, stamped, broomed or diamond-finished. It can be a sole performer or play the supporting role to tile, mosaics, decorative aggregates, stone, wood, or metal. It is inexpensive, durable, noncombustible, impervious to decay, and also very effective for passive solar gain in the right application.

With vertical treatments, concrete gives us an opportunity to recapture some of the feeling of the monolithic wall-the feeling of substance, of protection. Walls are also a great place to explore form. A wall doesn't have to be flat or straight, but can curve and undulate. It can be textured to be rough as stone or smooth as glass.

Surrender to the impulse... carve your initials in concrete.


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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